A traditional approach to mitigating common workplace hazards often focuses on complying with mandatory regulations and in-house safety protocols that address only physical health.
This singular focus, however, overlooks key contributing factors in maintaining workplace safety: mental and emotional health. A holistic approach to safety—taking into account the whole person—will contribute to avoiding common workplace safety hazards by boosting overall well-being.
What Are Some Common Workplace Hazards?
Common workplace safety hazards are no mystery, and they’re generally not too complicated—they’re largely predictable. Well-recognized common health hazards in the workplace include the following:
- Trips or slips and resulting falls
- Falling objects
- Employee collisions—with other employees, machinery, or objects
- Repetitive motion stress
- Bad form when lifting objects
- Poor ergodynamics
The best news about the most common workplace hazards is that these hazards are largely avoidable. This ought to be great incentive to create an excellent safety culture. Your efforts will pay off in the form of a healthy, injury-free workforce.
Healthy, safe workers have been shown to be happier and more productive, to stay with their jobs longer, and to take fewer days off due to illness or injury. Any employer understands the tremendous benefits of these outcomes.
While it’s the employee’s body that suffers the injuries caused by these hazards, it’s likely that it’s the employee’s lack of mental or emotional well-being that’s at the root of why the injury occured. After all, it’s the mind that directs the body.
Stay Present, Aware, Alert: Key Risk Controls for Common Workplace Hazards
Attending to mental and emotional well-being is critical because they directly impact an employee’s ability to be present, aware, and alert—in other words, to be mindful. An inability to be clear-headed and present more readily sends your body into dangerous territory.
This short video touches on what mindfulness is and a simple route to achieving this more present mental state:
An employee who is present and therefore aware of their surroundings will notice a slippery floor surface or object that might be a tripping hazard. That employee will be more aware of not bumping into an open file drawer or another employee rounding a corner. It is less likely that that employee will mindlessly heft a container in a way that strains their back.
Awareness also extends to noticing how your body feels. Workers who are mindful that the way they are sitting at their desk is causing them back and neck pain are more likely to correct this situation and not suffer the long-term effects of poor ergonomics. Those who pause to make sure they are lifting and moving properly will avoid strains.
Workers who are required to do the same thing over and over will also clue into movements that feel unnatural or require excessive effort. They are in a position to work with management to correct the process or alert management of the need for better equipment. This helps reduce chances of repetitive stress injuries.
Tesla recently put this into practice by improving the ergodynamics in its Fremont Factory, with input from employees. This helped reduce the company’s 2017 recordable incident rate by nearly 25% percent.
Additionally, mindful employees are more likely to attend to all details of safety precautions like wearing all PPE and checking that protective guards are in place and machines are in good working order.
Common Distractors: What Takes Workers Away from the Task at Hand?
Stress and fatigue are two major sources of distraction and that diminish the ability to think clearly or stay alert.
The ubiquitous screen is also a sure way to avert someone’s attention from what’s right in front of them. An employee checking messages or sending texts while walking runs the risks of collisions and falls. We’ve all heard the stories of people falling into manholes or colliding with telephone poles because they were focused on their mobile device. And the statistics are clear: texting while driving is more dangerous than driving drunk. Enough said.
How to Help Workers Stay Present
Let’s start with the easy stuff: employees should never use mobile devices when they’re moving or in close proximity to machinery, vehicles, or dangerous tools or objects. Ever.
Mitigating stress and fatigue takes a bit more effort. Both will be reduced if employees are offered frequent breaks and encouraged to move and stretch during that time. Workplace stress is often caused by the perception of job insecurity, being overtasked, not receiving proper training, and not being clear on work responsibilities.
Assess if these circumstances are present in your company environment and address as needed. Seek employee feedback to learn about other possible causes of workplace-generated stress.
Of course, workers may be experiencing stress and fatigue due to factors outside of the workplace. Provide information about counseling services to help address these issues. If your employee insurance program covers psychological services or healing therapies such as massage and acupuncture, be sure that staff is aware of this.
Since fatigue can simply result from lack of sleep, periodically address good habits for a solid night’s sleep in your safety moments.
Meditation: The Stress KO Punch
Another proven method for reducing stress, improving the ability to focus, and rejuvenating the mind is meditation. In the Huffington Post article “Mindfulness: 7 Reasons to Implement Meditation at Work,” Geoff Koboldt identifies presence, memory, and decision making among his seven reasons to implement a meditation practice. He also notes that it was a solution to help with his stress.
Meditation could make another great safety moment topic, with a useful takeaway being a list of the many free meditation free apps available: Calm, Insight Timer, and Relax Melodies are a small sampling.
Additionally, you could encourage workers to take moments of quiet reflection throughout the day; even three to five minutes can be effective. Or offer lunchtime guided group meditation sessions.
Don’t Knock It ’Til They Try It
Many workers and even management may see mindfulness and meditation as an overly touchy-feely trend, and not appropriate for the workplace. Think again. Not only have corporations like Google, Intel, and General Mills turned to mindfulness training, meditation has made its way into inner-city schools with very promising results.
If mindfulness training can help young people cope with the drug- and violence-riddled streets of Baltimore, imagine the impact it’ll have on mitigating common workplace hazards.
How can I successfully implement new safety initiatives?
How do I get buy-in from management and workers?
What’s the best way to build trust and rapport?
Should EHS be a C-Suite position?
We explore these questions and more on the Safety Labs by Slice podcast. Check us out using the links below.