Screen New Hires for Potential Safety Risks

Is it possible to identify unsafe potential workers in advance? That’s the business proposition offered by some testing firms. These companies create tests designed, in part, to identify workers and applicants in advance who are unable or unwilling to follow workplace safety protocols and procedures.

This is particularly effective in industries where human error is responsible for a large fraction of workplace injuries and deaths – that is, most of them. Furthermore, the testing is particularly important in industries like construction, manufacturing, mining and transportation, where an attitude of carelessness or negligence is more likely to be lethal.

Specifically, employment safety assessments seek to quantify employee attitudes on several axes.

For example, assessments from Australian employee testing firm OneTest measure employee attitudes on the following subjects:

Locus of control. Some employees believe they, as individuals, can make a difference in their environment through rigorous effort and discipline. Others believe that external factors such as fate are determinative. Such individuals are less likely to be diligent in following safety protocols or being proactive to ensure a safe workplace.

Risk aversion. Some employees have more of an urge to thrill-seek than others. Those who have low inhibitions or who are easily bored are more apt to be involved in workplace accidents than those who indicate that they are more cautious or risk averse.

Stress management. Employees who do not handle stress well are likely to become flustered or distracted, leading to potential workplace hazards. Workers with higher stress tolerance are considered to be safer risks than workers with low stress tolerance.

Drug aversion. Workers who use illegal drugs, or who are likely to use controlled substances, often generate low insight into drug issues – which makes them easier to identify using written assessments. There are a number of employee screening tools that seek to identify lax or permissive attitudes towards drug use themselves or tolerating it among coworkers.

Propensity to violence. Those who report that aggressive behavior is justifiable or understandable are more likely to cause workplace violence themselves – or tolerate it among coworkers. Furthermore, those who report a poor ability to control their own emotions and temper are more apt to become problems in the workplace.

Another testing, Sodexo, slices the apple a little differently: They seek to measure test-takers on their conscientiousness, agreeability, customer service and safety orientation – that is, their stated willingness to adhere to safety protocols and regulations.

Of these parameters, Sodexo has found substantial positive correlation between screening and improved safety outcomes in a variety of industries. Employers found that screening out applicants who had failed the assessment resulted in a 1/3 reduction in workers compensation claims, and that the amount of the remaining claims were also reduced by one third.

Sodexo also found out that employers who screened out those who failed their safety assessment also reduced their employee turnover by an average of 17 percent.

The self-reported effectiveness of Sodexo and OneTest are in line with this case study, reported by another assessment firm, Orion System. Orion cites a major U.S. retailer which tested its approach on 26 stores, covering 4,000 employees. Orion reports that the retailer experienced a 31 percent reduction in workers compensation claims, 23 percent reduction in general liability claims over a five-month period, compared with the same period the year before.

Conclusion

The efficacy of written safety assessment tests isn’t limited to screening out potential employees. Diligent executives can also use these assessments to compare facilities around the company. For example, if employees at one location are far more likely to report that they have ignored safety regulations in order to complete a job on time than workers at another location, you may not have an employee issue so much as a leadership issue at that site.

Employee safety screening is not foolproof. Accidents happen, and always will, as long as people are fallible and equipment isn’t perfect. However, in the aggregate, employee safety screening has proven its value in helping reduce workplace accidents.

Steps for Forming a Solid Workplace Safety Plan

Two of the most serious components of workplace dangers are substandard equipment and inadequate planning. Fires destroy thousands of workplaces every year. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is commonly shortened to OSHA, exists to help prevent fires, various workplace hazards and accidents. Workplace safety cannot be achieved by only one individual. To be effective, it must include OSHA, compliance with other regulations, employee cooperation and diligence from employers. In addition to this, employers must ensure that workers receive thorough training and understand the safety procedures. Since every employer wants to avoid fines or possible lawsuits, it is essential to have the strongest safety plan possible. The following steps are helpful for creating an emergency preparedness a plan.

