Why are health and safety important in a workplace? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a list of the top 10 cited standards for the 2017 fiscal year that addresses several specific ways these standards apply to all employers. The list includes several items that are particularly relevant to desk workers, many pertinent to work-life balance programs that encourage employees to get away from their desks.
Work-life balance is essential, and policies and programs designed to encourage better health and wellness are desirable. However, in creating these programs, employers may introduce unintended safety risks — so make sure that these new initiatives continue to conform to OSHA standards before implementing them in your workplace. Most importantly, inform yourself about these top safety concerns many employers run into to bring your office into compliance with OSHA requirements for office jobs.
Scaffolding and Construction
Work-life balance should not include balance beams. Construction, both on-site and near your site, should be accounted for — especially entrances and exits from your facility. Any company-sponsored efforts to promote mobility should contain a reminder of the potential hazards. Even exposure to sawdust from construction or other particulates in these areas can cause respiratory distress, which is covered by OSHA.
Large organizations with multiple sites should have broad disclaimers, and general communications can include placeholders for human resources to input safety details. For example, a company-wide communication could note the following: "Remember, due to road construction on Smith Street, there is currently no sidewalk at that location."
Ladders and Falls
Many health and wellness activities take place outside, but walking groups may start to look for inside-only answers when the weather is bad. In that case, hallways, stairwells, skywalks and tunnels may suddenly start getting increased use. Employees may even bypass signs or obstructions to get to point B. Organizations introducing wellness programs should be aware not only of hazards in the company-owned areas, but of those in borderline areas as well.
The best practice is to treat the introduction of a new wellness program as an opportunity to review OSHA standards for safety and to ensure appropriate signage and communications across all facilities. Coordinate walk-throughs and integrate your findings into messaging for employees. Even dress code communications can reference footwear and be explicit about how some shoes are better and safer for walking than others (such as no-slip footwear instead of sandals or high heels).
Electrical Hazards, Wiring and Cords
Those alternative routes above can just as easily lead to areas under temporary construction. Something as innocuous as building out a cube farm can create new hazards, such as tripping over wiring or ducking under the installation of a new lighting fixture.
These factors make it all the more important to have each potential route assessed, accounting for what people will really do when they start their walking club. Anticipate the risks and make sure the proper warnings and communications are in place to protect employees and your organization.
Alternatives: Activities in Place
To avoid all of those potential workplace hazards, there are numerous ways to promote employee activity within the general work area. Yoga balls, standing desks, stationary desk bikes, isometric exercises and stationary stretching exercises all apply. Some of these options even have the added benefit of applying to all employees, regardless of potential disabilities or physical impairments.
State Laws May Intensify Requirements
OSHA sets a baseline for safety compliance in the workplace, but be sure to check any work-life balance programs against state regulations, too. These can also have important caveats and additional areas of detail that you don't want to miss.
When it comes to OSHA requirements, it's essential to ensure that your workplace policies remain compliant with all regulations, or you may face a hefty fine for each violation and put your employees' health and safety in danger. OSHA regulations are enforced by regular inspections, occurring most frequently in "imminent danger situations" and "high-hazard industries." But there's also the potential for a workplace to be reported by a worker or referral, so it's important to make sure your employees always feel safe in their working environment.
So, when asking your team, "Why are health and safety important in a workplace?" you need to understand that it's a much more intricate concern than simply getting your employees up and out of their office chairs for their health. It's just as important to be proactive about work-life balance and wellness programs as it is to be mindful of the potential hazards that lie just beyond their desks, so you can always keep your workforce safe.