Community and Workplace Safety – It’s Not a Dance

Safety is a lesson we learn from early childhood: Mothers remind us to pick up our toys from the hallway or warn us against placing a hand on a hot stove. Like our personal homes, the multi-unit communities in which we house hundreds or even thousands of residents have hazards that could cause a minor scrape or even a life-threatening injury. No community or leasing office – no matter how small – can afford to ignore the importance of workplace safety. Overlooking this vital component of operations not only can put employees and residents in harm’s way, but can be costly to a community owner.

Nearly 3.3 million people are injured at work every year, with a staggering 4,547 workers killed in 2010, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). What’s more, workplace injuries cost employers more than $53 billion in workers’ compensation claims annually, and 22 states including California, North Carolina and Virginia have state OSHA programs that may levy additional fines to private businesses for violations.

The hard truth is that a majority of these incidents are preventable, and all organizations must implement worksite best practices to help keep employees – and residents – safe. In addition to consulting with a compliance or safety expert, here are five best practices and OSHA recommendations to create a safer workplace:

1. Assign a safety leader. In the television show “The Office,” character Dwight Schrute became office safety captain and attempted to implement over-the-top safety drills. While it’s comedy, the show got one thing right: Someone must be in charge of safety, whether a facilities manager or the complex supervisor. Once someone is given this responsibility, establish procedures for workers to report incidents and potential hazards to the safety liaison or management. Consider making safety reporting anonymous so employees are more comfortable being honest and to allay any fears of retaliation.

2. Clean up. A clear workspace is an easy solution to preventing injuries. Survey your workplace – indoors and out – and eliminate the clutter. Are electrical cords trailing across floors or hoses across sidewalks? Are paths to emergency exits clear? Individuals should be encouraged to periodically clean up their work areas to avoid tripping hazards, ensure a sanitary environment and create a more efficient workplace.

3. Conduct a worksite audit. Carefully review and inspect the community and any job sites at which employees are working, with an eye for potential hazards, including areas that may be dangerous to residents, such as a swimming pool or renovation areas. For example, note if chemicals are being properly stored and if residents have access to hazardous areas. Following the audit, make any changes necessary to move or re-label equipment or other dangerous materials.

4. Implement an ounce of prevention. Providing personal protective equipment (PPE) can help reduce certain hazards, and is required by OSHA when administrative and environmental controls are not enough to minimize the danger. Examples of PPE include eye goggles, ear plugs or covers, gloves and heavy work boots, and are used depending on a job function’s particular risks. Provide any necessary PPE to facility employees and help them find appropriate gear, such as non-slip shoes for working in wet areas such as the community pool, to help prevent accidents and incidents. Look toward accident prevention for residents as well by maintaining barriers around the pool or roping off grass areas when pesticides are being applied by landscape professionals.

5. Train and re-train. Regardless of the workload, the reality is that there is never a good reason to skip proper training. Through training, employees understand the dangers of the job and will help keep one another safe and accountable. Enforcing this crucial step, along with periodic audits, also can help a business avoid costly fines and penalties for non-compliance.

Workplace safety is critical and non-negotiable, whether your employees are “pushing paper,” painting walls or fixing a leak.  Following a few simple steps can help a community go from hazardous to healthy, and hopefully help keep workers and residents out of the danger zone.

Paul Wolbert is Vice President of U.S. Lawns. Article provided by U.S. Lawns, which provides commercial landscape management and snow removal services to multi-family residential communities, corporate campuses, retail centers, industrial parks and other commercial customers in all 48 contiguous states. For more information, visit here.