A safe workplace is a productive workplace.
Not only does a safe workplace keep workers working – as opposed to being out on workers’ compensation – but when workers feel safe on the job they can more easily focus on their task at hand, rather than being distracted by a fear of injury, accident or assault.
And a big part of our mission at the Assembly Subcommittee on Workplace Safety is shining a light on the small percentage of New York businesses which cut corners with safety in order to gain a competitive advantage over the majority of businesses who take workplace safety seriously.
Failures to address workplace safety issues can cost employers big money. On a statewide level the Public Employee Federation has estimated that legislation mandating state agencies to examine their workers’ compensation rates and work with employee representatives to develop plans to reduce injuries and illnesses could save the state up to $217 million annually.
Currently, the state is spending $45 million in direct workers’ compensation costs and losing over 1,000 full time employees per year.
Like the sort of workplace injuries found in small businesses, many of these injuries are preventable if management meets with employees to assess workplace risks and develop interventions.
There are numerous low-cost ways employers can provide a safe workplace. For office environments, something as simple as installing a Plexiglas™ barrier at the reception desk can shield employees from a dangerous person, or in medical offices, even just from the coughs and sneezes of visiting patients.
For larger offices or warehouse spaces where the front door is not under surveillance, all but one exterior door should be locked during the workday, and a security guard should be assigned to the entrance that remains unlocked.
Most importantly, all employees should receive some sort of training against on-the-job hazards, so they themselves know what actions to take in an emergency situation to keep themselves and their co-workers safe.
Training need not be only about how to respond in dire emergency situations, but also what the emergency evacuation plan is for the job site in case of a fire, and how to properly adjust an office desk and chair to ergonomically support parts of the body that are prone to stress.
There are supportive services for employers who are looking to make their workplace safer. The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration will perform free on-site consultations at your small business to evaluate safety hazards and give you a plan of action on how to mediate their impact and train your workforce. The New York State Department of Labor also offers a similar safety consultation service.
Employers who fail to maintain safe work environments for their employees, cut corners and ignore preventable hazards are cheating not only their workers; they are cheating law-abiding, safety conscious employers who dedicate resources (time and money) to keep their workers safe.
We all have an interest in making New York’s workplaces as safe as can be.
Assemblyman Rory Lancman is Chair of the Assembly Subcommittee on Workplace Safety.