Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Business education

Driving productivity through health and safety practices Add to ...

There are many ways a healthy and safe work environment can make your employees and your company more productive. Any employer wants to avoid the consequences of an unsafe and unhealthy business environment, such as frequent sick leave, higher insurance premiums and training to replace absent employees. A safe work space is also more motivating.

More related to this story

Whether you're in an office or running a manufacturing plant, there are many steps you can take to create a better work setting. Here are some essentials to consider.

Get a solid program in place

Make sure your company has a health and safety program. Put it in writing and lay it out clearly for employees in your company's orientation material. Be sure that you devise a training program that covers the use of equipment and shop machinery. Even though equipment may come with safety material, it's also crucial to make sure your program reflects the daily reality of your company. In an office, employees should be using ergonomically designed equipment to avoid common problems such as back and neck pain.

Get employee input

If you want your employees to buy into your program, it helps to get them involved in the process. Ask for their input in identifying possible defects in equipment and on ways to avoid injuries. In an office environment, for example, employees should be openly encouraged to watch their posture. In a manufacturing setting, internal "safety blitzes" can be an effective way of systematically reviewing safety regulations concerning the use of large equipment, forklifts and other machinery.

Once you've gathered input from employees, it is a good idea to create a reference manual. Still, face-to-face meetings with employees are always the most effective way of ensuring your message is heard and understood.

Here are some basic safety rules that apply to any business setting.

  • Make sure that everyone knows safety and security measures, fire procedures and escape routes.
  • Create a buddy system in your office or shop so that colleagues have each other's well-being in mind.
  • Have first-aid kits on hand.
  • Be sure emergency telephone numbers are clearly displayed.
  • Be ready for emergencies such as natural disasters.
  • Make somebody responsible for building security and employee health and safety.
  • Install emergency phones in isolated areas such as storage rooms.
  • Be sure you have efficient indoor and outdoor lighting.

Keeping your plant or manufacturing shop safe

In Canada, employers are legally bound to create a healthy and safe work environment, particularly when hazardous materials are involved. Some of the most common hazards:

  • Cutting machinery that can trap or amputate limbs
  • Forklift trucks that can cause crushing injuries
  • Ovens that can cause burns
  • Vibrating equipment that can cause muscle weakness and pain in fingers, hands and arms
  • Equipment used in confined spaces that can cause hearing problems

Experts should be called in to ensure your facility meets current standards. Detailed information on occupational health and safety and what is required of employers is readily available from a number of sources, but here's a quick checklist for manufacturing plants:

  • Post safety cards and posters in clear view of employees operating the equipment.
  • Be sure to have instruction manuals and training in place to minimize risks.
  • Remind employees to remain alert at all times when equipment is running.
  • Be sure that hazards are clearly identified in your shop.
  • Put effective supervisors in place who understand and can enforce the safety message.
  • Regularly review safety issues with employees so that they don't become complacent.
  • Equipment should be assessed for levels of vibration transmitted to operators.
  • Limit employees' regular exposure to high vibration levels.
  • Equipment with heating devices and forklift trucks should have suitable protective guards, emergency stop buttons and warning notices.

It's also in the interest of entrepreneurs to support healthy lifestyles for employees with awareness-raising "wellness" programs along with in-house gyms, physiotherapy and other such initiatives. You're much better off investing in these programs than spending money on long-term employee sick leave.

Office ergonomics are paramount

Ergonomics is the design of furniture and other workplace equipment in a way that reduces the risk of injury and discomfort and increases productivity. Just as sitting at a desk for long periods of time can be harmful to your health, so too repetitive work such as typing can cause injuries. Ergonomic design seeks to reduce the risk such problems will occur.

Two standards of ergonomic design principles for offices apply to equipment such as computers: the international ISO 6385 standard and the Canadian CSA Z412 Guideline on Office Ergonomics. In office settings, keep the following factors in mind:

  • Furniture should be adjustable and appropriate for users of all sizes.
  • Chairs should be fully adjustable (both height and tilt) and equipped with armrests.
  • Desks should have adjustable height or footrests.
  • Keyboard trays should accommodate a computer mouse for injury-free movement.
  • Workstation layouts should minimize demands on workers' posture.
  • Monitors should be correctly placed at eye level to avoid neck injuries.
  • Telephones should be equipped with headsets, particularly for extended use.
  • Stools and anti-fatigue mats can be offered to employees who have to stand for long periods so as to reduce lower back and leg discomfort.

Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca.

Follow us on Twitter: @GlobeSmallBiz


In the know

Most popular video »


More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories