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Working Together for Workplace Safety
Workers in the United States have a right to expect a safe work environment and no one ever feels comfortable in an environment offering unsafe working conditions. Just because you are working for someone else doesn't mean that you should have to unduly risk your life or health as part of your job.
Although most employers are probably committed to employee safety, situations often come up that may jeopardize the safety and health of employees like you. Fundamental or indirect problems may unintentionally arise that could affect your health and the welfare of others.
Most people, however, want to help create a safe environment at work and will do their part to minimize the risks they and their coworkers face, but first, let's take a look at some of the causes of safety problems at work.
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Causes of Workplace Accidents
Unsafe working conditions often do not materialize overnight. Accidents and hazards in many cases, evolve as a result of fundamental organizational problems. For example, lax standards set by managers can passively allow workers to be on the job without proper safety gear and attire, leaving them open to unnecessary injury.
Other factor such as inexperienced and untrained workers operating equipment and business operations during environmental disruptions such as storms or earthquakes can also result in hazards on the job.
Finally, unsafe acts such as the improper use of equipment, improper lifting, inappropriate responses to potential accidents can contribute to hazards at work. Some behaviors of people in the work area can indirectly make the environment unsafe. Improper disposal of refuse can create a trip hazard, failure to maintain a vehicle can result in a crash, etc.
No matter what the source of the hazard is, workers should all take it upon themselves to report conditions that make the workplace unsafe.
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Steps for Reporting
Some reporting of unsafe conditions at work can be handled through routine inspections, and job analysis studies. However, managers and inspectors can't see everything, and they won't always so you, as the employee, must make your opinion known of working conditions unsafe within the company. Still, as an employee you should take necessary steps to report unsafe conditions when you see them. Here is a suggested process.
1. Take immediate action. If you see an urgent hazardous condition, don't just ignore it. Take steps to warn people in the area so they can make efforts to avoid danger. Depending on the severity of the situation, you may need to personally stand nearby to make sure people do not get hurt. Although you can help mitigate some problems, such as empty boxes strewn about or extension cords crossing high traffic areas, others may require a call to another department for help. Spills, mechanical failures, collapsed structures and other situations usually require expertise to resolve, so don't make things worse by trying to fix them yourself.
2. Follow procedures. Most Human Resources departments have developed a procedure for reporting unsafe practices and conditions within the company, so be sure to consult your employee handbook and your supervisor to make sure that problems are brought to the attention of the proper individuals within the company. Most companies will probably act to resolve workplace safety issues when they become aware of them, but in case they don't there are still things that you can do.
3. Contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). A federal law passed in 1970 created OSHA as an agency that deals with workplace safety issues. Under that act, employees have the right to report unsafe working conditions in their workplace or report employers who are not following OSHA procedures and standards. Reports can be made anonymously, although the law protects employees who report violations from termination and other vindication.
To report a safety problem on the job, visit the OSHA website. They have an online form for filing complaints, a mailing address for letters and a phone number. OSHA suggests major problems should be made by phone to improve their response time.
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Employees spend a large part of their lives at work, so being safe at work is essential. Do your part to keep the work environment safe for yourself and others by responding to hazardous conditions whenever you see them. By taking action, we can all make our world a safer place.
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Myers, Donald W. 2000 U.S. Master Human Resources Guide, CCH Incorporated, 1999.
OSHA. "How to file a complaint with OSHA", http://www.osha.gov/as/opa/worker/complain.html
OSHA Logo - Wikimedia Commons/US Government