The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA) established safety standards for businesses that apply to all size companies. Under the regulation an employer is defined as “a person engaged in a business affecting commerce who has employees.” That is a pretty broad definition. The law also requires employers to comply with “the general duty clause which states each employer “…shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” So safety is not just a big company issue. Nor is it a manufacturing concern only.
Unfortunately a recent survey conducted by Staples.com found that 50% of office workers have never participated in a safety drill or have not done so in years, according to writer Eylan Hirsch in Survey: Small Business Employees Lack Proper Safety Preparedness Skills. In my experience as a consultant I often find small companies unaware of safety regulations and with no plan for dealing with emergency situations. Many of them have never done a basic fire drill, something we teach our children in elementary school. As a result the potential for loss of life and property is multiplied many times. I have found missing or empty fire extinguishers with no explanation. Trip hazards, slip hazards, edges that can cut unguarded and improper lifting methods can all cause great harm.
I also find no plans in place to determine who can deliver first-aid, who is responsible for calling the fire department, where people are to seek shelter in times of danger, where people are to meet after an evacuation or even a stated evacuation plan. According to Hirsch “small businesses have an even greater need to put an emergency plan in place so that they can “protect the lifeblood of their business, their employees, and ensure that they’ll be able to re-open for business as soon as possible.”
In my classes that I teach on HR, when we get to the safety material I tell everyone to set a date on an annual basis to check safety. Check supplies, make sure plans are in place, make sure that people who had been given responsibilities are still around to perform them and conduct a fire/emergency drill. I tell students a good date to do that for me would be around September 11. When the New York Trade Center building collapsed many people lost their life. But one compelling story that came from that was one of a company who lost no one, because just the day before they had practiced a fire drill. As a result all the employees knew what to do and they got out of the building safely and they were able to help some disabled people escape as well. I remember the president of the company saying he was very grateful for not having to call any families to tell them a family member had been lost. He credited their preparedness.
So think about that when you look around your business, small or large. What plans do you have in place? Have people practice them? If a tornado or fire or earthquake caused havoc would you be ready to deal with it? Or would you rather call a family member and tell them their love one had died?
Here is the link to the Small Business page of OSHA.