By Raul Chacon
Nevada businesses reported approximately 34,000 nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This equates to an incident rate of 3.7 cases per 100 full-time workers was significantly higher than the national average. The report also found more than half the Nevada incidents were serious and required days away from work, job transfer or job restriction for the injured employee.
Work-related injuries and illnesses negatively impact the affected employee and their family. But they can also hurt the business with out-of-pocket expenses, lost productivity and potentially higher insurance premiums. For instance, when injured employees are unable to complete their duties, other employees must fill in for their injured co-workers. This may involve overtime pay, temporary workers, or in some cases, hiring a new full-time employee. All of these hidden costs add stressors on already strained operations.
Nevada business leaders must commit to fostering a culture of workplace safety to help reverse these trends and keep their employees safe and productive.
How to get started
It’s important to keep workplace safety at the forefront of operations year-round and there’s no better time than the present to reevaluate and recommit to your business’ safety culture.
By investing in workplace safety programs and training, businesses can reduce accidents, increase employee retention and improve productivity. Safety programs protect employees and create real bottom-line operational and cost benefits. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an effective safety and health program can save a business owner $4 to $6 for every $1 invested.
A strong workplace safety culture begins with having an effective injury and illness prevention plan and committing to make safety procedures part of everyday operations. Here are four steps Nevada business owners and managers can take toward that goal:
- Lead from the top
To be effective, a workplace safety program needs to be more than a dusty binder on a shelf. It requires a commitment from the business’ owners and managers. Management must clearly define safety goals, communicate those goals to employees and set the example for others to follow. If the company’s policy requires all employees wear closed toe, rubber soled shoes, then owners and managers must also follow suit. Not doing so sets a bad example and sends the wrong message.
- Identify risks
A safer workplace begins with identifying and assessing potential hazards. Business owners and managers should actively analyze workplaces and work-related functions to anticipate and prevent injuries. Additionally, they should make sure all employees understand the potential hazards in their work environments.
With businesses in leisure and hospitality and trade, transportation, and utilities accounting for 60 percent of Nevada’s reported occupational injuries and illnesses in 2016, state business leaders should conduct walk-throughs of the work environment and engage with employees to identify top safety risks. For example, hotel housekeepers may be commonly exposed to strains from overexertion or repetitive motion injuries and restaurant staff may be at increased risk of slips, trips and falls from slippery kitchen environments or uneven floors.
Once potential hazards have been identified, policies and procedures must be established to allow employees to do their jobs safely. It is also a good practice to revisit the corrective measure implemented to determine if the changes were adequate or if additional measures need to be taken.
- Train and educate
Training should be held during each new employee orientation, whether that’s part of a larger seasonal hiring ramp up or when a team member is added, and reinforced regularly. Training sessions should also be held whenever new processes, procedures or equipment are introduced. These sessions should cover how to identify hazards, prevent accidents and respond to injuries.
All workplace safety policies should be clearly communicated to employees in a language of their understanding and included in employee handbooks. Business leaders can consult their independent insurance agent and workers’ compensation insurance carrier for available helpful safety materials, such as safety posters, payroll stuffers and written safety policies. They should also be sure to properly display all workplace safety and fair employment practices posters required by OSHA. In a recent EMPLOYERS survey, 40 percent of small business employees said their employer does not display OSHA signage prominently or they are not sure if it is displayed.
- Enforce and evaluate
Business leaders must commit to the company’s safety plan and insist employees follow all related policies and procedures. Failure to comply can lead not only to employee injuries or illnesses, but also steep financial penalties to the business in the form of OSHA fines. Conducting regular workplace safety audits, meetings and training sessions are effective ways to enforce safety rules and keep safety top of mind for management and employees.
By committing to a strong safety culture and making safety a part of doing business, Nevada’s companies can help keep their most important assets — their employees — safe while contributing to long-term business success.
Raul Chacon is Western Region Loss Control Manager for EMPLOYERS, America’s small business insurance specialist, which offers workers’ compensation insurance and services through Employers Insurance Company of Nevada, Employers Compensation Insurance Company, Employers Preferred Insurance Company, and Employers Assurance Company. Not all insurers do business in all jurisdictions. EMPLOYERSÒ and America’s small business insurance specialistÒ are registered trademarks of Employers Insurance Company of Nevada.
 “Employer-Reported Workplace Injuries and Illnesses in Nevada – 2016: Western Information Office.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7 Feb. 2018, www.bls.gov/regions/west/news-release/workplaceinjuriesandillnesses_nevada.htm.
 “Q & A’s for Small Business Employers.” Occupational Safety and Health Administration, www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3163/osha3163.html.
 “Employer-Reported Workplace Injuries and Illnesses in Nevada – 2016: Western Information Office.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
 “Workplace Safety Can Give Small Business Owners a Recruiting Edge, EMPLOYERS Survey Finds.” EMPLOYERS, 6 Sept. 2017, investor.eig.com/news-releases/news-release-details/workplace-safety-can-give-small-business-owners-recruiting-edge.