Leadership

The Dangerous Oversight That Could Ravage Your Business

Too many SMEs neglect workplace health and safety. Learn your blind spots to avoid financial disaster or worse

Written by John Collie

Canada has (justifiably) earned a reputation as a pretty safe place to work. But that doesn’t mean we have any reason to grow complacent. On average, four Canadians are fatally injured on the job every day. That’s four more than it should be. And for every death, there are dozens of serious injuries.

The recent rail tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, Que., is an extreme example of what can happen when health and safety is overlooked.

It can be a serious problem. And, chances are, you’re not prepared to handle it.

Whether your workplace falls under federal or provincial jurisdiction, there are regulations designed to keep your workplace safe. These rules are not optional. (You can find which requirements affect you by checking in with the agencies listed here.

The rules are clear. Yet, workplace health and safety is one of those issue all too easily neglected—if not ignored outright—by growing companies. That’s partially because entrepreneurs tend to be optimists by nature (read: they don’t want to think that bad things can happen) and partially because health and safety measures seem to be, well, a drag—the kind of overly bureaucratic, boring busy-work innovative business-owners despise.

Health and safety measures seem to be, well, a drag—the kind of overly bureaucratic, boring busy-work innovative business-owners despise.

So why do smaller companies tend to do such a rotten job complying? Maybe you think the rules don’t apply to you, or that the required safeguards are excessive, since there’s only a slim likelihood of getting inspected (especially if you’re a white-collar business with minimal physical labour). Or perhaps you feel you don’t have the time or money to ensure you’re compliant. Or maybe it’s one of those things you hope to get to someday.

This is dangerous thinking—for both your company and your employees. The good news is that it’s easy to change. A quick check of your blind spots and some simple proactive measures will dramatically reduce your risk.

Read: The Safe Way to Grow Your Business

Company risks

All companies in Canada, regardless of size, are required to report any injuries, illnesses and/or fatalities that occurred in the workplace. Based on how much you report, you’re assigned a rating by the appropriate federal or provincial overseer, and required to pay into a fund that helps compensate workers that need to rehabilitate. The fewer injuries in your workplace, the less you’ll have to pay into the fund.

Federal and provincial inspectors have the right to visit your workplace—unannounced—to make sure you’re fully compliant. These visits are becoming much more common. If you fail, you’ll usually get a probationary period to correct your deficiencies—but there’s a chance you’ll receive a fine immediately.

Employee risks

But the worry for workplaces should not be about getting inspected or paying fines. It should be about keeping employees—the most valuable asset of any company—safe.

If a worker is injured—or god forbid, killed—in the workplace, the onus is on you as their employer to prove you provided all necessary training and equipment to prevent whatever caused the incident.

If a worker is injured—or god forbid, killed—in the workplace, the onus is on you as their employer to prove you provided all necessary training and equipment to prevent whatever caused the incident. If you can’t do so, you’ll be hit with heavy fines and possible incarceration—not to mention often-irreparable damage to your reputation as a business and as an employer. And you’ll be on the government’s red-flag list for extensive future inspections, which can be very disruptive to productivity (and, as a result, revenue).

The key questions

The best way to bring your infraction risk to a minimum is to take stock of what you’re not doing. Over the years, I’ve found that most SMEs are unaware of some of the most basic health and safety requirements that, when followed, will both reduce the likelihood of inspections and the chance someone will be hurt. Consider this the start of your education:

  • Did you know that, depending on the province and number of employees you have, your company must have externally certified members on a health and safety committee? And this can’t be an inactive group—they are required by law to meet at least quarterly to review workplace compliance and possible hazards.
  • Did you know that at each work area must have at least one worker capable of rendering first aid in the case of a medical emergency? And that you must provide easy-to-access first-aid supplies?
  • Did you know that if a worker is required to work more than 10 feet from the ground level, he or she is required to have fall protection and arrest training? (Think this doesn’t apply to you if you’re not in construction or heavy industry? Think again. Do your second-story windows ever need cleaning? Or your store’s light bulbs replaced? Or do you need to reach items on the warehouse’s top shelf?)
  • And did you know that if there are any controlled substances in the work area, each worker is currently required to have Workplace Hazardous Material Information System (WHMIS) training? And that this doesn’t just apply to industrial environments? Such seemingly innocuous products as a CO2 compressor in a restaurant’s kitchen or printer toner cartridges in an office count as controlled substances. (Note: WHMIS is about to become Globally Harmonized Systems—or GHS—as Canada joins the global standard for safe management of hazardous materials and controlled substances. This means your WHMIS-trained employees will soon have to undergo more training to comply.)

Read: Your Risk-Management Primer

An internal work-well audit (conducted by staff who are fully up to speed with the rules) or a third-party health and safety review will further alert you to the corners you can’t afford to cut. Just don’t put it off any longer. Your business—and the wellbeing of your employees—are far too precious.

John Collie is the CEO and president of Markham, Ont.-based Rescue 7 Inc. and Rescue 7 International in Chicago, which provide health, safety and first-aid training distribute lightweight, durable AED systems. Rescue 7 has appeared on CBC’s Dragons’ Den and ranked No. 399 on the 2013 PROFIT 500 ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies. A former Toronto firefighter, Collie has trained clients around the world on how to implement emergency procedure programs.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com