Ensuring that employees have a work environment where their health and safety is protected at all times is a legal and moral obligation for organisations. Although some work settings may present higher risks from things such as exposure to contamination, use of heavy equipment, and working at height or underground, no workplace is exempt from adherence to the relevant legislation.
The COVID 19 pandemic impact has raised awareness of the importance of safety in the workplace. Increased attention is likely to influence job choices in the future, with candidates seeking out those organisations that place a high value on promoting and protecting health and wellbeing.
What steps can you take to improve your employee’s safety and wellbeing and your organisations’ adherence to occupational safety regulations?
What does health and safety in the workplace mean?
It may seem that the scope of health and safety in the workplace should be evident to all. However, things may be more complicated when it comes to health and safety than they at first seem.
A joint ILO/WHO statement on Occupational Health gives the scope as promoting the physical, social and mental wellbeing of employees in all roles, preventing health problems via the provision of an appropriate working environment, and allocating employees to positions suited to their capabilities. It is clear from this statement that health and safety in the workplace covers injury and illness prevention and promotes positive wellbeing.
Who holds responsibility for health and safety in the workplace?
The employing organisation holds the responsibility for protecting the health and wellbeing of employees, customers, visitors, and anyone else impacted by their business activities.
Of course, employees are also responsible for ensuring that they follow policies and procedures laid down for their protection regarding areas approved for access, responsible behaviour while on work premises, and wearing protective clothing.
What does the employer have to do?
Employers should have a clear health and safety policy that outlines their particular working environments’ rules and regulations. This policy should be readily accessible by employees and should be introduced and reinforced during orientation for new hires and subsequent training.
Policies must include health and safety guidelines for employees and visitors, customers and anyone else impacted by business activities. These additional categories of people may consist of passengers on board a flight, pedestrians passing building sites, patients in a hospital, or customers in a shop, for example.
Monitoring of health and safety must be done regularly, and periodic risk assessments are needed to check that policies are being followed and all steps have been taken to support the highest health and safety protocols.
Employers are also responsible for providing the necessary clothing and equipment to maintain health and safety. The range of equipment needed is vast and is dependent on the particular industry sector and job role under consideration. Examples may include helmets, goggles, gloves, hard boots, hazmat suits and masks.
The general term for the clothing used to protect employees against health or safety risks is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). PPE protects employees from serious injuries or illnesses resulting from physical, mechanical, electrical, chemical or radiological contact. Not wearing PPE increases the likelihood of accidents and has a financial impact on the organisation from fines for contamination, injuries, and even an employee’s death.
The difficulty for employers is not in the provision of PPE, but in ensuring that all relevant employees are wearing and using PPE correctly while at their workplace. The complexity of workplace safety monitoring increases when the location may be outside, as in the case of a building site, when the employee is separated from direct visual supervision, or when employees move around between areas that may or may not require the wearing of the PPE.
Although organisations are responsible for health and safety and the provision of adequate PPE, employees also have a critical role to play.
What does the employee have to do?
The adherence of employees to rules and regulations around PPE wearing is critical to maintaining health and safety and avoiding unnecessary accidents.
Reasons why employees may not consistently wear PPE include:
- a belief that PPE is not needed
- finding the PPE uncomfortable
- unattractive design
- restricting the ability to work freely
- logistical issues such as locating the PPE too far away from the area of work
- human factors such as tiredness, forgetfulness and complacency
- lack of clarity of when and where PPE is needed
- absence of training in the proper use of PPE
- lack of consequence for not adhering to the rules for the wearing of PPE
How can employers improve health and safety in the workplace?
Core steps employers can take to improve health and safety in the workplace include:
- emphasise education and training
- purchase more comfortable and attractive PPE
- review and revise workplace policies and remove barriers to safe working
- tie compliance to individual performance evaluations
- develop incentive programs
- introduce safety teams to raise awareness and improve communication on safety issues
- involve senior management and role model safe working practices
- effectively address non-compliance to reinforce the value of safety
- automate the monitoring of employees
Recent advancements in technology have enabled organisations to introduce new and effective automated solutions to workplace monitoring, preventing accidents and injuries and saving lives, money and time.
The HRBluSky Safety Monitoring system uses adaptive machine learning technology to help organisations identify compliance with PPE rules specific to their industry and needs. Connected to existing camera surveillance, the system is trained to recognise different individual scenarios. For example, if a doctor in a hospital needs to wear gloves, mask, head protection and shoes all the time, and only sometimes needs to wear goggles and overalls or a hazmat suit, the system will be trained to recognise the individual employee dressed in each scenario. Each scenario can then be used to monitor compliance for the employee, depending on specified variables such as physical location.
If an organisation uses HRBluSky facial recognition for time and attendance, then the Safety Monitoring system will be integrated, meaning that employees and external visitors can be separately identified.
When any violation is detected, alerts are immediately sent to administrators so that they can react appropriately.
The future of monitoring of workplace safety is changing with the rapid development of new technology. The use of adaptive machine learning is a significant step forward in supporting organisations to improve their health and safety provision. It enables organisations to monitor compliance in using PPE simply, effectively and in real-time at any location where a CCTV camera can be made available.