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Employee Wellbeing and Safety at Work

March 11, 2020

 

Workplace safety should be a priority and as a priority should surpass speed or profit that the company does. Working in an office is obviously safer than working in a construction site. Hence, we tend to oversee that the same regulations apply in office environment as well. Obviously, you’re not going to be hit by a truck in a closed office environment. However, researching the risks and minimizing them to provide a safe work environment might spare you from a fine and a bad reputation. In this article we´ll focus on law associated with workplace safety and employee wellbeing. Our focus will be on laws and regulations in U.S. hence, examples given will also be from the U.S.

 

 

Managing workplace safety and health

 

Two basic sets of laws that effect almost every worker are the various workers compensation law at the state level and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) at the federal level. The objective of these two sets of laws are different. Workers compensations laws have no safety regulations. However, they require employers to pay workers compensation insurance. And, of course for employers that have higher number of injuries and accidents insurance cost are higher. Hence, employers have a financial incentive to create and maintain a safe work environment. (Gomez-Meija, Balkin & Cardy 2016, 530)

 

What to do if you get injured on the job? In a case where you don’t get paid for a period and you just can’t go to work. You’re in trouble! In 1800s people went to work without medical care and if they where injured they had to pay for medical care for themselves. Employees who sued their employers had little hope of winning. Because, under U.S. common law the courts habitually ruled that employees assessed risks of a job in return for they pay. Nowadays, things have changes and the costs of workers compensation insurance to employers is directly affected by accidents. Some premiums can increase dramatically for years as a result of a single injury. Hence, making sure the work environment is safe will reduce costs. (Gomez-Meija, Balkin & Cardy 2016, 531)

 

At federal level OSHA is designed to ensure that work environments are free hazards. The act mandates numerous safety standards and they also enforce these standards through inspections, citations and fines. As an example, Environmental Enterprise, Inc. received a fine of 325,710$. The company specializes in areas such as hazardous waste management and laboratory chemical packaging. The citation came after a fire and explosion killed one worker and severely burned another worker. OSHA basically found that the company willfully disregarded legal requirements. (Gomez-Meija, Balkin & Cardy 2016, 529 – 530)

 

Just to bring contrast lets take a quick example from eurostats. Eurostat provides statistical findings in relation to indicators concerning non-fatal and fatal accidents at work in the European Union. According to the findings in 2017 most of the fatal accidents happened in construction sites and the second industry with large fatality number was transportation and storage. Romania held 4.4% of the fatalities at work, in Finland the number was 0.94% per 100,000 workers. (Eurostat 2019.)

 

OSHA is simple. It enforces three major obligations on employers: 1. To provide a safe and healthy work environment. 2. To comply with specific occupational safety and health standards. And, 3. To keep records of occupational injuries and illnesses. Failure to keep records can result in fines and citations. Under OSHA employees also have responsibilities. They must comply with relevant safety and health standards. For example, employees have the responsibility to report hazardous conditions and injuries. (Gomez-Meija, Balkin & Cardy 2016, 532)

 

 

Contemporary safety issues

 

Balancing between individual rights like privacy and with the needs of the organization can bring up practical, legal and ethical challenges. Line managers are often faced with these issues. And, employees on the other had feel that for employer to manage these issues is intrusive. Most common issues are AIDS, violence in workplace, trauma disorder, fetal protection, hazardous chemicals and genetic testing. (Gomez-Meija, Balkin & Cardy 2016, 538)

 

Discrimination is seen for example in China where worker with HIV status loose their job and struggle to find work. In U.S. in 1992 OSHA issued the bloodborne pathogens standards. These standards where meant lower accidental occurrence of bloodborne infections such as HIV or hepatitis. Keeping in mind that harmful issues are not only transferred through blood tissues. Another form of safety issue is workplace sabotage, that is classified under violence. Sabotage is not physical violence, but just the same a violence act. And, it can be directed at an organization or someone’s career. (Gomez-Meija, Balkin & Cardy 2016, 539 – 542)

 

