What Is the Meaning of Safety in the Workplace?

by Ruth Mayhew - Updated June 29, 2018
Female mechanic cutting a sheet of metal on a heavy duty machine

Employers are obligated to provide a safe working environment for their workers. The U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration is the federal agency responsible for enforcing workplace safety regulations. Regardless of the type of work they perform – whether pouring concrete to repair heavily trafficked roadways or poring over accounts receivables in the finance department – employees should never be in a position where their physical safety is in jeopardy. The meaning of safety and employers' responsibilities to prevent injuries vary according to the type of working conditions.

Employer Responsibilities

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers are bound by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and must adhere to the standards outlined in those regulations. Also, there are state laws that require private-and- public-sector employer compliance. For example, under the federal law, construction businesses are prohibited from requiring laborers or mechanics to perform duties in "working conditions that are unsanitary, hazardous or dangerous" to the health of their employees. Anything that poses a risk to the health and safety of workers could range from uneven ladders for construction workers to poorly lit offices for office employees. Deficiencies in the work environment are taken seriously by OSHA inspectors and employers can be fined for failure to correct them.

Employee Precautions

Employers aren't the only ones who need to be vigilant about workplace safety. Employees also must be cautious about their working conditions and the manner in which they perform their duties. For example, employees should complete training for handling equipment and substances that could pose a risk to their safety and well-being. Safety wholesaler Arbill strongly recommends that employees be cognizant of their surroundings and report to their supervisor any hazards. Employees should also try to reduce their stress levels, which includes taking regular breaks. Fatigue contributes to workplace accidents, and employees who are overworked or tired may ignore the warning signs of impending danger in the workplace.

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Psychological Safety in the Workplace

Discussions about workplace safety primarily focus on the physical health and safety of employees; however, psychological safety is emerging as another type of workplace issue that can affect some employees. According to Laura Delizonna's August 2017 article in Harvard Business Review, psychological safety amounts to trust, risk-taking and assurance that your input and ideas as an employee won't be discounted or ridiculed. Psychological safety, she says, also underlies creativity and the level of comfort employees have when they feel they can speak candidly without retribution.

Ensuring Psychological Safety

Businesses that value employee opinions don't just gain the trust of people who work for the company, but they are perceived as employers who consider employees part of the workplace team. To guarantee psychological safety, employers can become more inclusive, meaning they invite staff to participate in meetings previously closed to anyone below the leadership ranks. Or, they ask employees who perform certain tasks how they feel the company could become more productive or efficient. For example, just because someone is a director of sales does not make her ideas more valuable than the salespeople who sell the products every day. The staff in these customer-facing roles are vital to the success of any organization.

About the Author

Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.

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