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Addressing Safety Issues in the Workplace: How to Do it Professionally

Safety issues at work

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), preventable workplace deaths increased by 9% in 2021, totaling 4,472 fatalities. For those working in manufacturing, construction, aviation and distribution & logistics, addressing safety concerns in the workplace can mean preventing serious injuries. For employers, creating a safe workplace isn’t only their responsibility, it’s also how they build a better company culture.

We spoke with Regional Safety Manager Tom Saylor who has over 7 years of experience in educating companies and workers about the importance of workplace safety. He gave us a few tips on addressing safety concerns in the workplace in a professional manner.

Why is workplace safety important?

Ensuring a safe work environment benefits employers in several ways, but it mainly prioritizes the health and safety of the team. 

“Employers are responsible for worker training and supervision. This includes addressing safety concerns,” says Saylor.

Preventing workplace injuries should be the main goal of any health and safety program. However, establishing or improving a safety program comes with other benefits. The Occupational Safety and Health and Administration (OSHA) states that employers who focus on identifying workplace safety issues to create a safer workplace often experience improvements in productivity, morale, and retention. 

By highlighting the importance of safety and offering the proper training, employers can create an employee-friendly culture according to the American Society of Safety Professionals.

What are the common safety issues in the workplace?

OSHA reported that these are some of the most common workplace safety hazards in the year of 2021:

1. Fall protection

“In construction, falls from height are at the top of the list hazard wise.  These includes falls from edges of structures, ladders and scaffolds. If you wear a fall protection body harness make sure you always remember to connect it to your anchorage and your body harness through your lanyard system” says Saylor.

2. Forklifts and Other Powered Industrial Trucks (PIT) 

“…if you drive a forklift, know where pedestrians are and be on the lookout at all times as well particularly at the end of aisles or in places where illumination levels or noise impede an operator’s ability to be aware of your presence,” says Saylor.

3. Hazard Communication

The identities and hazards of chemicals must be clearly communicated and understandable to workers. 

4. Respiratory Protection

Workers must be protected from harmful dusts, fogs, gases and vapors and employers must provide the proper personal protective equipment.

5. Machine Guarding

Workers should be protected from moving machine parts. Any machine part or process must be safeguarded.

Why do workers avoid reporting safety concerns?

According to Saylor, failure to report safety concerns, like those listed above, is one of the direst issues in the workplace. This hesitancy to voice their safety concerns address workplace safety issues impacts both full-time and temporary workers, but Saylor notes that temporary workers may feel they have more to risk by highlighting safety issues. 

“Temporary workers fear retaliation in terms of their employment status and getting towards a permanent job most commonly.  If they voice their concerns, the fear is they will be fired or not get the permanent job after working through the temporary assignment,” says Saylor.

This hesitancy can also be found in full-time workers who may feel that reporting a safety issue could get them fired. According to the NCS, workers may also feel the process to report concerns is too complicated or they may not want to be seen as a “complainer”.

Saylor also mentions that language barriers can prevent workers from reporting a workplace safety issue. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 8.3 percent of U.S. citizens speak English “less than very well”. This can make workers, who may not feel comfortable enough speaking English, hesitant to voice their safety concerns.

How to professionally address safety concerns in the workplace

Addressing safety concerns in the workplace shouldn’t be a complicated process. Here are a few tips on how you can highlight a safety concern in the workplace professionally.

1. Immediately report any concerns to a supervisor, human resources and/or safety team first
2. Temporary or contract workers can also report the issue to their recruiter or staffing agency. “Recruiters know their people best and want to help.  Once they bring the client teams and regional safety partners together, they can work in partnership to further assess the issue and find closure in the best interest of worker safety,” says Saylor.
3. File a complaint with OSHA 
4. If a language barrier is present, contact OSHA at 800-321-OSHA
5. Be calm and avoid approaching management in a threatening manner

When you need to report safety issues at work, you’ll likely have access to several resources. Saylor recommends exploring all your options until a solution is found. 

“I encourage workers to seek out another team member at the client site first like a member of human resources, the health & safety team or even another supervisor they are familiar with.  For Aerotek contractors our Contractor Safety Handbook is a great resource for general safety awareness and is available in Spanish!  Reach out to your recruiter for a copy!  There are also resources regarding worker rights through the OSHA website as well,” says Saylor.

Reporting safety issues at work shouldn’t be a complicated or intimidating process. By keeping calm and knowing who to speak to when workplace safety issues arise, you can voice your concern professionally.