Workplace safety generally refers to the process of protecting employees’ health and welfare while they are on the job. Many countries have passed laws requiring businesses to meet certain basic safety standards in the workplace. While the exact requirements vary by country and occupation, the overriding goal of most of these is to prevent worker injuries and deaths. This is usually accomplished by a multi-pronged approach involving training, implementation of safety measures and regular inspections.
In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which was passed in 1970, is one of the key federal laws covering workplace safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, known simply as OSHA, oversees the law today, providing guidance to employers and employees alike. In Japan, a similar group known as the Industrial Safety and Health Association, or JISHA, helps regulate programs designed to reduce workplace accidents.
Employees covered by workplace safety programs often vary depending on the exact occupation. For example, in the United States, OSHA requirements generally cover people who work at most private companies, as well as some government employees, such as postal workers. Other types of workers, such as military members, state employees and miners, are usually covered by other federal or state workplace safety laws. People who work for themselves are often not covered by any official workplace safety laws and are generally solely responsible for health and safety.
Many programs designed to ensure safety in the workplace involve a number of components. In many cases, one of the first keys of such a program is to determine what hazards exist at a particular worksite or when doing a certain job. Once these hazards are identified, steps can then often be taken to help avoid potential accidents. For example, if a job requires working with hazardous chemicals, steps such as having employees wear protective clothing and eye goggles, installing an emergency washing station and keeping other first-aid supplies nearby may be taken.
Once hazards are identified and solutions to mitigate them are determined, employees often then receive some type of workplace safety training. This may include instructions on how to use safety equipment and how to report any accidents that do occur. It may also include instructions on how to perform safety inspections, which are another element of most safety programs. Regular inspections of the work environment, either by individual employees or a more formal inspection team, can often help show whether or not safety measures are working, and identify any additional changes that may need to be made.
In addition to self-inspections, many laws covering workplace safety allow for, or even require, official inspections by governing agencies. For example, federal safety boards are often authorized to evaluate job sites to ensure proper safety equipment and procedures are in place and are being used properly. If violations are found, a company may be fined and required to take certain actions to come into compliance with the law. Such inspections may be performed as part of routine evaluations, or they may be requested by employees who are concerned with safety standards in their work environment.
Some argue that the costs of workplace safety programs are a burden for businesses. The overall benefit in reduced lost wages and disability claims, however, has often been shown to outweigh the initial investments. Furthermore, over the years, research has generally shown that effective safety programs do significantly reduce the number of deaths and injuries in the workplace each year.