An injury that occurs from repetitive physical movements, such as assembly-line work or data entry is called cumulative trauma disorder (CTD). Managers should take steps to reduce CTDs by educating workers on ergonomics and produce workplace layouts that reduces CTDs. Other issues that are forth mentioning are accidents related to hazardous chemicals. Thousands of workplace injuries are reported each year. U.S Department of labor and health professionals have developed an online decision-support system called Haz-Map. It’s meant to help users to identify occupational diseases and toxic exposure. (Gomez-Meija, Balkin & Cardy 2016, 543 – 545)

 

            Example of CTD

Jimpat Lacewell started working at Amazon in November as a sorter but quit after three days because it reminded him of prison. Other Amazon workers at the New York City warehouse were reluctant to speak on the record for fear of retaliation, but also reported unaddressed safety concerns and frequent worker injuries. Packers at the Amazon warehouse were required to pack at a rate of 700 items per hour. And, workers were regularly fired for missing rates. (Sainato 2020.)

 

New and controversial tool that has discriminative quality is genetic testing. Basically, employers are not allowed to request, require, or buy genetic information. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) protects employees from discrimination made based on genetic information. (Gomez-Meija, Balkin & Cardy 2016, 545)

 

            Wellbeing at work

Other hazards that have major effects on workers include stress, unsafe behaviors and poor health habits. So, now that we have laid down all these issues lets talk about programs that organizations design to improve workers health and decrease workplace risks. These comprehensive safety programs are well-planned efforts in which management involves employees. For example, Employee assistance program (EAPs) are designed to help employees cope with physical, mental or emotional problems including stress that are undermining their job performance. Wellness programs are preventive efforts designed to help employees identify potential health risks and deal with them before they become problems.  (Gomez-Meija, Balkin & Cardy 2016, 545 - 549)

 

Mind, the leading mental health charity in England and Wales, show that stress and other mental health problems are the second biggest cause of sickness absence from work (Brooker 2018). In Finland the estimation of turnover cost from mental health related absences are believed to be over 11 billion euros per year (Mieli 2020).

 

A good example of negative effects of stress at work is the sad story of young Mr. Erhard. He was an intern at a top investment bank, Bank of America he was completing his internship in London’s office. Apparently, he was working long hours repeatedly and powering himself with read bull drinks. Mr. Erhard suffered from epilepsies and had several seizures during the past year, even though he was taking his daily medicine. The young man’s body was found in his temporary apartment in shower. Bob Elfring, co-head of corporate and investment banking at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said: 'We are used to working with people who are ambitious and want to over-perform'. What’s sad that according to Mr. Elfring there was no particular urgent project that needed to be worked on long hours. (Thomas 2013.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

 

Brooker D. 16 September 2018. Bringing Workplace Wellbeing Closer To Home. Forbes. URL: https://www.forbes.com/sites/daniellebrooker/2018/09/16/bringing-workplace-wellbeing-closer-to-home/#4e57cf59743c. Accessed: 11.03.2020

 

Eurostat November 2019. Accidents at work statistics. Statistics explained. URL: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Accidents_at_work_statistics#Analysis_by_type_of_injury. Accessed: 11.03.2020

 

Gomez – Meija L., Balkin D. & Cardy R. 2016. Managing human resources. Eight edition. Pearson.

 

Mieli 2020. Suomalaisten Mielenterveys ei ole kohentunut fyysisen terveyden tahtiin. Mieli.fi. URL: https://mieli.fi/fi/yhteiskunta/suomalaisten-mielenterveys-ei-ole-kohentunut-fyysisen-terveyden-tahtiin. Accessed: 11.03.2020

 

Sainato M. 05 February 2020. I'm not a robot’: Amazon workers condemn unsafe, grueling conditions at warehouse. The Guardian. URL: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/feb/05/amazon-workers-protest-unsafe-grueling-conditions-warehouse. Accessed: 11.03.2020

 

Thomas E. 22 November 2013. 'Exhausted' Merrill Lynch intern died from epileptic fit in shower after he 'pulled three all-nighters at bank where employees compete to work the longest hours'. Mail online. URL: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2511911/Moritz-Erhardt-exhausted-Merrill-Lynch-intern-died-epileptic-fit.html#ixzz4RTj2xoP1. Accessed: 11.03.2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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