2020 has been a year like no other in recent memory. The leading workplace safety news is far often centered around tragic injuries or, on a more positive note, innovation designed to decrease errors and miscommunication that led to those incidents. The headlines that primarily dominated the U.S. and global news this year, however, centered on COVID-19. That’s understandable; the impact and challenges of the pandemic have reshaped workplace safety initiatives and priorities, beginning this year but likely with a reach well into the near future. Whether COVID-19-related or otherwise, stories about workplace accidents and employee well-being are made all the more upsetting by the fact that many could be avoided by implementing best practices, either through personal protective equipment, training or warnings/instructions. Here, let’s take a look back at some of the workplace safety trends of 2020 and steps to take to increase safety and reduce liability risk.
Safety Trends from the Past Year
In addition to those related to COVID-19, three major workplace safety trends have stood out as especially noteworthy this past year: fall protection, team member well-being and safety training. These have been cited, both in direct and indirect ways, by OSHA and, excluding COVID-19, appeared in their top workplace violations list for 2019. Understanding these trends and why they have been such central parts of the workplace safety conversation in 2020 can help to avoid future accidents.
Safety Trend #1:
COVID-19 presented unprecedented challenges for employers across the globe as they raced to implement practices to prevent virus spread and keep employees safe. From respirators to social distancing to wearables, employers are working to continue to create safe and effective protocols to protect workers and visitors, including:
- Face Masks and Respirators: Early in 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that people wear face protections to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. These and other personal protective equipment, like safety glasses and gloves, initially become scarce, with manufacturers working around the clock to supply essential resources. As the pandemic continues, it’s crucial for companies to set up their own workplace face mask and respiratory protocols that align with the current advice from bodies like the CDC and OSHA.
- Social Distancing: Along with wearing face masks and regularly sanitizing and washing your hands, social distancing is considered an effective, best practice defense against COVID-19. While at times it can be difficult to keep a social distance of six feet, employers are finding ways to create and maintain safe environments for their workers. Staggered shifts and breaks have been implemented to avoid large gatherings of employees. Altered shifts have been designed to keep people working in groups to help contain potential outbreaks, while rooms and equipment have been reconfigured and repurposed to maintain safe social distancing where possible.
- Wearables: Forever at the forefront of innovation, technology is playing its part to help combat COVID-19 with practical applications like wearable devices. Companies are utilizing connected worker solutions, like wristbands and badges, to help with contact tracing and to alert workers when they are too close to one another. This novel technology allows employees to self-report infection and can alert others who were in proximity to potentially infected people so that they can self-isolate and seek testing. The wearables are also designed to report safety accidents and near misses in real time.
While some of these safety measures may be temporary, they have the potential to offer more long-term benefits like safer workforces and workplaces, greater efficiency and better protection of resources in the event of a potential future economic downturn.
Clarion Safety Solution: As an organization, nothing is more important than protecting the health and safety of your employees, visitors or customers. Clarion Safety offers a full portfolio of COVID-19 visual safety products to support your social distancing policies, remind of hygiene protocols and other protection measures, and reinforce PPE requirements.
Safety Trend #2:
In recent years, employee well-being and mental health have taken increasingly important roles in the overall safety conversation. This topic has gained all the more prominence in light of COVID-19. 2020 saw employers increasingly needing to examine safety culture beyond the physical limitations of the workplace to keep employees engaged, alert and healthy.
Total worker wellness can have significant safety benefits. People who are exhausted, dehydrated, hungry, feeling low or otherwise not at their best are more likely to be involved in accidents. That problem is doubly true for team members with substance abuse difficulties, which may be sparked or worsened by poor workplace wellness.
In August, the CDC announced that nearly 41 percent of all adults in the U.S. are struggling with mental health and well-being, doubling the figure reported before the pandemic. In January, the CDC released information about employee mental health and the construction industry, stating that the total suicide rate among men in the sector was 27.4 per 100,000 people (49 percent for men who worked in construction specifically).
