Creating a Safe Environment

WA Veterinarian Magazine

by Jessica Wass, PHR, SHRM-CP

May/Jun 2015

The idea of owning a practice beckons and beguiles veterinarians in all stages of their careers. For some the plan to pursue a career in veterinary medicine and the goal of someday owning a practice take root simultaneously. For others the idea arises more gradually or an opportunity to purchase an existing practice presents itself. What can we learn from our colleagues who have already built or bought their own practices? We asked a handful of current practice owners from both sides of the state to reflect on how they went about building or purchasing a practice and what they learned along the way.

There’s a lot to be said for creating a safe work environment. Generally, employees are happier and healthier, workplace productivity is better, and insurance premiums are lower in a safe workplace. Creating a safe workplace cannot exist on best practice guidelines and policies alone. The entire work force — from the practice owner to the most recent hire — must recognize that worker safety and health is central to the mission and key to the profitability of all companies. When these elements come together in the workplace, patient outcomes improve and customer satisfaction skyrockets.

The foundation of any successful workplace safety effort is one that encourages employees to identify unsafe behaviors and opportunities for improvement while at the same time making well-informed safety decisions during daily routine tasks. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an effective safety and health program can save $4 to $6 for every $1 invested.

As an employer, you have a duty to protect your workers from injury and illness on the job. Protecting workers also makes good business sense. Accidents and injuries are more expensive than many realize. Costs mount up quickly. But substantial savings in workers’ compensation and lost workdays are possible when injuries and illnesses decline. OSHA can help you.

Both OSHA and the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA) provide leadership and encouragement to workers and employers to take that responsibility seriously. They work to help employers and employees focus on reducing injuries, illnesses, and fatalities and to increase their commitment to improved safety and health. They can help businesses and others through a variety of tools, including partnership, consultation, compliance assistance, education and training, outreach, and plain language regulations.

Below are ten tips that every employer should focus on:

  • Encourage your employees to work safely; at the same time, know the specific causes of possible accidents.
  • Remember that your employees are also your best consultants. Solicit their input on how to improve workplace safety.
  • Each safety and health program should be tailored to fit the practice, to blend with its unique operations and culture, and to help employers maintain a system that continually addresses workplace hazards. There are five elements that every effective program should have: management leadership and employee participation, workplace analysis, hazard prevention and control, safety and health training and education, and program evaluation.
  • Promote any actions which make the workplace more enjoyable. Create a system that gives workers’ the ability to provide supervisors with both positive and negative feedback on all matters.
  • Ensure that work areas are cleaned regularly and free of hazards. All equipment should be checked regularly to ensure proper operation. If safety gear is necessary, be sure it is available at all times.
  • Do not create overly complicated emergency procedures. Keep accident plans simple: workers’ will need to understand all the instructions immediately.
  • Emergencies require not only plans, but also supplies. Put fire extinguishers in plain view, and make sure employees know how to use them. Keep a first-aid kit and emergency phone numbers readily accessible.
  • Your building should adhere to all fire and safety codes. Check that all exits are clearly marked and unobstructed.
  • If your workplace has 11 or more employees Washington State law states each employer needs to form a safety committee by appointing some employees and having an election for the other members. Hold meetings on a regular basis to ensure your safety program is working.
  • Learn from your experiences. Keep track of workplace injuries or accidents, even if your employee isn’t going to the doctor; take a report of the injury and keep on file. Complete your OSHA 300 log at the end of the year and make sure to post it in a place visible by your employees from February 1 – April 30th.

Safety – It’s the right thing to do, and doing it right pays off in lower costs, increased productivity, and higher employee morale.

Jessica Wass

Jessica Wass, PHR, SHRM-CP works for HR Kinections in Bothell, WA. HR Kinections provides effective Human Resource Management to clients. They help their clients achieve their business goals by creating smart solutions to meet their specific business needs.

“Creating a safe workplace cannot exist on best practice guidelines and policies alone. The entire work force — from the practice owner to the most recent hire — must recognize that worker safety and health is central to the mission and key to the profitability of all companies.”