National Safety Month: Tips to Protect Your Business and Employee

As a small business owner, you are responsible for keeping your employees safe in the workplace. Accidents and injuries — or even fatalities — can occur in any workplace, no matter your industry. Employees with desk jobs can run the same risk of hazardous slips, trips and falls as those on a factory floor. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), preventable work deaths have increased more than 14% since 2011, while the death rate per 100,000 workers has risen 3%. The NSC reports that 2021’s preventable injury death rate (the most recent data available) rose to 3.1 per 100,000 workers, up from 3.0 in 2020. Work-related medically consulted injuries, meanwhile, totaled 4.26 million in 2021.

Workplace injuries disrupt your business and make you vulnerable to costly personal injury lawsuits or civil penalties. In recognition of National Safety Month, take the time to review our tips and evaluate your business’ workplace health and safety plan. As the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reminds us, “A safe workplace is a sound business.”

Slips, Trips and Falls

Work-related fatalities due to falls, slips and trips increased 5.6% in 2021, from 805 deaths in 2020 to 850 in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Falls, slips and trips in construction and extraction occupations accounted for 370 of these fatalities in 2021, an increase of 7.2% from 2020, when there were 345 fatalities.

While construction workers are most at risk for fatal falls from height, falls at home and work can lead to severe injuries and emergency room visits. Prevent slip, trip and fall injuries in the workplace by:

  • Encouraging your employees to be aware of their surroundings and report any potential hazards.
  • Making it a workplace practice to clean up spills immediately, no matter how small.
  • Keeping phone and electrical cords out of the way or covered with a cable protector.
  • Always closing file drawers and cabinets when they are not in use.
  • Creating a clear path to walk by removing obstacles, such as boxes and chairs, from walkways and other high-traffic areas.
  • Educating employees on properly using a stepstool or ladder by maintaining three points of contact when climbing or descending.
  • Publishing these safety precautions where they can be a constant reminder to your employees, i.e., breakrooms, employee manuals, etc.


Motor Vehicle Accidents

Motor vehicle crashes are the first or second leading cause of death in every major industry group, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). All employees are at risk of a motor vehicle accident, whether it’s part of their job duties or simply their daily commute to and from work.

OSHA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS) recommend employers create a workplace driver safety program to improve employee safety and protect their bottom line. Their free ten-step guide includes real-life examples of successful programs and traffic safety issues to address in the workplace.

Implementing a similar program at your business demonstrates that you care for your employees and their safety. Help your driving program succeed by:

  • Encouraging employee participation and involvement at all levels – Working cooperatively on your safety plan at all stages will ensure your employees feel included. Their feedback and insight are valuable tools to help your effort succeed.
  • Creating clear, comprehensive and enforceable traffic safety policies – These policies should be posted throughout the workplace and regularly discussed at company meetings.
  • Establishing driver agreements for employees who drive for work purposes – Whether they drive a company vehicle or their personal car for work purposes, a signed agreement acknowledges that your employees understand company safety policies.
  • Providing incentives for no incidents within a specific time period – Incentivizing your workforce can encourage safety plan participation and lead to even more careful driving by all. For example, you may wish to offer a cash bonus for all drivers with no accidents or incidents in the previous 12 months or putting their names in a drawing for a larger reward.


Overexertion and Repetitive Motion Injuries

According to NSC, overexertion and bodily reaction were the second leading nonfatal injury or illness events involving days away from work in 2020, representing 22% of all such injuries. While data on these injuries isn’t yet available for 2021, employee injuries due to stress or strain can significantly impact your business’ workflow. In 2020, NSC reported that overexertion injuries caused employees to miss a median of 14 days — two days longer than other injuries or illnesses. Reduce employee injuries caused by stress and overexertion by:

  • Promoting safe lifting techniques – Employees who use smart lifting practices are less likely to suffer from the back, wrist, elbow and spine injuries commonly associated with lifting heavy objects. Utilize OSHA resources to educate your employees on proper lifting techniques and limit your risks of workers’ compensation claims, lost work days and limited productivity.
  • Distributing repetitive tasks throughout the day instead of all at once – Carpal tunnel, trigger finger and tendinitis are all examples of repetitive motion injuries. These often develop gradually, so a worker might not notice the condition until it becomes severe enough for a doctor’s visit. By encouraging your employees to break up these responsibilities into smaller pieces, you can help reduce their chances of needing corrective surgery.
  • Taking pain seriously – Ignoring a pulled muscles or strains can leave your employees at risk for more significant injuries. Create a safety-minded culture by encouraging them to report any pain or discomfort. With their assistance, identify whether they need additional workplace safety training or advice to prevent these types of injuries in the future.
  • Incorporating ergonomic tools in the workplace – With the rise of the at-home workforce, there are many tools on the market to improve employees’ work experience and general health. Chairs, keyboards, mice, desks and monitors are just a few examples of the resources available for your workplace.


Workplace Violence

In 2020, more than 20,050 workers in the private industry experienced trauma from nonfatal workplace violence, according to data from NIOSH. Of those workers, 22% needed 31 or more days away from work to recover, and 22% involved three to five days away.

