There are several health and safety threats to an organization’s employee health that an employer must address. These include: Chemical Hazards, Physical Hazards, Biological Hazards, Substance Abuse, and Work-related Stress (Bogardus, pp. 109-113, 2004). Organizations can protect employees most efficiently by addressing them with all five of the primary workplace management functions: plan and align the workforce, hire workers, deploy the workforce, reinforce performance, and develop the workforce (State of Washington, 2006).
Chemical hazards are the most likely to require an unforeseen reassignment of an employee. Chemical hazards include dangerous production components and seemingly harmless office supplies can hold risks for employees with different levels of sensitivity. A company needs to be flexible enough to redesign jobs to use different products or to allow for the transfer of employees out of jobs that include chemicals that bother them. Naturally jobs with high chemical risks should be filled only by applicants who are trained and experienced in their field. Continuing education and reward and recognition for problems found before someone is hurt will also contribute to a chemically safer environment.
Ethical standards and good supervision are the keys to avoiding accidents involving physical hazards. Employees who present have a “win at all costs” attitude might remove safety features from machines to make production quicker. Sufficient supervisors need to oversee operations. Workstations should be planned with safety in mind. Supervisors should periodically train employees on the safest way to do things, and specialists observe employees in action. Many physical hazards actually involved repetitive motion injuries that occur over time, so employees need to be checked lest the fall into dangerous habits. Employees who refuse to comply with physical safety procedures should be reprimanded or moved to less desirable but safer jobs.
There are two types of biological hazards: those that occur in the natural course of business and those which do not. Jobs that encounter high-risk biological hazards, such as those in the medical field, should be filled only by those with proper training, and then those people should train with firm-specific procedures. Gloves should be available to anyone who may have to sort incoming mail, prepare or serve food, deal with cash, etc. Bathrooms should be properly stocked and cleaned so that employees can easily wash hands before returning to work. Unforeseeable biological hazards, such as employee injury, are best planed for through firm-wide first aid training and quick referral to emergency medical services.
Substance Abuse risks cause an uncomfortable ethical position for supervisors, especially if they appear after many years of good service from an employee. Establishing a drug-free environment, with strict standards for drug testing, will assist supervisors in making decisions that are best for the whole company. Companies that are flexible enough to allow long-term employee absences for substance-abuse recovery may avoid the cost of recruiting and training replacements.
Stress issues require a commitment to employee well-being from them top down. The company must be careful to create job descriptions which are actually achievable. The hiring process should focus on well-rounded employees with interests outside of work. Training should be thorough, mentors should be assigned to new hires, and procedures should be in writing whenever possible to make jobs as easy to do as possible. Employees who are identified as being under stress should be approached with opportunities to change jobs, take leave, or at least opportunities to express difficulties with other employees with a neutral party.
Employee safety and health is easiest to maintain when it is part of the company mission. People are the units of which a corporation is comprised. If they are respected as such, and allowed to grow rather than sapped of their strengths, their productivity will also grow over time, and the company will be more successful as well.