When initially launching a business, many entrepreneurs and stakeholders consider sacrificing safety and comfort to save every cent they can. Entrepreneurs and their supporters will often gladly work their fingers to the bone to be part of something special, unique, and hopefully, profitable. Companies created and run on shoestring budgets may eventually transform into successful businesses with real employees and real workspaces.
This is the stage of a company’s development when growing pains can occur and entrepreneurs have to address safety and health concerns in the workplace.
Although you may be quite accustomed to working under less-than-ideal or stressful conditions, new employees may not be. And, more to the point, they shouldn’t have to be.
As a business owner, you need to know the federal and state laws that protect employees from working in potentially dangerous conditions and, if need be, adapt your work environment to these standards to create a safe workspace and avoid potential lawsuits.
The Right to a Safe Workplace
Passed in 1970, The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requires all U.S. employers to provide their employees with “working conditions that are free of known dangers.”
Even if your company does not routinely expose employees to harmful chemicals, dangerous machinery, or any other obvious hazards, all employers need to adhere to OSHA regulations and request regular inspections to ensure compliance.
Although commonly overlooked by employers and incoming employees alike, the use of certain types of lighting, as well as indoor air quality issues, can have very negative effects on the health and productivity of the entire workforce.
1. Lighting up the workplace: According to Health Central, traditional office lighting generally presents potential headache and migraine triggers caused by the glare from overhead and incandescent lighting and flicker from fluorescent lights. For some individuals, extended exposure to improper lighting can lead to health issues, including eyestrain, fatigue, persistent headaches, or even migraines if the issue is not addressed.
2. Maintaining indoor air quality: Another area of concern for all employers is maintaining good indoor air quality in the workplace. According to OSHA, the most common causes of air quality problems in buildings include:
- Insufficient ventilation.
- Contaminated air brought into the building.
- Poor upkeep of ventilation, heating, and air-conditioning systems.
- Dampness and moisture damage due to leaks, flooding, or high humidity.
- Occupant activities, such as construction or remodeling.
Employees in buildings with poor air quality may frequently notice unpleasant or musty odors or may feel that the building is hot and stuffy. They also may complain of symptoms like recurring headaches or consistently feel tired at work. More serious symptoms such as fever, cough, itchy eyes, and shortness of breath should be addressed immediately.
Strategies for a Safer Workplace
Clear and open communication about potential safety or health concerns in the workplace is vital to employee satisfaction and employer accountability.
- Proper lighting: If notified by an employee of discomfort caused by potential lighting issues, you should first offer a different seating arrangement or experiment with different types of lighting for the area. If the problem persists or affects multiple employees, you should consult with a lighting expert to discuss other options available. Something as simple as incorporating less harsh bulbs or lamps within a space may solve these issues at little cost.
- Clean air: Breathing unhealthy or contaminated air for eight hours a day can cause serious health issues, potentially leading to certain kinds of cancer, Legionnaires’ disease, asthma, or emphysema. Businesses need to consistently measure the temperature and humidity of the workspace and ensure there’s proper ventilation to prevent mold from water damage. Regularly scheduled inspections for odors, water damage, and pest droppings should be a top priority. Initial inspections for radon levels and possible asbestos should be conducted before even entering a potential workspace.
Maintaining a safe, healthy work environment is not only good for your employees — it’s good for business, too. Employees who feel safe coming to work every day are happier and more productive. By openly and consistently communicating with employees about ways to improve your work environment, you demonstrate that you are invested in the long-term health of your employees. You’ll reduce your liability for risks and build a stronger, healthier business.