By Oscar Fenton

It doesn’t matter whether you work on a construction site or inside a chemical laboratory – every workplace has hazards and it’s important that any risks are properly managed in order to ensure employee safety.

When it comes to implementing an ongoing safety program, there are some universal steps that any organization can use to maintain a basic standard of risk awareness and staff protection. To boost employee engagement and overall workplace safety, make sure that, as a minimum, you have the following in place.

1. Use Clear Signage

The first step in ensuring risk awareness is to clearly signpost hazardous areas. This could involve floor markings to separate spaces for moving parts and machinery, placing warning signs in high-danger areas and attaching clear labels to specific items with associated risks.

Carry out a thorough risk assessment and install signs anywhere that contains:

  • A fall or trip risk
  • Hazardous chemicals or toxic materials
  • Extreme temperatures
  • Heavy machinery and moving vehicles
  • A PPE requirement (such as ear or eye protection)
  • Any hazard that might not be immediately apparent to those passing by

Where hazardous materials are routinely manufactured, stored or accessed, many firms adopt the GHS labelling system. This is a way of labelling dangerous substances in a way that can be recognised by other users and clearly communicates the substance within a container and the potential risks that users should be aware of.

2. Provide Relevant Training

It’s always important to make staff aware of their environment and provide any relevant training they might need to safely operate equipment. It’s even more essential when they’ll be in a workplace that has a higher number of risks than average.

Implementing formal training procedures for handling dangerous substances or complex machinery is fundamental for ensuring the safety of not only the user, but also those around them.

Train each employee so that they fully understand their role and responsibilities when it comes to handling high-risk equipment. They should not only be informed about proper use, but also educated about what needs to happen in the event of an emergency.

Once employees have been trained in proper procedures, it’s a good idea to have a system of recording it. Whether you’re providing a participatory demonstration of handling equipment or simply a document that needs to be read, have a way of each member of staff confirming that they have received it, like a record or log. This is important for employees to record what training they’ve had as well as a way for the company to limit liability for the company in the event of an incident.

3. Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, is anything that shields the wearer from health and safety hazards at work. Depending on the environment, this could include helmets and steel-capped boots or respiratory apparatus (known as Respiratory Protective Equipment, or RPE). Other forms of PPE include protective eyewear, high-visibility jackets, gloves, safety harnesses, clothing covers (such as aprons or overalls).

Employers have a duty to provide PPE where required, which might include exposure to:

  • Extreme heat or cold
  • Corrosive materials
  • Hazardous particles (such as sparks or splashes)
  • Contaminated air
  • Falling objects
  • Risky locations (due to darkness or height, for example)

However, PPE should not be the primary tool for managing workplace risks. Other steps should be taken to minimize hazards, and reliance on PPE should be as a last resort. For more information about choosing the most appropriate PPE, take a look at HSE guidelines.

4. Create a Culture of Communication

To continually improve workplace safety, it’s important that there’s a forum for constant and open communication about risks. By scheduling regular team meetings designated for discussions about potential workplace hazards, existing issues, risk management and updated safety procedures, staff will be more motivated to look out for them during their work.

By actively engaging the teams most affected by workplace hazards, they’re more likely to respond to safety training, suggest their own ideas for mitigating risks and participate in a safety-focused culture. It only takes a few regular meetings (such as daily or weekly check-ins, or toolbox talks) to start improving jobsite safety.