3 Tips for Preventing & Managing Workplace Accidents

by Claire Parker, Staples® Contributing Writer

People regularly protect their homes from catastrophes. Just think of all the hurricane, earthquake and fire preparedness tools on the market, from insurance coverage to safety supplies available in stores. But what do small business owners do to prepare for on-the-job accidents that could be detrimental to an employee’s health and livelihood, not to mention the company’s reputation?

The answer is usually: not enough.

The safety world buzzes with the same cautionary tales of what not to do, according to Wes Scott, consulting services director for the National Safety Council in Itasca, IL. But nonetheless, workers slip on wet floors, fall down staircases with broken handrails or trip in poorly lit hallways every day (more on that later). These hazardous situations can result in broken bones, workers’ compensation claims and debilitating lawsuits. And in almost every instance, these accidents could have been prevented.

So how do you find the red flags and prepare your workplace for those “what if” scenarios to ensure your employees and clients stay safe on the job? Safety experts, business owners and insurance agents say it boils down to these three simple steps:

1. Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

Scott says to literally walk through your business, front to back and side to side. “Look at every employee, what they do, the process, and ask what can go wrong here,” he says. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that private employers reported nearly 3 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2012. And the bulk of them weren’t in factories, but in service businesses. By asking questions and looking for areas where someone could get hurt — unsafely stored goods, chipped tile or unmarked exit signs, for example — you can eliminate problems.

A walkthrough also is a good way to take inventory of fixtures and furnishings. “Capture the details of your office with a video and properly document each item,” suggests Jeff Turner, president of National Storm Shelters in Smyrna, TN. This can help insurance agents pinpoint problems, offer advice and, in the event of an accident, process claims.

2. Pinpoint Problems & Resolve

Once hazards are identified, fix them. If you don’t know how, contact an expert. “Insurance companies and universities will often give free advice and conduct studies,” Scott says. Another resource is the National Safety Council, which can help you identify issues before an accident happens. And always communicate to your staff and customers that the issues are resolved or in the process of being solved.

This kind of proactive risk management program is something your insurer can easily set up, says Hunter Hoffmann, head of communications at small business liability insurer Hiscox in New York, NY. “This involves both actions to prevent potential incidents, as well as insurance protection to help you quickly get back on your feet when something does happen,” he says.

3. Respond to Accidents Quickly

Having an accident on the job is likely since, according to the Occupational, Safety & Health Administration, about 4 million workers are hurt on the job each year, and on average more than 12 people are killed at work every day.

Scott suggests three steps every business owner, manager or employee should take when something does go wrong:

  • First, attend to the employee or the emergency. Call an ambulance, alert the fire department or administer help with first aid kits as needed. OSHA requires employers to “ensure prompt first aid treatment for injured employees, either by providing for the availability of a trained first aid provider at the worksite or by ensuring that emergency treatment services are within reasonable proximity of the worksite.”
  • Second, ask questions and document the accident with witness statements. Think of the five W’s: who, what, when, where and why. Take careful notes to share with emergency personnel, insurance representatives and others involved in treating or investigating the injury.
  • Last, organize a formal investigation as soon as possible to find out exactly why the accident happened and how it can be prevented. “That will ensure you don’t have a repeat of the same event,” says Scott.

These preventative measures and simple action plans allow business owners to not only act fast but to protect their most vital asset — their employees. Because after all, if your business isn’t a safe place to work, it’s going to be tough to keep good people. “Good safety practices are good business,” adds Scott. For more information, download the Small Business Administration’s Workplace Safety Handbook and other resources at SBA.gov.

Claire Parker has a solid understanding of business from more than a decade of covering the business beat for award-winning national and local publications. She is also a venerable profile writer interviewing subjects from emerging artists to notable physicians. She lives in Wilmington, NC, and relishes Southern gardens, outdoor parties and anything to do with saltwater and sand. Follow her on Google+.

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