Every job poses certain health and safety risks – examples include chronic back pain from manual handling or other physical activity and respiratory conditions from prolonged exposure to chemicals. In the long run, health and safety risks affect the overall well-being of the employee and the efficiency and productivity of the business.
The United States Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) strive to mitigate on-the-job risks by upholding standards, conducting inspections and imposing fines against unsafe workplaces. It becomes the responsibility of employers and front-line managers to address risks and ensure a safe workplace.
To implement safe workplaces more efficiently, many companies have an in-house job risk assessment (JRA), a strategic analysis that breaks down tasks, potential hazards and risks and how the company can address or alleviate them.
Job Risk: Statistical Data of Injuries and Deaths
Since 1970, OSHA has assured safe and healthy working conditions for employees by enforcing workplace standards. Through training, inspections and rules on health and safety practices, OSHA has helped decrease the number of injuries and deaths.
The number of worker fatalities has dropped from 38 per day in 1970 to 14 per day in 2016. During this time, the number of workers has doubled, but the number of deaths has dropped by more than half.
As workers continue to operate heavy machinery or work with chemicals and other potentially hazardous substances, work still poses considerable risks. From October 2016 to September 2017, almost 5,200 deaths and 2.9 million injuries occurred in the workplace, according to data from OSHA and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most fatal incidents come from falls on construction sites. Sprains, strains and tears were the most common injuries among employees.
Because of worker deaths, companies (especially those in industrial, mechanical, construction, chemical and other sectors that deal in manual labor) are compelled to keep their workplaces safe. Many have found that the best way of determining hazards and minimizing the risks associated with those hazards is by having employees perform a JRA before every job.
Assessing Job Risks and Job Hazard Analysis
Employers and managers use JRAs to identify the risks associated with each step in a job and implement measures to mitigate hazards. From the results, they perform a job hazard analysis (JHA), which looks deeper into each task of the job to further lessen or remove every risk.
Because OSHA does not require companies to perform JRAs, it is up to companies to develop their own JRA format and procedure. Thomas Cecich, former President of the American Society of Safety Engineers, recommends that employers review their JRA and JHA annually. The steps could vary based on the nature of the industry and other factors, and may include:
- Identifying the job positions that have incidents based on past data, review and research
- Identifying a job’s specific tasks
- Evaluating the risks of each task
- Implementing strategies that mitigate the risks
- Conducting the JHA
The JHA looks into each task and provides a deeper analysis of the hazards. This includes:
- Breaking down each job task
- Identifying and isolating the risks or hazards
- Determining the control measures
- Developing new procedures to avoid the risk
- Implementing these steps by communicating the procedures to employees
By performing JRAs and JHAs, companies can better isolate the root cause of incidents. This is not a task employers and managers perform on their own; they will need the assistance of the employees and safety groups that understand the risks. By creating protocols that employees will follow, it becomes easier to find the appropriate equipment to decrease the likelihood of incidents.
Safety Measures: Personal Protective Equipment
Under OSHA’s standards and federal notices, employers must provide personal protective equipment (PPE) when it is necessary to equip employees against injuries, illnesses and fatal accidents. PPE minimizes exposure to the hazards determined by JRAs. Some examples include protective gloves, safety glasses, hard hats and other wearable gear.
PPE must meet OSHA’s standards under 29 CFR 1910. Employers must provide safely designed and high-quality PPE that offers adequate protection. Employers are also responsible for training employees on their PPE’s proper use based on OSHA’s sub-sections.
Gloves, for example, are covered in section 1910.138, which highlights the importance of PPE for hand protection under appropriate conditions. Employees must use gloves when their task exposes their hands to harmful substances, cuts, extreme temperatures or chemical or thermal burns. OSHA also stresses that because gloves are a crucial factor in the user’s safety, employers should provide appropriate gloves for the job purpose and risk level.
Benefits of Avoiding Workplace Risks
Employers who mitigate these risks provide efficient and safe workplaces for their employees, which greatly contributes to the business. First, by implementing a uniform protocol for routine operations, it will be easier to determine potential workplace hazards.
Second, uniformity allows risk analysts to track incidents easily. In case of another accident, risk analysts determine where the training is lacking or what the employee did wrong, and how they can improve protocol and avoid repeat incidents.
Third, on a larger scale, a safe environment allows employees to work more efficiently, which benefits the business financially. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 892,270 injuries in 2016 resulted in days away from work. Around 91.7 employees for every 10,000 workers took an average of eight days off to recuperate, which companies had to subsidize. This lost time resulted in lower productivity and company loss in payment for employees’ time off.
Safety-focused companies find positive changes in the workplace. According to OSHA, the last four decades of implementing and improving safety measures have seen lower incidents of sickness, injury and death. Incident rates dropped down by more than 60 percent between 1970 and 2016. Injuries are lower, too – there were 10.9 incidents for every 100 workers in 1972 compared to 2.9 incidents for every 100 workers in 2016.
Individual employees have a duty to keep themselves and their peers safe while on the job, front-line supervisors have a duty to keep their direct reports safe while on the job, the organization and upper-management has a duty to keep everyone working in and around their facilities safe. That is why management pays such close attention to data and improving safety metrics. Reducing incidents and preventing injuries across a large organization requires a focus on safety metrics. For a detailed guid to improve your organizations safety metrics, check out our article The Definitive Guide to Improving Safety Metrics.
Applying JRAs does not imply an environment free of hazards. While the use of JRAs significantly decreases risks, accidents could still happen due to certain factors including the employees’ state of mind, their experience and their knowledge of their tasks.
Safety should be a consistent practice; it must become a culture both employers and employees adopt. Employers have a real need to find ways to keep employees safe without sacrificing their efficiency, while employees should practice caution in performing their tasks.
With job risk assessments, companies can determine and isolate the risks employees face. They can then address them through an improved and uniform protocol. The right methods and equipment promote safety without hindering efficiency and productivity.