Employee Safety and Health

While “hazardous condition” might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of hotels, Lisa Cruz knew that hazards and safety were in fact serious issues for the Hotel Paris. Indeed, everywhere you look – from the valets leaving car doors open on the driveways to slippery areas around the pools to tens of thousands of pounds of ammonia, chlorine, and other caustic chemicals that the hotels use each year of cleaning and laundry, hotels provide a fertile environment for accidents. Obviously, hazardous conditions are bad for the Hotel Paris. They are inhumane for the workers. High accident rates probably reduce employee morale and thus service. Accidents raise the company’s costs and reduce in terms of workers’ compensation claims and absences. Lisa knew that she had to clean up her firm’s occupational safety and health systems.

Employee safety is usually one of these. The main purpose is to provide with the basic knowledge needed to deal more effectively with employee safety and health problems at work. Today, every manager needs a working knowledge of OSHA – the Occupational Safety and Health Act – and so we discuss it at some length. Specifically we review its purpose, standards and inspection procedures, as well as the rights and responsibilities of employees and employers under OSHA. We also stress the importance of the supervisor and of top management commitment to organization wide safety. We’ll see that there are three basic causes of accidents, chance occurrences, unsafe conditions, and unsafe acts – and several techniques for preventing accidents. We’ll also discuss several important employee health problems, such as substances abuse and workplace violence, and what to do about them.

Why Safety is important?

Safety and accident prevention concern managers for several reasons, one of which is the staggering number of work-related accidents. For example, over 5,000 US workers died annually in the early 2000s in workplace incidents, and there were over 4.7 million non-fatal injuries and illnesses resulting from accidents at work – roughly 5.1 cases per 100 full time workers in the United States per year. Many safety experts believe such figures actually underestimate the true numbers. Many injuries and accidents, the theory goes, just go unreported.

And injuries aren’t just a problem in traditionally “unsafe” industries like mining and construction. For example, every year over 15,000 reportable injuries or illnesses occur among semiconductor workers, another 15,000 among circuit board assemblers, and another 15,000 among manufacturers of computers and computer peripherals. In fact, an increasingly technology based economy is triggering new health concerns. Even new computers contribute to “sick building syndrome” symptoms like head aches and sniffles, which some experts blame on poor ventilation and dust and fumes from on-site irritants, diminish after the computer runs constantly for a week. And
“safe” office work is actually susceptible to many other health and safety problems, including “repetitive trauma injuries related to computer use, respiratory illnesses stemming from indoor air quality, and high levels of stress, which are associated with a variety of factors, including task design.

But even acts like these don’t tell the whole story. They don’t reflect the human suffering incurred by the inured workers and their families of the economic costs incurred by employers, nor do they reflect the legal implications. When a boiler explosion at Ford’s Rouge Power plant killed six workers and injured 14, Ford was slapped with a $1.5 million fine, and also agreed to spend almost $6 million instituting various safety measures. The state of Michigan concluded that Ford hadn’t followed safety procedures, and gas had leaked into the furnace because employees hadn’t closed valves properly. One senator recently said he was planning to introduce legislation making it a federal crime punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment to cause a worker’s death through will fully violating OSHA regulations.

Even with all of this attention on health and safety, there apparently still are many employers who may less seriously then they should. For example, the New York Times recently described, in a story entitled A Family’s Profits, Wrung from Blood and Sweat, a cast iron business that has been cited for more than 400 safety violations since 1995, four times more than its six major competitors combined and an environment in which managers allegedly marked for dismissal of employees who protested unsafe conditions.