Emergency Procedures Employers should ensure that all workers know the locations of fire extinguishers and exits. Annual training should be provided to retrain workers how to use extinguishers. After creating evacuation maps, employers should place them in visible areas throughout the workplace. Each employee should receive a handbook with the company’s safety procedures and evacuation plans. Employers can also involve employees in monitoring the workplace for fire hazards.

Check Lights And Exits Lighted exit signs should be placed above every door leading outside. When fires occur in buildings, the smoke is so thick that it reduces visibility considerably. If exit signs are not lit, employees may not be able to see the doors to escape safely. In addition to this, stress, panic and stinging sensations in the eyes only complicate the task of exiting a burning building. Employers should have the batteries and light bulbs in these signs inspected and replaced frequently. Fire extinguishers should also be inspected and marked.

Safety Training Practice drills are essential to test employees’ capabilities to escape safely. During each drill, ask employees to find the nearest fire extinguisher. Have them practice communicating with others to call 911 and take other steps included in the plan. Stress the importance of teamwork for surviving a workplace fire.

Answer Questions Encourage employees to ask questions. Some people may be afraid to ask questions, so they should feel that every question is welcome. In addition to hosting a group question-and-answer session following a safety meeting, ask employees to submit anonymous concerns in a locked drop box. Some people may be afraid to bring up safety issues if they involve another worker who they feel may retaliate. Emphasize that every note is confidential and no names will be disclosed. If workers have to wonder whether their employers will tell other workers about complaints involving them, they are more likely to remain silent than to come forward.

Keeping good records and complying with OSHA’s standards are both important components of a solid safety plan. Employers should keep important forms such as the Form 300, which is used for work-related injury reports, stocked and in an accessible place. Using these forms is a helpful way to pinpoint problem areas in the workplace. For answers to any questions, contact ACBI.

Why Every Workplace Should Use Drug Tests and Have Strict Policies

Millions of people use illegal drugs every year, and experts estimate that about 60 percent of the world’s illegal drugs are consumed by Americans. A survey showed that almost 23 million Americans reported using marijuana more than three times per week. In addition to this, more than 15 million Americans abuse alcohol. Almost 75 percent of illegal drug users and alcohol abusers are actively employed today. Studies have shown that drug use causes both physical and mental impairments, which can be disastrous in the workplace. In dangerous industries such as construction and mining, studies conducted by experts found that drug use was even more common.

In addition to putting their businesses at risk for fatal or serious accidents, employers who hire drug users may wind up paying for their mistakes. The following are some disadvantages about hiring drug users:

– They perform their work poorly.

– They usually change jobs frequently.

– They often file workers’ compensation claims and collect benefits for longer periods.

– They are not very productive.

– They usually arrive late or call in sick.

– Their negligence often results in lawsuits.

By forming a solid plan against drugs and alcohol abuse, employers can help reduce their own risks. Every employer should require drug testing for new hires as a condition of employment. Random drug testing during employment is another way to discourage drug users from applying in the first place. This is especially important for larger businesses, and about 70 percent of big businesses already have these plans in place. Some small businesses may not be able to afford extensive testing and screening plans. However, some businesses may be able to find solutions by searching and using outside resources. Since drug users are starting to target small businesses they know do not have such plans in place, it is in these business owners’ best interest to form screening programs. The benefits of having such a plan include the following:

– Employees have better attitudes about work.

– There is not as much theft in the workplace.

– There are less accidents in the workplace.

– Employers have lower staff turnover rates.

– Drug-free workplaces are more productive.

– Employers have less insurance costs.

– Employees enjoy a safer workplace.

Overall, drug programs can save money, so they are worth the time and money to implement. To create an effective program, employers should outline their expectations for employees. A plan should also outline how offenses and infractions will be handled. Some states have specific laws regarding employees and drug addiction, so it is important to keep applicable laws in mind. Whenever possible, an ideal program should include a no-tolerance policy. Employers should also outline what they consider to be illegal and intolerable drugs. Some policies may include designated smoking areas for cigarette users, and employers should always make it clear that alcohol use shortly before or during work is strictly prohibited.

