What Is the Meaning of Safety in the Workplace?

  Reviewed by: Jayne Thompson, LLB, LLM
  Written by: Ruth Mayhew      Updated November 28, 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. Regardless of the type of work they perform, whether it's 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 Occupational Safety and Health Administration is the federal agency responsible for enforcing workplace safety regulations. The meaning of safety and employers' responsibilities to prevent injuries vary according to the type of working conditions.

Tips

  • Safety in the workplace can refer to both physical and psychological safety. In both instances, it means having a workplace that's reasonably free from danger to all employees and actively preventing the workplace from becoming unsafe.

What is Workplace Safety?

At its heart, workplace safety is the concept that employers must control recognized hazards in the workplace. This doesn't mean that a place of employment is completely free of any and all dangers, but rather that it offers an acceptable level of risk for all workers.

Creating a safe work environment can include such actions as:

  • Storing chemicals properly and keeping an MSDA sheet handy
  • Requiring that spills be mopped up immediately
  • Not allowing boxes to be stacked overly high
  • Providing protective clothing for employees
  • Holding training classes

What Are the Employer's Safety Responsibilities?

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.

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What Precautions Must an Employee Take?

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.

What is 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. Psychological safety amounts to trust, risk-taking and assurance that your input and ideas as an employee won't be discounted, ridiculed or punished for speaking out.

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.

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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