Welcome to the third and final part of the DORN BBE blog series, in which we’ve examined the three most important factors in maintaining a safe and healthy workplace: Body, Behavior, and Environment. This week’s post tackles the work environment. Read Part 1 (Body) and Part 2 (Behavior), and check back to the blog for new topics in the coming weeks.
At a time when cost efficiency is more crucial than ever, employers everywhere are looking for ways to cut expenses and streamline their operations. With a price tag that has exceeded $635 billion per year, chronic pain and injuries from musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) present major obstacles for organizations trying to remain fiscally solvent.
Fortunately, employers now have the tools to engage with their workforce at all levels. A holistic approach has proven effective in keeping workers safe and healthy on the job by addressing all levels of the employee experience. The foundation of such a strategy requires an understanding of the worker’s body and how physical health contributes to new incidents of chronic pain and acute injuries. Proper work technique and best practices can help workers reduce symptoms and eliminate bad behaviors that contribute to pain. However, these solutions cannot succeed if they are implemented in an environment that itself poses risks to workers. That’s why the physical workplace must be included as a critical factor in any worker safety initiative.
The Role of the Workplace in Safety
We already know that MSDs are the most prevalent injury or medical condition that workers and their employers face – they account for 37.8 incidents per 10,000 workers, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even more staggering are the broad-scale figures regarding workplace hazards. In a 2003 report, the International Labor Organization concluded that over 160 million workers worldwide suffer from a work-related disease, while 270 million have experienced both fatal and non-fatal injuries. Workplace hazards and environmental risks are pervasive in virtually every industry, and more importantly, they take an array of forms that can make it difficult to establish a fully safe and risk-free work environment. Common risk factors to worker safety in the environment are divided into general categories, and include:
Safety hazards: Common to all workplaces, basic safety risks like spill and trip hazards create danger to employees and often lead to injury. More specifically, this category includes cables left on the ground, poorly supported scaffolding or ladders that cause falls from heights, electrical hazards, and unsafe or improperly functioning machinery. Case in point: an auto parts manufacturer was repeatedly fined by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) for failing to make mandated safety upgrades to their equipment, which put workers at risk and incurred costs from regulatory fines and human factors.
Biological hazards: These problems are more common in specific industries like healthcare or laboratory research, where chemicals and biological agents are routinely handled and used by workers. Hospitals, skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), and university labs often face challenges in securing harmful materials.
Physical hazards: Other general factors not included in the above categories can also pose risks to workers. The most common hazards in this category are long exposure to either very hot or very cold temperatures, along with constant loud noise and exposure to excess sunlight.
Additionally, OSHA has identified four major incident types that comprise the most significant sources of worker injury or fatality on the job. These risk factors are most prevalent in the construction industry but exist in other areas as well.
- Falls: accounted for 38.7% of construction fatalities in 2016
- Struck by object: 9.4%
- Electrocutions: 8.3%
- Caught-in/between: 7.3%
Building a Safer Work Environment through On-Site Engagement
Though the environment will always pose risks of some kind to workers, it is possible to mitigate that risk with a thorough understanding of the workplace and detailed analysis of the specific factors that lead to injury at a given location. Now more than ever, companies rely on outside observation to inform their safety strategies.
Each workplace presents unique challenges and safety hazards to its workers, making on-site observation a critical element of a successful safety initiative. Using monitoring and in-person analysis, organizations can isolate the most pressing safety issues of the work environment, finding and reporting hazards such as dangerous equipment, slip or trip risks, and others to management so that changes can be made in a rapid manner. Crucially, on-site observation carries the additional benefit of allowing assessors to engage directly with employees. This contributes to an overall culture of wellness by ensuring workers that their safety is valued, their experience matters, and that they have power to catalyze positive change within the organization.
More specifically, organizations should look to ergonomics as a means of reducing some common factors in fatigue. A full-scale ergonomic assessment can analyze workplace features such as tool, equipment, and workstation design to highlight potential improvements, while a departmental review can isolate root causes of injuries and incidents. Ergonomic improvements can have a profound effect on an organization’s bottom line – for instance, a major corporation recently reported saving up to $250 million annually on costs related to injuries, health care treatment, absenteeism and presenteeism, and increased productivity. Dedicating resources to ergonomic review and adjustments helps create engagement with workers, educating them on proper ergonomic practices so that they can be the eyes and ears on the job floor. With proactive, trained workers, organizations can hope to see improvements in health and safety as more individuals are able to call attention to risk factors and problem areas.
Using Technology to Secure the Workplace
Beyond analysis and correction of detected environmental hazards in the workplace, organizations can now turn to technology for further assistance. More and more, companies are investing in artificial intelligence technology that can isolate risk factors and alert management to possible incidents in real-time. For example, Microsoft’s Computer Vision API uses AI technology integrated with surveillance cameras to monitor the work environment during operating hours, analyzing the job site for potential sources of risk that could lead to an accident. Likewise, wearable devices such as wristbands can monitor the work environment for excess heat, cold, or noise, helping to alert workers when they are at risk.
Environment and Workplace Culture
The most critical element of any workplace safety program is buy-in from the workers themselves. It’s essential that workers feel as though their experience is respected and understood by the organization. This culture of wellness can be easy to achieve when educating workers about health and behavioral risks, but the environment poses a separate set of challenges. To that end, organizations must work to educate their employees about the steps they’ve already taken to create a safe workplace. Likewise, workers should be empowered to report risk factors and hazards. This kind of direct feedback from the people who work on the job floor every day can build the foundation of an effective, proactive, and holistic wellness initiative, while encouraging employees to be actively involved in their own health and safety.
This blog series has discussed the three main components of the DORN value-added model: Body, Behavior, and Environment. Focusing on one area will generate improvements to employee safety and wellness. However, when combined into a holistic solution, the effects multiply significantly, helping you achieve not only a safe work place but also a cultural transformation. By educating and engaging employees on all three phases of safety and wellness, an organization can empower its workers to own their safety and their healthcare. The results speak for themselves: fewer injuries and worker’s comp and healthcare claims, along with lower absenteeism, higher productivity, and improved morale. The Total Worker HealthTM approach is a win-win for both employees and their employers, boosting the human and financial health of your organization both in the present and the long-term future.