While many existing safety programs focus on occupational hazards, some companies also have programs in place to focus on mental health and the workplace. In the Covid-19 environment, where there are new anxieties and challenges, it’s more important than ever to help employees feel emotionally safe and to create a culture that addresses mental health concerns.
Clarion Safety Solutions: One of the challenges of wellness initiatives is communication. Employees need to know that there are resources available to them to help with any issues they may be facing. Additionally, they may benefit from signage explaining rules for taking breaks and other wellness-related policies. Custom notice signs can help with communicating these important wellness concepts.
Safety Trend #3: Fall
In 2019, fall protection topped OSHA’s list of violations for the ninth consecutive year, with the administration recording over 6,000 safety violations. It’s no surprise, then, that falls continue to be a leading cause of workplace injuries and fatalities in 2020.
According to a 2020 workplace safety index compiled by Liberty Mutual Insurance, falls ‘on the same level’ and falls ‘to a lower level’ were in the top five causes of workplace injuries. Falls ‘on the same level’ cost $10.84 billion and accounted for 18 percent of overall injuries while falls ‘to a lower level’ made up nearly 10 percent of injuries and cost $5.71 billion. The report indicates that top workplace injuries like slips, trips and falls are costing American businesses more than $1 billion a week. Other sources state that injuries such as slip, trips and falls, strains and sprains cost employers $59 billion per year, with the construction industry topping the list of the biggest offenders.
An Ohio-based roofing contractor is facing $148,430 in penalties for allegedly exposing employees to falls at three separate residential home sites. These citations total five “willful safety violations” for a combination of not providing adequate fall protection, failing to provide proper training so employees can recognize and minimize fall hazards and for not developing safety programs.
In Alabama, a roofing contractor faces penalties in the amount of $138,118 after a worker suffered a fatal fall. OSHA alleges that the employer failed to protect the employee from fall hazards and failed to report a hospitalization within 24 hours and a fatality within 8 hours, as required by OSHA.
Clarion Safety Solution: One of the common issues that result in falls is the improper use of PPE and lack of adherence to fall safety procedures. Proper warnings can remind employees of the correct procedure and the importance of using protection. Additionally, Clarion Safety’s trip hazard signs and slip, trip and fall labels can warn workers of potentially dangerous conditions that could result in an accident.
Safety Trend #4:
In nearly all of its efforts, OSHA routinely emphasizes the importance of training. Whether it’s related to equipment training, new employee orientation, or regular training updates, this is a critical element to reducing accidents. That’s why, according to OSHA, training must be provided to workers who face hazards on the job. Trained workforces make sense not only from a safety perspective, but from a business perspective as well; with proper training, liability risk is reduced and workplaces can minimize costs and disruptions due to illnesses or injuries. OSHA provides training assistance and resources through many of its programs for businesses small and large to take advantage of. That includes training materials, training grants to nonprofit organizations and access to authorized education centers.
In 2020, employers saw a rise in the utilization of virtual training given that standard, in-person training procedures were halted for many due to COVID-19. Employees are now reviewing new onboarding and trainings that are effective and provide employees with the knowledge of proper safety protocols, but that are also in line with recommendations from the CDC and other health and safety organizations (social distancing, as an example). Virtual and augmented reality devices help to teach employees without putting them in potentially unsafe situations and can be updated in real time to push out the latest training and safety information to team members.
Clarion Safety Solutions: Accidents happen, but it takes a united effort to make them less common. This comes from truly investing in safety. Safety labels, signs and tags can help to reinforce and remind employees about proper safety procedures and PPE requirements.
As you continue to navigate how to prioritize safety and risk reduction in 2021, we’re here to help. From facility safety signs to ANSI/ISO on-product warnings (including innovative digital solutions) to machinery risk assessments, rely on us for high-quality products and services.
This blog was originally posted on 12/26/19 and has been updated with new information throughout.