Health and Safety play a very important role in the workplace today. Many organizations take the responsibility of their employees’ safety and health seriously due to the various affects that could stem from a lack of providing a safe work environment. During the 20th century our nation has become a world leader in setting an example for the world involving the workers right to a safe and healthy environment. Because of the various laws and research conducted in the United States, there have been countless number of accidents that have been prevented and thousands of lives saved because of awareness. I, being a Safety Coordinator and a workplace accident survivor, know firsthand the importance of safety in the workplace and the negative outcome for employees and organizations that do not practice a safe work environment. I would like to take this time to give a little information on my personal experience on workplace accidents and the importance of safety in that environment.
In 2007 I was employed as a bridge carpenter working for a large construction company in Biloxi, MS. As a bridge carpenter is was exposed to many dangerous and high risk situations that put my life at risk on an everyday basis. I felt this company actually cared about the safety of their employees. We were provided with every piece of safety equipment that was needed to perform our job as safely as possible. The equipment was fairly new and OSHA approved. If it was found to be inadequate, it was immediately removed out of service and either fixed or replaced. Not to mention every morning we conducted toolbox safety meeting and equipment inspections. This particular day of my near fatal accident, we were setting rebar cages for columns maybe 30 to 40 feet in height. It was my responsibility to climb the cage, after it was set on the footer with a crane, to unhook the rigging from the crane. I had all the proper PPE (personal protective equipment) on and the cage had been secured at the bottom by come along rigging devices.
As I climbed the cage and Unhooked the rigging from the crane, the cage began to sway from side to side. Before I could start my descent, the cage and myself still attached to it with three different positioning, fell in the water, which by the way was the Gulf of Mexico. As my feet touched the bottom I began to panic and fight to free myself by unhooking myself from the cage. Several of my co workers jumped in the water to rescue me, but they were unable to locate my body. But they were able to locate the cage I was attached to. Thanks to quick thinking they were able to hook the crane cables back to the cage and hoist the cage and I out of the water successfully. But by this time I was not breathing and had no pulse. They lowered me on a crew boat and began to perform CPR.
The CPR was unsuccessful so they began to take me to the dock where the ambulance was awaiting my arrival. During the time of the boat ride, I suddenly began to cough up water and slowly came to my senses. I was taken to the hospital and was blessed that I did not sustain any major injuries. During the accident investigation it was found that the cage we were setting was not the correct one for that particular footing and one of the come along holding it in place was functioning properly to catch the cage as it began to fall. This is when I actually began to take workplace safety seriously and start my career in that field. During the course of this paper it is my intent to present key components of workplace safety and health and provide new insight and personal experience that has and will affect my career and personal life and lives of those around me.
The Role of Safety and Health in the Workplace
Workplace safety is the practice of an employer using preventative measures to prevent hazards to the employees’ health and personal safety. This practice includes creating plans and procedures for employees and managers in the workplace. In addition, workplace safety involves creating policies and keeping emergency materials available for employee and manager use while at a work site. Workplace safety has caused strikes, contract negotiations and concerns among the different labor unions. These groups have negotiated union contracts and initiated lawsuits on behalf of workers who have an unsafe workplace. The Union Auto Workers created “Workers’ Memorial Day” as a day to honor workers who are killed on the job in the United States.
David Micheals, the new head of OSHA, made this profound statement “these catastrophic events are powerful reminders of the risks faced by workers across the country every day. Fourteen workers die on the job each day, far from the headlines, often noted only by their families, friends, and co-workers.” (Markowitz & Rosner, 2011, p.26) Manufacturing jobs are heavily mentioned on this day due to the dangers of operating machinery or equipment. Workplace safety in many businesses requires additional training for the employees and management. This can include a lecture by an expert, hand-on training or a tour of the grounds and materials.
For example, an employee whose job requires the use of a machine is not only trained to use the machine, but he is typically trained on how to operate machinery to avoid injury, dismemberment or death. The employee can also be trained on what to do if a co-worker injures herself on the job. As I stated in the introduction of this paper, I know firsthand the importance of safety and health in the workplace. By understanding the role of workplace safety and its history, employers and employees are able to apply these safety concepts to their everyday work related routines.
