My friend, a McDonald’s employee at the time, once shared a story about an experience with a funny (but unsafe) workplace culture. His manager told him that if he licked the freezing cold ice cream machine with his tongue, he’d give him a free McFlurry.

My friend took that bet. The result was a modern day reenactment of A Christmas Story. While he was able to remove his tongue from the machine himself, the procedure was not without a little blood and a lot of pain. It was an unsafe, unhygienic situation that should not have happened.

Every day, thousands of Americans sign on for jobs that have ridiculously high injury, dismemberment, and mortality rates. Loggers, deep sea fishermen, and aircraft pilots have the highest rate of death in America. Individuals who enter these professions knowingly trade safety for an hourly wage that is significantly greater than the national minimum wage. Dangerous jobs should have a tradeoff.

But unsafe workplace environments like the one created by my friend’s manager can quickly become places that put employees’ lives, limbs, and quality of life at risk. Unsafe workplace policies often arise either from managerial neglect or pressure. Managers should never demand, ask, or egg employees into performing potentially dangerous workplace tasks and duties.

It’s important that managers do what they can to eradicate ‘unofficial’ unsafe workplace policies and procedures.

How Unsafe Workplace Environments Are Created

Employees can create hazardous work conditions as they try to meet unrealistic productivity standards, receive inadequate training, or cut corners.

Here is an example of what this looks like:

  • A worker ignores forkliftsafety guidelines to meet high standards and avoid a reprimand.

Managers can create insecure work environments when they ignore bad employee safety habits, conduct inadequate safety training, or ask employees to do a task that will put the employee at risk to save money, time, or to create some amusement.

Here are two examples of what this looks like:

  • Managers direct stock room employees put packages on higher shelves by having employees toss heavy packages to individuals on a ladder.
  • VP of a company asks an employee to climb a second-story ladder without a harness. When he is met with a refusal, his response is to “be humble” and do it.

The Fallout of an Unsafe Work Environment

Businesses should be very conscious of the bad safety standards or habits (if any) managers within the company are either encouraging or allowing to flourish.  According to the infographic Inside the Mind of a Successful Manager created by Pepperdine University, 60 percent of the 71 percent of employees who described themselves as disengaged at work said they would work harder if their relationship with their manager were to improve.

Trust, fairness, and respect, all vital parts of the management/employee relationship, take a hit when management either encourages or ignores an unsafe work environment, which can lead to worker resignations.

According to research published by WorkplaceTrends.com in September of 2015, nearly one on three workers surveyed planned to leave their current jobs. As reported by Investopedia, the cost of hiring an employee can run anywhere from 1.5 to 3 times the employee’s salary due to initial hiring costs, training, and lower productivity for the first six months. You can run the risk of hampering overall productivity by inadvertently encouraging employees to leave for safer pastures before you can recoup the financial cost of hiring them.

The very real potential of employee injuries also needs to be kept in mind when encouraging or allowing unsafe work habits.

  • Too many injury claims or a particularly expensive one can lead to the company’s workers compensation insurance premium rising.
  • Injured employees might not be able to work at all or at full duty for weeks to months after an injury, which can lead to the need to hire a new temporary employee to fill those hours.
  • If a company does not have workers compensation, employees can file a civil lawsuit against the employer.

Rooting Out Bad Safety Habits

The good news is that with a little work, you can increase workplace safety. Here are a few strategies that can you and your team can utilize to cultivate a safer workplace:

  • Identify safety problems that currently exist within the organization.
  • Create new safety guidelines as needed.
  • Acquire proper safety tools.
  • Create a company safety manual.
  • Conduct safety training or seminars.
  • Reprimand employees or managers who break safety guidelines.
  • Ensure production quotas are possible to meet while adhering to safety guidelines.

As you begin this initiative, it’s vital that everyone, from the head of the company to middle management, to the general employee, all understands and adheres to the new safety guidelines. If your team is concerned about productivity, I would recommend that you encourage your managers to strategize about ways to increase efficiency—without dangerous shortcuts. Your company will benefit in the long run.

Photo Credit: olaruwaju Flickr via Compfight cc

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