Eliminating Unsafe Work Conditions

Employers should make it easier for employees to speak up when conditions aren’t safe

Eliminating Unsafe Work Conditions

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In the workplace we often hear about “unsafe acts,” defined as any activity by workers that is not in accordance with the prescribed safety standards, and which can cause or is likely to cause accidents, risk for self or others or damage to equipment or property at the workplace. Generally, anything we do or don’t do that can cause an injury is an unsafe act.

Unsafe conditions can be defined as hazards that have the potential to cause injury or death to an employee. It’s the environment or the condition of equipment that we might be working around that is considered unsafe. Other examples include defective tools/equipment, missing safeguards, chemical leaks, poor housekeeping (slip, trip and fall hazards) and hazardous atmospheres. Rushing to get the job done can certainly create unsafe conditions and even driving without a seatbelt can be an unsafe condition.  

So, who should be responsible for recognizing and correcting unsafe conditions in the workplace? Is it the safety person? Or maybe a manager or a supervisor? Unsafe conditions often exist because employees don’t see it as part of their jobs to address the issue. They leave it up to someone else to recognize and address the problem. Maybe they’re timid about reporting an issue or feel like they might “cause trouble for someone.” Sometimes, employees may not even realize that the unsafe condition is a hazard since they aren’t trained in certain aspects of workplace safety.  

This topic reminds me of an interesting encounter that I had early on in my career as a safety professional in a different industry. The company I worked for was contracted to perform some services for a large industrial plant and a safety issue was discovered within our organization. The superintendent of the company and I were meeting with the general manager of the plant, and he asked us a question I will never forget: “Who’s responsible for safety on the job site?” So, naturally, I thought of myself since I was the safety director of my company. So, that’s how I responded. It was not the answer he was looking for. He was looking for the response that everyone was responsible for safety at a job site. 

While there are generally stated responsibilities when it comes to workplace safety, such as having a safety professional, everyone should feel the responsibility of speaking up when there are unsafe conditions that need addressing.  

So, what can all employees do to mitigate unsafe conditions? First, be aware of your surroundings, especially if the environment is one that changes or is new. Stay alert and be ready to respond to potential hazards that could occur due to the work being performed. Employees should always inspect their workplaces every day even if there was nothing wrong the day before. One never knows when something might have changed while they were away.  

Another important aspect in recognizing unsafe conditions is attending safety training and adhering to the safe work practices that you learn in the training. Safety training should address the unsafe conditions and potential hazards and how to correct them. Pay attention and put it into practice every day.  

Employers should make it easier for employees to speak up when there are unsafe conditions within the workplace. This benefits everyone, including managers and supervisors, when their employees care enough to speak up. There should be a written reporting procedure that all employees understand. Once the report has been made, there also needs to be a follow-up procedure so that the unsafe condition is corrected. Every employee should feel safe to report an unsafe condition even if they are new to the job or not a part of the work crew performing the task. 

Eliminating unsafe conditions should be a top priority for employers and employees alike to ensure that the working environment is safe for all.


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