I have learned that workplace safety and health reach far beyond the OSHA Act of 1970. Safety involves adopting a way of thinking and a way of functioning in all environments. Organizations such as unions have fought for workers right to a safety and healthy work environment. The campaigns they have fought so diligently to win have proven to be effective in fighting diseases like tuberculosis, typhoid, and smallpox that not only for the workplace but also for the general public. (Markowitz & Rosner, 2011, p.27)
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
In 1970 Congress passed into law The Occupational Safety and Health Act which formed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or (OSHA). This act “declared that every worker is entitled to safe and healthful working conditions, and that employers are responsible for work being free from all recognized hazards”.(Silverstein, 2008, p.416) Even forty years later, many people still do not believe that OSHA is up holding the standard in workplace safety and health for which it was designed to do. Today a worker still becomes injured or sick from a dangerous job every 2.5 seconds plus a worker dies from a workplace injury or illness every 8 minutes. The National Institute for Occupational Safety, also known as NIOSH, has authority for workplace safety and health matters at federal workplace locations. In the federal workplace environment, NIOSH has an enforcement authority that corresponds to the authority OSHA exercises over workplaces operated by private sector employers.
In some instances, state-run programs supersede OSHA authority, and the Occupational and Safety and Health Act of 1970 encourages the development and operation by individual states of workplace safety and health programs. However, to qualify for this exemption to OSHA authority, a state-run program must establish standards and enforcement criteria that match or exceed the effectiveness of the federal OSHA program. As of April 2010, 26 states and U.S. territories have such programs in place with 23 of those 26 covering state and local government workplaces as well as workplaces operated by private sector employers.
The Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 established mandatory health and safety standards and directed the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and the Secretary of Labor to create improved health and safety standards to protect the health and welfare of coal miners in the U.S. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) established a national minimum wage, guaranteed time-and-a-half for overtime in certain types of jobs, and prohibited employers from hiring minors. Today the FLSA helps to enforce and protect the rights and wages of non-exempt employees. I do not have much experience working directly with OSHA but as an OSHA outreach trainer, I have become accustom to understand the importance and impact they can and do have in a workplace environment.
Working as a safety coordinator for several different contractors has given me an insight as to how some organizations adhere to OSHA regulations and how other organizations do not. With this insight and from knowledge gained from this course, I see that we still need stay focused on continuous safety awareness and to ensure OSHA enforces the laws and regulations for violators. By understanding the history and the need for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in our society, I have a greater enthusiasm to perform my job functions as a safety coordinator at a higher level and expect the people around me to adhere to the same level of faithfulness.
Safety Issues In The Workplace
Safety issues are an important topic in today’s workplace, especially with the rise in accidents in places of work and business. Accidents may often be small, but they can also lead to life-altering results such as mutilation and even death. The most common type of safety issue in workplaces relates to tripping and falling, however, there are many other causes to be considered. An organization with a superior policy for dealing with safety issues should be considering topics such as ergonomics and the arrangement of the space so that the tasks best fit the people who complete them. In this discussion the focus will be on three in particular which are repetitive stress injuries, workplace stress, and substance abuse. In today’s society, there are many jobs that require sitting at a work station all day. Employees that perform these types of jobs run a higher risk of being injured by chronic and repetitive motion task, like typing on a keyboard, eyestrains, lifting or movement injuries, poor ergonomics or workstation accidents. (Lowe, 2012, p.104)
Majority of musculoskeletal injuries and pain affecting office workers are a result of sitting for long periods in the same position performing the same or repetitive motions. I have learned that the key to prevention and treatment of these problems is reducing muscle and tendon overuse. A great method to reduce these injuries from happening would be massage therapy. Massage therapy allows the tendons to release pressure that has built up throughout the day or work hours. Another treatment method would be employees do daily stretches at their workstation. When I began working as a carpenter, every morning we would start the day out by doing a series of stretches to loosen our muscle the same way an individual would if they were preparing to exercise. Work related stress is another major safety issue that affects the workplace.
Workplace stressors like interpersonal conflict and work overload can have a profound effect on the health of an organization’s employees. “Findings indicate that work overload and interpersonal conflict mediate the impact of role stress on emotional exhaustion, job attitudes, and behaviors.” (Boles, Jaramillo, Mulki, 2011, p.329) Interpersonal conflict happens due to the negative social interactions between co-workers in the workplace. Also interpersonal conflict is one of the most important stressors at work due to the effect it has on employees’ emotions and their ability to work as a team. Work overload is the employees’ perception that the job is placing excessive work demands on them. In today’s workforce employees are pressured to deliver greater output while using fewer resources. Overloaded individuals often experience feelings of impatience and being rushed, which in turn affects the quality of their interactions with co-workers.