With so many people struggling to fight their own personal battles today, it is important for employers to also show that they care about employees. While it is still good to have a zero-tolerance policy for drugs or alcohol, employers should make provisions in their programs for assistance to struggling workers. For example, a worker who comes to his boss to admit a drinking problem at home may not be violating any rules but may be in danger of violating them. If an employee honestly expresses concern, it is important for employers to provide information about alcohol treatment programs. Some workplaces may also do the same for people who have struggled with addiction in the past. Many workers do not know there are assistance programs available, so this information should be repeated frequently in the workplace.

Employers should also know how to identify possible signs of drug and alcohol abuse. Workers who seem depressed, angry or withdrawn should be monitored. If a worker is late frequently or calls in sick, these may also be signs to consider. Employees who seem anxious, distracted or paranoid may be using drugs. The key idea employers should remember is to look for noticeable changes in all workers. Employers can also offer incentives for employees maintaining a drug-free workplace.

Workplace Safety Update: Crisis Communication Plans

When you began your small business, you had a plan for getting off the ground. As time went on, you planned ahead for growth and expansion.

Do you have a plan for the crisis moments? In today’s world of instant information and Internet rumors that spread faster than wildfire, every small business must have an emergency communication plan in place – before disaster strikes.

A plan designates who will speak for the company, to whom and what entities, how the communication will occur, and, to some extent, what will be said. This provides a clear template to follow when stress and emotions are running as high as the demand for immediate response. A planned response will present as calm, informed, and in control, providing an opportunity for fair treatment in the media and helping to mitigate any damage to the company’s reputation that may occur as a result of the crisis.

What constitutes a crisis?

A crisis is anything that threatens to damage the operation of your business, including ruining its reputation. Many of them will involve workplace injuries or deaths. Recall, for example, the Sago mining disaster of 2006. Twelve miners were trapped in an underground explosion. After two days of frantic rescue attempts, word leaked out to the families – and subsequently to the media – that the miners had been found. Families gathered at the mine to await their loved ones. It was only then that their hopes were dashed by devastating news: Eleven of them were dead.

This is a major communications error, and put a black mark on the management team for years.

Frequency

Hopefully you will never have an incident that kills a dozen employees. But workplace injuries and deaths are a fact of life in many industries. A crisis preparedness study done in 2011 by Penn Schoen Berland found that 66% of the businesses it surveyed had suffered a crisis, with the number even higher in manufacturing and technology-based businesses. And if your company has a computer or a website, it is vulnerable to problems from cyberspace – from your employees doing things they shouldn’t, to breaches within your email or internet service provider or banking institutions. These aren’t life threatening, but they still require an organized and thoughtful response to both internal communications – to employees and their families – and external communications, to the community, emergency responders and the news media.

A checklist

  1. Designate a single spokesperson and ensure they are prepared. No matter the nature of the crisis or the method of response, there should be one “face” that is addressing the issue. Get key individuals some media training or, at the very least, a group of colleagues and practice.
  2. Define the top five mostly likely calamities to strike your business and its reputation.
  3. Formulate 1-2 key messages for each of these calamities, building in flexibility for specifics. What information is most important? What message needs to be heard? Make sure the message is simple enough to be understood across all media.
  4. Identify and connect with other people you may need to contact in the event of an emergency. These are people who either have information you will need before you respond, or can help you manage the response. You may have someone already performing these roles for you, or you may have to seek out consultants. Either way, do it ahead of time. Establish the relationship now, define their role in an emergency, and go over your plans with them. These may include:
  • Marketing/Public Relations professional (See #6 for more)
  • Safety/security expert
  • Regulatory agencies
  • Legal counsel
  • Insurance agents
  • Accountant
  • Internet service provider
  • Relevant media
  • Local police department
  1. Identify your communication target audiences in each of your top five most likely scenarios. These might be internal (employees, families of employees, stakeholders, clients, vendors) or external (general public, media agencies, regulatory agencies, law enforcement) contacts.
  2. Specify what channels of communication you will use. It is essential that your message be consistent across all media. If you are not comfortable with new media, such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter, you are not alone; according to the same PSB study mentioned above, 54% of business decision makers do not feel confident in this area. If you need to consult with a PR firm, do so, looking for expertise in social media and crisis management.
  • Email
  • Telephone
  • Your business’ voicemail message
  • Local media – print, radio, television, online
  • Website
  • Text messaging
  • Social media: Even if you don’t already have social media channels in place, you will need to use it to monitor what folks are saying about you, and to immediately respond to questions and concerns. Remember that in today’s world you are expected to communicate WITH people, not just TO them.
  1. Practice! Put each of your top five scenarios in action and practice. Prepare the people involved in each situation, and identify specifically what you are likely to need from them.

