5 Ways to Stay Safe at Work

Back Web Only Jan 13, 2017 By Robin Epley

Having a good office safety plan is essential — but why does it so often go overlooked? You don’t need to be a constant worrywart to know an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It just makes good business sense to have plans in place for emergencies: We spend a large portion of our lives at the office, so whether it’s having multiple evacuation routes out of your building or routinely checking cords and heaters, office safety is not something we should take for granted.

Imagine the Worst-Case Scenario

What’s the worst possible thing that could happen at work? Maybe you work in a floodplain or an earthquake-prone area. Perhaps a tornado could come right over the top of your building. Those are only the natural disasters: An active shooter or bomb threat are also worries. Think about how you would handle those situations and make an emergency action plan for each scenario. Confer with HR, and see if you can’t come up with a plan together. If there’s a flood, do you know how to get to the roof? How does the plan change if the dangerous situation is inside or outside the building? What if you can’t use the doors to get out? Planning for all of these situations will lessen the panic if that day ever comes and, in the meantime, could be useful in smaller, less-dangerous situations.

Check Alarms and Cords Regularly

It’s hard to remember to do this at home, much less at your office, but check the fire alarms, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors on a regular basis. Ask someone in your office to stand in the farthest possible spot in the office from the detector when you check the device to see if that person can hear the alarm sound. Check cords and wires to make sure they’re not frayed, especially cords that run near well-traveled areas. Falling is among the biggest office-place injuries, so keep cords taped down where necessary to prevent tripping hazards.

Keep Hallways Clear

Sometimes the boxes pile up, and in a small office, it can feel like you’re playing hopscotch around cardboard cubes and piles of paper all day. But think about what it would be like to navigate that maze in an emergency. Could you do it if the hallways were filled with smoke and you had to crawl? What if the lights went out and you had to do it in pitch-black darkness? What if you were running through the hallway? Keep your pathways clear, and your route safe. Not only is it required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but it makes good sense. (OSHA actually released a national memo about the problem a few years ago.) And stop propping doors open with your trash can: The draft of air coming in through open doors during a fire can drastically worsen damage and hinder your chance of survival, and anything you can trip on poses a hazard.

Train Your Employees

You may know not to store material too close to a mounted sprinkler head, but do your employees? Did you know that the No. 2 most cited violation by OSHA in 2016 was a failure to communicate office-place hazards to workers? (The No. 1 citation: insufficient fall protection.) A friend of mine working at a public pool last summer tried to do some electrical work immediately after getting out of the water and blew off a chunk of her fingertip after accidentally touching a live wire — the first lesson of this story is that you can’t stop all the bad decisions happening at the office, but you can supply training to decrease the chances of it seriously hurting someone. (The second lesson is don’t hire my friend for electrical work.) Think about taking a few hours off for office-wide training once a month or quarterly. At the very least, make sure the entire staff knows where the exits and high ground are located, and how to use a fire extinguisher.

Establish Reporting Systems

In 2013, OSHA fined New York City-based retailer Idea Nuova $82,200 in response to 22 alleged violations of workplace safety standards at two of the company’s locations. They found blocked exit routes and obstructed electrical panels, unmounted fire extinguishers and propped-open emergency exit doors among several other violations. Employees hadn’t been trained to use fire extinguishers and industrial truck drivers hadn’t received mandatory refresher courses. OSHA knew about these violations because of multiple reports from employees and clients. But if you set up a quick and easy way to receive and address potential workplace safety hazards, your employees won’t need to get OSHA involved. Consider an anonymous process to encourage workers to say what needs to be said.

No one hopes to use these emergency plans, but on the off-chance you do, you and your coworkers will be glad someone thought ahead.