The National Safety Council (NSC) recognizes June as National Safety Month each year. Throughout the month, the NSC rolls out information on a wide variety of safety topics to help raise awareness and promote best practices. The NSC is a nonprofit advocacy organization that provides numerous resources to the public and workplaces to prevent injury and illness. During National Safety Month, those resources will include posters, tip sheets, articles and blog posts, videos, and graphics for social media. As the country continues to struggle through the COVID-19 crisis, being extra safe is even more relevant.
Each year, the NSC chooses several topics to promote worker safety. This year’s topics include mental health, ergonomics, building a safety culture, and driving. These are timely topics that impact the majority of workplaces and employing strategic solutions in each of these areas can help workers avoid preventable injuries and illnesses. While the discussions on these topics will undoubtedly be influenced by the Coronavirus pandemic, best practices in these areas will benefit workers long after the crisis resolves.
How Can Workers Drive Safely to Work?
This is not the first year that driving has been at the forefront of National Safety Month. Driving is not limited to trucking or transportation; professions such as sales, construction, home improvement and repair, public safety, and many more require employees to drive regularly as part of their duties. More businesses are pivoting to delivery models due to the crisis, putting more workers on the road, and increasing the already high risk of work-related car accidents.
Drivers who are on the road for work should be vigilant about safe driving behaviors, such as obeying speed limits, maintaining a safe following distance, using turn signals, and wearing a seat belt. They should avoid distractions when they drive, including cell phones, eating and drinking, and navigational or entertainment systems. Distracted driving accidents can be serious, and drivers should always keep their focus on the roadways. Drunk driving accidents are often catastrophic and deadly. Drivers should never be on the road while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Additionally, drivers should be well rested when operating a vehicle.
When driving for work, drivers should plan their route and make sure they are aware of any hazards along the way, such as road work, inclement weather, unusual traffic patterns, or dangerous road conditions. Sharing the road with other drivers will always carry some risk, and there are many factors that can contribute to a work-related auto accident. Whether driving heavy freight vehicles or passenger vehicles, taking precaution can help prevent serious injury.
Safety precautions should also include thorough checks on the vehicle itself. Whether using a commercial vehicle or personal car, drivers should make sure it is in good working order before hitting the road. This includes checking tires, headlights, fluid levels, brakes, and keeping up with routine maintenance, such as oil changes and tire rotations. If a vehicle is carrying heavy or hazardous materials, it should be properly secured, and the weight adequately distributed to prevent it from shifting during transit.
Additionally, mental health, ergonomics, and building a safety culture all have a profound impact on an employee’s wellbeing. Work-related stress can be caused by overwork, a hostile work environment, poor communication, or other negative work conditions, and stress can contribute to chronic workplace mental injuries, such as anxiety or depression. Employers who provide mental health resources and regularly check in with employees can not only maximize productivity, but also reduce suffering.
Ergonomically sound workplaces can help reduce undue stress on the body and prevent repetitive motion injuries. Safety is a vital part of workplace culture and building expectations that safety procedures will be taught and followed can minimize workplace accidents. The NSC will explore each of these topics in depth over the month of June.
Last Year’s National Safety Month
The NSC archives resources each year and makes them available on their website so that employers can continue to review them. The topics from 2019’s National Safety Month included hazard recognition, slip and falls, fatigue, and impairment. Hazard recognition is a vital part of training for employees; employees should understand what risks they are facing and how to avoid them. Learning to identify hazards and fix them can help employees protect themselves, as well as others. Hazards that cannot be eliminated should be adequately labeled, and employees should know exactly what to do to prevent injury.
Slip and falls are some of the most common workplace accidents and can occur in almost any environment. Slippery or uneven surfaces, inadequate lighting, obstructed pathways, and lack of handrails or other safeguards can all contribute to slip and fall accidents. Many jobs require workers to climb stairs or ladders, or work on scaffolding, and falls from these heights can cause devastating injury or even death. Falls from higher surfaces are the second most frequent cause of workplace fatalities.
Employers can minimize the risk of slip and fall accidents by properly maintaining workspaces and equipment. Floors should be level and carpets secured; any flooring that is worn or damaged should be replaced in a timely manner, as should lightbulbs that are burned out. Pathways should be kept clear of loose cords, trashcans, boxes, furniture, and other trip hazards. Spills and debris should be cleaned up immediately to help prevent accidents.
Fatigue is another issue facing workers in numerous industries. The NSC touched on fatigue during their exploration of employee wellness in 2018, but they dedicated an entire week to the topic in 2019. Adults require seven to nine hours of sleep per night in order to stay healthy and be well rested, but this is difficult for many workers. Workers with long shifts and irregular hours, such as public safety workers and emergency responders, pilots, health care workers, and truck drivers, often have their sleep cycles interrupted and may only be able to get a few hours of sleep at a time. Fatigue can impact workers’ productivity and cause serious health issues; fatigue is also a factor in workplace accidents, especially if workers are driving or operating heavy machinery.
Similarly, workers who are impaired can cause devastating injury to themselves and others. Drugs and alcohol make it more difficult for drivers to operate their vehicles and respond to hazards that appear on the road, and workers who are using machinery while under the influence may lose control. Employers should recognize the signs of worker impairment and be prepared to remove them from duty, if necessary. If an employee is showing up to work impaired, it may be a sign of a serious problem.
As social distancing restrictions lift and more businesses open their doors, workplace safety will be more important than ever. Data from 2017 shows a steady increase in work-related fatalities; there were 4,414 preventable workplace deaths in that year alone, and 4.5 million workers suffered from a work-related injury. Workplace injuries can range from sprains and strains caused by overexertion, to severe trauma caused by a deadly fall.