Workplace violence is the act or threat of violence, ranging from threats and verbal abuse to physical assault or even homicide. Even a single incident of workplace violence can affect all levels of your business — your employees, customers and visitors — and create long-term trauma and stress for yourself and those involved.

Creating a comprehensive zero-tolerance policy can help you respond to and redirect unruly employees or customers before situations escalate. Your policy should cover your unique exposures — for instance, within the retail sector, gas station workers are at a higher risk of violence compared to other retail workers — and anyone who would potentially come in contact with company personnel.

Fires and Explosions

Do you have a kitchen or meal-prep area in your business? Do you or your employees regularly use the microwave, toaster oven or other appliances to prepare meals during the day? While a shared kitchen is a great asset to your business and your employees, cooking is the leading cause of office and store fires, according to 2020 data shared by the U.S. Fire Administration.

Improve fire safety at your business by taking the following steps:

  • Ensure all smoke alarms and fire sprinklers are in proper working condition.
  • Post clear fire escape plans on every level of the building and in common areas.
  • Teach your employees about escape routes and the location of fire-protection equipment.
  • Regularly examine fire ladders and exit routes to prevent blockage or address damage that could present a danger to your employees.
  • Conduct regular emergency drills to ensure everyone can exit the building safely and promptly.


Electrical Accidents

Workers in various occupations and work settings can be at risk for significant electrical injuries, such as electrocution, electric shock or electrical burns. While some professions — such as construction or equipment installation — might have higher rates of injuries or fatalities due to their unique responsibilities, electrical equipment is in virtually any workplace. Therefore, employers need to maintain awareness of electrical hazards and how to avoid them.

Take these steps to improve your small business’ electrical safety:

  • Never overload outlets or plug multiple extension cords together – If your business needs more outlets to accommodate an increase in staffing or new equipment, contact a certified electrician. These stop-gap measures can lead to overheating and overloading, increasing your risk of a workplace fire.
  • Inspect cords and equipment regularly – Frayed or damaged cables can cause severe shock and burn injuries. If a piece of equipment feels hot, makes an unusual noise or emits smoke or sparks, take it out of service immediately.
  • Train your employees to use electrical equipment properly – Unplugging cords by gripping the plug, shutting down equipment properly and avoiding using electrical equipment with wet hands are all simple ways to educate your employees to avoid electrical injuries.


Chemical Exposure

Workplaces around the country use tens of thousands of chemicals each day. If your business uses harmful chemicals or toxic substances, it’s essential to make sure you and your employees are protected. Uncontrolled or even unintentional exposures can cause long-term illnesses, diseases and injuries.

The NIOSH recommends employers prevent workplace occupational skin disease and chemical-based injuries by eliminating hazardous chemicals or substituting them with a safer alternative. If it cannot be eliminated or substituted, employers must institute workplace controls — such as ventilation systems and isolation booths, safety training programs and the use of personal protective equipment — to decrease employees’ risk of injury.

The NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards helps employers recognize and control the chemical hazards of hundreds of chemicals, identify the signs and symptoms of exposure and includes procedures for emergency treatment. Research the chemicals commonly used at your business to determine the proper precautions.

Natural Disasters

Severe weather events are becoming more commonplace amid the ongoing effects of climate change. The NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) found that in 2021, the country experienced 20 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters, putting that year in second place for the most disasters in a calendar year. Wildfires, flooding events and tornado outbreaks are just a few examples of severe weather events that disrupted employers and workers nationwide.

Safeguard your business and your employees against the life-altering impacts of natural disasters by:

  • Understanding your hazards – Is your region prone to earthquakes, snow, or flooding? It’s important to have a clear picture of the types of natural disasters that could impact your business when crafting the appropriate emergency response plan.
  • Create an emergency preparedness plan – Tailor your plan to your business’ specific needs and operations and focus on realistic disasters that could impact your business. A comprehensive plan should address immediate priorities, such as emergency evacuation procedures, and roadmap how your office will operate in the days, weeks or even months following a natural disaster. The U.S. Business Administration offers preparedness checklists and safety tips on various natural disasters, making this a valuable resource to help get your plan started.
  • Build confidence through training – Just like fire drills, regular natural disaster exercises will benefit your employees by ensuring everyone understands their role in an emergency. This can also be a valuable opportunity to identify any potential challenges or “holes” in your plan that need to be addressed.
  • Stay in communication – Your staff and partners must be informed of the company’s safety and security during a natural disaster. Establishing communication platforms ahead of time — such as mass text or emergency alert systems — will keep everyone on the same page and hopefully out of harm’s way.

    National Safety Month is a valuable annual reminder to stay aware of your business’ unique risks. Proactively identifying and addressing these dangers can remove unnecessary stress and anxiety, allowing you and your staff to respond quickly and efficiently.

    An essential part of planning ahead is ensuring you have the necessary insurance protections in place. Workplace injuries are commonplace, and workers’ compensation coverage protects you when one of your employees is hurt on the job or becomes ill because of workplace conditions. Visit to learn more about workers’ compensation.

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