Eliminate Legacy Hazards, Look to Emerging Challenges

April 28, 2022 | Reskill Your Workforce | 12min read

As recently as 60 years ago, there were few safety regulations in the workplace – leaving many employees at risk for injury or death. Then, Congress established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) by passing the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

OSHA’s goal is to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers through standards, training, outreach, education, and assistance.

Each year on April 28, we celebrate the anniversary of OSHA opening its doors on Workers’ Memorial Day. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the idea behind Workers’ Memorial Day is to “recognize workers who died or suffered from exposures to hazards at work.”

Not only is April 28 a day of remembrance, but it’s also a day of opportunity. If you don’t already have a safety training program in place, now is the time to think about implementing one.

Legacy Workplace Hazards Still Exist

Despite the progress that’s been made in recent years, significant hazards and unsafe conditions still exist in the workplace.

Each year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics distributes a Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) meant to document injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. As recently as 2020, you might be surprised to learn that:

  • A worker died every 111 minutes from a work-related injury
  • Transportation incidents accounted for more than 37% of all work-related fatalities
  • Exposure to harmful substances or environments led to 672 worker fatalities, the highest figure since the series began in 2011

There is still work to be done if we want to eliminate the workplace risks we know about – like distracted driving or exposure to harmful substances – and start to minimize emerging challenges. Workplace safety and health compliance programs are more than just training, they are a commitment that impacts your whole organization.

New Workplace Hazards Have Yet to be Addressed

Even as organizations look to improve their current commitment to safety, most understand that the world is evolving rapidly. Risks continue to emerge as employees collaborate in new ways. With COVID-19, for example, millions of workers have shifted from working in an office space — an employer-controlled environment — to working from home offices.

As a result, many compliance officers and their organizations are negotiating the challenges of working from home for the first time. Yet, according to research from global public relations firm, Edelman, only 14% of workers trust their companies to lead them back to work safely from the pandemic. That’s why companies must adopt a more proactive approach to checking in on employees who will be working from home indefinitely.

Skillsoft worked with Compliance Week, a business intelligence and information service, to determine how employers are approaching return-to-work efforts. Here’s what we learned:

  • More than half of telecommuters (52%) say their company has not provided additional training designed for remote work on specific prescribed topics
  • Only about a third of respondents say they received training on IT security (35%)
  • Only three percent received anti-harassment and bullying training for remote work settings
  • Just one percent received home office accident prevention training

What’s the best way to address the challenge of remote – and hybrid – work situations?

Skillsoft has pinpointed three key risk areas that are most likely to be impacted by the transition to remote work: home office safety, online harassment and bullying, and IT and cybersecurity risks. Below, we’ve offered some tips to help you begin to address these emerging risks.

Home Office Safety

While OSHA won’t hold employers liable for employees’ home offices and does not expect employers to inspect the home offices of their employees, there are steps that you can take to protect employees who are working from home. These include:

  • Help employees to identify and reduce ergonomic hazards in their home-office environment
  • Establish methods for employees to identify common hazards and prevent accidents in the home workspace
  • Ensure that your organization’s environmental, health and safety (EHS) policies are clearly communicated, understood, and implemented consistently among employees

Online Harassment and Bullying

When working from home, employees can become more casual, increasing your organization’s risk. The use of videoconferencing or phones in place of in-person engagement may further the tendency to feel that an interaction can be less formal. Here are three things you can do now:

  • Provide guidelines for not suitable for work (NSW) items
  • Encourage vigilance, even in informal channels like chat
  • Discourage the use of unsecured communication channels

IT and Cybersecurity Risks

Technology is only as good as its use, and revisiting and formalizing policies is crucial to reducing risk. Consider addressing new work-from-home risks by:

  • Updating current security and data privacy policies to clarify employees’ roles when working from home
  • Helping employees to identify and reduce behaviors and situations that increase risk in remote work
  • Providing modular training on IT security and data privacy; tracking participation

Workplace risk will always exist. And it will always take new forms as the way we work together evolves. To protect employees, organizations have a responsibility to stay vigilant, implement proactive safety training and policies, and change with the times.