Workplace Safety

When we think about workplace safety, most people think about occupational-related safety such as a falling or injuring oneself or exposure to environmental hazards while at work. However, being safe at work extends beyond the occasional slip and fall or chemical spill. Regarding your personal safety, do you feel safe at your place of employment? Have your company representatives trained its employees on how to respond to other types of emergencies in the workplace, i.e., fire, active attacker, threats to employees, etc.? Would you know what to do to remain as safe as possible during a critical incident?

Employee Safety

Employee safety should be the number one primary for organizations across the globe. It is the organization’s responsibility or “duty of care” to keep employees as safe as possible while at work. To avoid pandemonium and chaos during a crisis, it is imperative that employers have communicated to employees, through training programs, exactly what to do, who to alert, and how to remain safe when unforeseen situations happen in the workplace. To be most effective, training must be conducted regularly and employees must be trained to act responsibly according to the policies and procedures set forth by the employer. 

As in most safety-related situations, understanding and utilizing situational awareness will prove vital to any successful emergency response plan. If staff can recognize what’s normal and abnormal in the workplace, a potential threatening situation might be diffused before it develops into a more serious matter.

If employees have the knowledge, skills, and safety mindset to identify anything that seems out of the ordinary, the organization is a safer place.

Often employers only provide the occasional fire drill (this is important training too), but there are many other situations that can arise in the workplace that can lead to danger for others. For example, a domestic violence matter at the home of an employee can easily spillover into the workplace. Would staff know how to respond if a co-worker’s significant other shows up at the workplace threatening their co-worker? Remember, there are all types of people in the workplace who can create safety problems, such as terminated employees, depressed or humiliated employees, anyone who believes they have been wrongly treated or harassed, and those who feel they have been bullied at work. These employees may choose to seek revenge and wreak havoc in the workplace. 

Creating a culture of safety at work helps to educate employees about safety beyond the workplace. Employees can benefit from the empowerment that comes from training and taking an active role in their own personal safety both at work and at home, especially for those who may work from home or “telework” on occasion. A safety mindset should be every employee’s concern. Being aware and alert at work should be encouraged through effective safety program training.

A few considerations for creating a safer workplace include:

  1. Review your employer’s safety procedures and ask questions about your role or what’s expected of you.
  2. Participate in safety training programs offered by your employer. 
  3. Be clear about what should be reported and to whom?
  4. Is there an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) on the premises and who is trained to use it, if needed?
  5. If you notice strange odors, exposed wires, doors left opened, report your concerns to the appropriate personnel. 
  6. Is there an emergency silent alarm that can be activated if a threat arises? Who is authorized to activate the alarm?
  7. Be aware of suspicious people or packages on the premises and report them.
  8. Be aware of employees who may be disgruntled or acting in a threatening manner. 
  9. Report any concerning texts or emails about possible threatening behavior. 
  10. Identify self-defense tools in the workplace, such as a fire extinguisher, sharp or hard objects if you are not allowed to bring your own tools of protection.
  11. If you work in an office, are you able to lock your door from the inside and barricade the door, if needed. 
  12. If you had to shelter-in-place at work and are not allowed to exit the building, do you have the items you need until help arrives (water supply, medication, snacks, etc.)?
  13. Are you able to escape from a window or alternate exit if a threat arises? Have you identified your escape options?
  14. If you telework, are confidential documents secured from anyone who may cause harm to others. 

If you are required to come into work earlier than other employees or work late and find yourself in the office alone, activating your own safety protocol is important. If you utilize a garage, be aware as you enter and exit. Be aware of your surroundings and be prepared to respond to any unexpected situation or person. If there is a security guard, ask for an escort to and from your office. Conduct a walk-through upon entering the office space to ensure that you are alone. Lock your office door while working alone, if possible. Alert a friend or loved one that you are in the building alone and give them your arrival or departure time. If you are working with a co-worker, meet before entering the building and leave together, whenever possible. Inquire about the possibility of working from home if you feel uncomfortable being the office alone after hours. 

In thinking about your personal safety during an attack, be guided by the Run, Hide, Fight strategy found at Ready.Gov. Keep in mind, these terms do not have to be used in the order mentioned. They are all available options for you, based on the situation at hand. 

Run: If you have a path to escape, take it and run as fast as you can. Leave your belongings behind. Your life is most important and material items can be replaced. Call 911 when it is safe to do so. 

Hide: If escaping is not possible, locate a place to hide that provides cover or concealment from the attacker. Cover can shield you from rounds of ammunition, while concealment hides your position. The goal is to be out of the attacker’s view. If you are hiding in your office, lock your door and use office furniture to delay or prevent entry into your space. If you can safely escape at any point, do it. Silence your cell phone while hiding and be as quiet as possible. When it is safe to do so, call 911 and await further instructions. 

Fight: If you are not able to run or hide and your life is in danger, you will be required to fight to the best of your ability. Use anything you have to help defend your life, including improvised weapons. 

Your personal safety should always be at the forefront of your mind. The more you learn about protecting yourself, whether at work or at home, the better your chances are of surviving a negative encounter or violent attack. Feeling safe at work leads to a more productive and happier employee. Training to defend your life leads to a more confident and empowered person. 

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