After the crisis has passed

When the dust has settled, take a deep breath and review. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are there any business or safety practices that need to change to prevent recurrence? Start making those changes.
  2. How effective was our message during the crisis? What might have worked better?
  3. Are we continuing to manage our reputation online? Have your PR person continue to monitor – and respond to – what is being said on social media, review sites, etc.
  4. How might we turn this situation into something that will work for the company? Consider developing a seminar on “What we learned,” or writing a news story or presentation.

5.What contacts were most useful? Maintain those relationships.

Insurance

Companies with a plan for handling crises before they occur handle situations more effectively and recover far more rapidly than companies without a plan. Remember: The crisis itself is less likely to put you out of business than how you handle the situation. Having a plan ahead of time is akin to having insurance for your reputation. Putting in the time to develop a solid plan before anything actually happens pays multiple dividends when it does.

Understanding OSHA and Which Workplaces Must Comply

The bill that would lead to the Occupational Safety and Health Act went into effect on April 28, 1971. When Congress passed the bill, they made it clear that their intention was to ensure that every working individual in the nation would have healthful and safe working conditions. OSHA was then formed as a division of the Department of Labor. After being formed, it was given the power to enforce and set safety and health standards for American workplaces. In addition to this, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, which is a research institute for disease control, was established. OSHA describes employers as any persons engaged in businesses that affect commerce and have employees. However, political subdivisions of individual states and the United States political divisions are not included.

Nearly all workplaces must comply with OSHA. Hospitals, offices of charities, private schools, labor unions, restaurants, construction companies, law firms, manufacturers and many more types of businesses must follow OSHA’s regulations. Religious organizations that have employees for secular purposes are included. Family farms, people who are self employed and workplaces that are subject to other federal laws are exempt. Some examples of workplaces that are subject to other federal laws include nuclear weapons manufacturers, airlines, railroads and mining companies. State and local governments are also exempt. However, the United States Postal Service and other federal agencies are included.

Under OSHA regulations, employers are required to:

– Comply with and be familiar with applicable standards.

– Maintain practices that keep workers reasonably safe on the job.

– Make sure employees are provided with necessary protective equipment when applicable.

This is part of the General Duty clause. When OSHA acts on the clause, there must be four elements present:

– There must be a hazard.

– The hazard has to be recognized.

– The hazard is likely to cause serious injuries or death.

– It must be possible to correct the hazard.

Since it is difficult for OSHA to make rules, the division mostly focuses on mechanical and chemical hazards instead of procedural tasks. They currently focus on falls, electrical hazards, toxic substances, digging trenches, infectious diseases, hazardous waste, explosion dangers and machine hazards.

If an employee dies due to a work-related injury, an employer must report the death to OSHA within eight hours. This is also true if there are three or more workers hospitalized as a result of a workplace accident. Workplace injuries must always be reported in a timely manner. Reports must be kept on file for five years following an injury. Any on-the-job heart attacks must also be reported immediately. It is important for employers to communicate with their workers about hazards and procedures to avoid them. Technical guides and material safety data sheets should be available to all workers.

OSHA forbids employers from retaliating, discriminating against or discharging any employees for exercising their rights outlined in Section 11. Employees have the right to contact OSHA about concerns, participate in proceedings and participate in inspections. Some states adopt their own safety and health plans, which is permitted in Section 18 of OSHA. However, the state’s standards must be effective in creating healthful and safe employment.