“Because of rising unemployment rates, layoff survivors are more likely to experience larger workloads because they now perform both their former workload and that of those who left.” (Boles, Jaramillo, Mulki, 2011, p.329) From my experience interpersonal conflict and work overload can have a big impact on the health of all employees with no regard to title, pay grade, or seniority. These stressors can cause emotional, mental, and physical health issues for all they affect. Through newly found knowledge, I have gained a greater understanding of the effects that workplace stress can have on an organization’s employees and how they interact with one another. Organizations can counteract these stressors by providing additional support to individuals who are being affected by these workplace stressors and conducting workload/interpersonal conflict evaluations bi annually. “Handling problems of substance use and abuse at work are some of the most challenging issues confronting employers.” (Dwoskin, 2012, p. 32)
The law requires employers to provide a safe, healthy and productive work environment to employees, but it also requires employers accommodate the needs of substance abusing employees. This could cause a conflict, because the substance abusing employees may be causing the health and safety issues in the workplace. Employers have the right to insist on a drug and alcohol free workplace and to take disciplinary action against individuals who violate the zero tolerance rules. Under the law “employers may hold alcoholics and recovering addicts to the same performance standards as other employees.” (Dwoskin, 2012, p.32) This means that employees that abuse drugs and alcohol may be discharged or held to disciplinary action based on tardiness, absenteeism, and poor job performance. But on the other hand, the ADA says they cannot be discriminated against if they are found to be disabled.
The ADA defines discrimination as “not making reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability” (Dwoskin, 2012, p.34) During the course of my research of this particular issue, I learned effect that substance abuse in the workplace can have on the safety of that individual and the people around them. I also learned that in certain situations that a person abusing drugs and alcohol can be protected by the ADA if they are found to be disabled and the employer must accommodate their disability in the workplace. I have known several instances where employees have failed random drug screens and have been able to keep their jobs. But in those instances the employer required the employee to seek professional help in dealing with their addiction.
“A safety program can best be described as a dynamic set of intervention activities implemented at a worksite where the aim is to prevent incidents and accidents at the workplace” (Bjerkan, Olsen, Naevestad, 2009, p.391) These safety programs are usually comprised of activities such as safety training, equipment and housekeeping inspections, safety meetings, and safe behavior observations. There are five key components to a properly structured safety incentive program. The first component involves using an entire campaign to promote your program by building teamwork thru interaction with the employees. The next component is establishing an award vehicle that should be handed out weekly. The third component states to award employees with merchandise rather than money. Usually when employees receive money as a reward they tend to forget the reward and wee the money went to. But when an employee is rewarded with merchandise, they can recall how they received it and this encourages them to win again.
The fourth component says to promote the program using items such as posters, caps, balloons, newsletters, flyers, parties, and company drawings. The last component states to make everyone a winner. It might seem to cost more, but it will pay off in the long run by promoting the idea that everyone that practices safety in the workplace is a winner. Wellness is a lifestyle that encourages good physical and mental health. It is a balanced lifestyle that includes an emphasis on the body, mind and spirit. Wellness Programs were created to encourage all faculty, staff, and retirees to live healthier lifestyles and create a culture of health throughout the organization. Workplace wellness includes organizational policies designed to facilitate employee health including allowing flex time for exercise, providing on-site kitchen and eating areas, offering healthy food options in vending machines, holding “walk and talk” meetings, and offering financial and other incentives for participation, among many other options.
In the course of researching safety programs, I have learned new techniques that will enhance my knowledge in designing safety programs in the future. Working of several different companies has allowed me to be exposed to different types of safety incentive programs. I have seen what does work and also what does not work. During the course of this paper it was my intention to present key components of workplace safety and health and provide new insight and personal experience that has and will affect my career and personal life and lives of those around me.
By exploring the role of safety and health in the workplace I have gained greater understanding of its history. I can now assist employers and employees to apply these safety concepts to their everyday work related routines. In researching OSHA, I discovered a greater knowledge of the importance of the OSHA Act of 1970 and the administrative offices that have developed from the Act. Offices such as OSHA and NIOSH were established to up hold the laws and standards set by the OSHA Act in the workplace. My knowledge has grown during the development of this paper which has allowed me to view different aspects of safety and health that I previously did not have knowledge of.
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EHS Today; Vol. 5 Issue 10, p. 63-64
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