The Top 5 Workplace Safety Issues
Workplace safety is multifaceted, with different workplaces facing different potential safety risks. The top five issues in an office environment, for example, will be somewhat different from the top five issues on a construction site or in a heavy industrial setting.
The size of an organization can also play a role in what safety issues come into play, in addition to the different regulatory requirements imposed within different working environments.
All this is to say that the top safety issues faced in your workplace will be unique. However, common workplace issues can still be broadly categorized. Many of the most common safety issues that we see feed into each other, or stem from a lack of preparation in general, more than any environmental hazards.
Below are some of the most common workplace safety issues.
Failing to Identify Risks
In order to protect workers and other stakeholders from harm, organizations have an obligation to identify all potential hazards, and give adequate thought to addressing and mitigating these hazards. A risk assessment is a requirement under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, or the equivalent legislation in your area.
A risk assessment matrix that sets out each potential risk across broad categories – including physical and mental health risks, financial risks, legal risks, and any other applicable category – is a must for any organization. This risk assessment should be reevaluated at least annually, or anytime there is an accident or change to the working environment or process.
Lack of Policies and Procedures
Minimizing safety issues within any organization stems from a strong ‘management system’ formed from the presence of policies and procedures which are built out of the risks identified by the company. A sufficient training program requires strong policies and procedures. Another safety risk that we often come across is a lack of policies and procedures, whether due to insufficient detail within existing policies, or policies missing entirely.
As previously stated, the Act and applicable regulations require all organizations to identify all risks in the workplace. The employer then has to put in controls to minimize the risk. Depending on the risk, controls may take the form of PPE, awareness training, or checks and balances. You can think of risk management as an ecosystem – every aspect is connected to, and dependent on, other aspects.
Policies and procedures should cover, at minimum, the safety requirements set out by the Act. Depending on the nature of your workplace, however, these minimum requirements may not be sufficient – it is important to develop policies and procedures that fulfill the requirements of any additional standards or controls that your organization is subject to.
In general, policies and procedures should be reviewed at least annually. Policies should also be reviewed any time there is a safety incident or injury in the workplace, a change to a governing regulation, or a concern raised by a worker or supervisor. Any change to a policy or procedure should likewise trigger an update to worker training, and an update to a risk assessment.
When developing internal policies and procedures it is important to understand all the regulations that you are following, as an organization. Procedures should be written with enough complexity to cover all of these requirements. For organizations that are following ISO standards, for example, internal procedures will require a higher level of detail than those of organizations following the minimum requirements. In such cases, policies, safe operating procedures (SOPs), and work instructions should be collected into an overall quality management system.
Lack of training
The first line of defense for any identified risk is often training. Inadequate training is a safety issue that we often see in organizations.
In some cases, this is because organizations don’t realize their obligation to provide certain types of training. In other cases, the organization has provided training, but only for new employees. In fact, most training programs should be repeated at least annually, and training should additionally be reviewed whenever updates or changes are made to policies and procedures. Very few training requirements are “one-time.”
It is a government requirement that all workplaces provide at least basic safety training to all employees. (In Ontario, for example, this is referred to as basic awareness training.) Basic safety training for an employee or worker must typically include three factors:
- A review of the worker’s rights and responsibilities
- A review of specific hazards within the work environment
- A review of safe work procedures
Training may include topics such as materials handling, standard operating procedures, housekeeping practices, and equipment maintenance checks.
Slips, Trips, and Falls
In terms of more tangible safety hazards, slips, trips, and falls and their resulting injuries are one of the most common safety concerns in workplaces.
Slips, trips, and fall risks are generally mitigated through two paths – working at heights training, and fall prevention/protection.
Training for working at heights is required for any employees who will be working on elevated surfaces at a height of 3 meters (10 feet) or greater; or, at lower heights where there is still a risk of injury should a fall occur. The specific training required should be identified in a procedure based on a risk assessment.
Fall prevention guidelines can vary depending on the exact work environment. Generally, elevated work surfaces should have guardrails. In addition, fall restraints and fall arrests (such as harnesses or lifelines) should be employed.
Worker Mental Health
Mental health is a common (and growing) issue for workplaces. Many organizations believe that employee mental health is an HR concern, but it in fact falls under safety as well.
In Ontario and other regions, the Act includes a section known as the ‘general duty clause’ (Section 25(2)(h) of the OHSA). According to this clause the employer must take “every precaution reasonable” to protect their workers.
Though mental health is not specifically mentioned in the Act, this clause is generally accepted to apply to both physical and mental wellbeing for workers.
The specific mental health support you provide to workers will depend on your organization and industry, and the nature of the work.
Though it is related to several other items on the list, naloxone training is another important safety issue that employers need to be aware of.
Workers in certain industries, in particular construction, have been identified as high-risk populations for opioid use and overdose. This is due in part to the heightened risk and incidence of physical injuries, as well as the contract and shift work nature of the industry which can lead to many workers prioritizing continued work and income over taking time off to heal.
The Working for Workers Act, 2022, S.O. 2022, c. 7 – Bill 88 identifies the requirements mandated in Ontario for employers surrounding naloxone. Naloxone is a drug that combats the immediate effects of opioid overdose, reducing the risk of overdose death. It is increasingly recommended for workplaces in construction (and other industries) to provide on site workers with naloxone training.
Unsure if your workplace policies and procedures are up-to-date? Need help implementing a new training protocol for your organization?
With our workplace safety expertise, Fluent Motion can help you identify potential safety hazards and implement policies and procedures to keep your workers safe.