After 30 years in business, I still hear gripes about having to work safely. I guess that's human nature, like complaining about tough airport security.

But aside from putting up with periodic complaints, how much effort do you put into making your business a safe place to work?

Most safety issues can be addressed by planning, acting on and reviewing safety policies and procedures.

• Plan. Do you have a written and posted plan for dealing with a fire, chemical spill, or public emergency like terrorism or a release from the chemical weapons depot? Does everyone know how to get out if there's an emergency? Are emergency phone numbers posted where everyone can see them? Does your operation comply with building and fire codes? (You're not supposed to plug an extension cord into another extension cord.) Is everybody trained in how to use a fire extinguisher; administer first aid; avoid contact with blood and other bodily fluids; respond to a fall or back injury? (Don't move an injured person unless you're trained in emergency medical procedures.) Are your hazardous materials records (Material Safety Data Sheets) bound and displayed? The Oregon OSHA education web page is a great starting point for safety planning.

• Act. Train every single employee in safe work operations. The person you don't train may be the one who doesn't make it out of the burning building. Inspect facilities and tools. Even in an office there can be overloaded electrical outlets, sharp edges or broken furniture. Lift heavy objects and use hand tools safely. Install eyewash stations and other required safety apparatus. Post safety information. Inventory and re-stock your first aid supplies. Teach and observe safe work habits and give immediate feedback (positive as well as corrective).

• Review. Schedule a fire drill and review the results with your team. Do regular pop quizzes at staff meetings - what would we do if there were a warning about a release from the chemical depot? What if an employee or customer had an epileptic seizure? We're using a new solvent - where is the MSDS sheet?

It's pretty simple stuff until you need it. Then it can mean the difference between life and death.

I'd rather fly with luggage that's been thoroughly screened, and I'd rather work where safety is a top priority. I like being safe and healthy, and I'll bet you and your team do too.


Art Hill is vice president of customized training, apprenticeship, and the Small Business Development Centers at Blue Mountain Community College. His career spans business ownership and management, from Fortune 100 companies to his own educational publishing company. He can be reached toll-free at 1-888-441-7232 or through Website:

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