Preventing Workplace Injuries in a Changing Workforce Context
The race for talent is tight. Finding employees is difficult, and retaining them is an even more difficult obstacle. Nearly four million workers changed jobs between January and March 2022, which could translate to an annual worker turnover of 30%.
Now imagine if an injured worker left you even more shorthanded. Unfortunately, this hypothetical scenario is becoming a reality for many producers. But why am I talking about this now? The hiring challenge is no newer than the injury risks that have existed in the horticulture industry for years.
The source of the injuries, however, might surprise you. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 30% of workplace accidents involve employees who have been on the job for less than a year. A change in talent only compounds this problem, especially in an industry that relies on temporary and seasonal workers.
Now more than ever, training workers is essential — for their safety and the success of your business. To help you get started, I’ve put together some key reminders from conversations I’ve had in the field with other horticulture businesses.
Common workplace injuries
Before reducing the number of accidents, you must understand the situations and types of injuries that your employees face. An effective workplace safety program should consider all potential injuries, not just one category. Below are some of the most common injuries in greenhouses and nurseries.
- Slips, trips and falls: Although the name may sound misleading, slips, trips, and falls can escalate into sprains, strains, tears, or even back and head injuries. Wet floors or icy walkways around your greenhouse can cause slips. Ladders are also very common in industry and often result in serious injuries from falls. Trips and other sources of falls, on the other hand, can occur due to uneven surfaces, cluttered pathways and trailing pipes.
- Overwork and muscle tension: Many greenhouse operations require moving and lifting heavy objects. But without the right tools, techniques, and training, routine movements can lead to costly injuries. Common hazards include bending at the waist or twisting when carrying an object. Any activity that requires repetitive movements can also create a higher risk of injury.
- Contact with objects and equipment: Heavy machinery – while helpful in reducing overwork – can present its own risks. Forklifts, tractors and related equipment can injure nearby employees while maneuvering around your facility. If an object or equipment comes into forced contact with your employees, it could result in serious injury.
- Handling of hazardous materials: While products like pesticides and herbicides can help protect your plants, they can also harm your employees without the proper precautions. Direct exposure to certain substances can affect the health of your employees. Each substance requires safe handling and careful application to avoid exposure.
Qualities of an effective security program
Now that we’ve covered common injury hazards around your facility, the question remains: what can you do? The first step is to develop your security program. The time you take to create or update your security policies can bring significant benefits. A study published by Harvard Business School found that the average company saves about $355,000 in injury costs from workplace safety inspections alone.
When updating your plan, seek input from your employees. Most individuals understand the tasks and challenges of their roles, which makes their feedback invaluable. A safety program is only as effective as the commitment of your team. When you listen to their thoughts and feedback, you help improve their buy-in.
Once your team is lined up, it’s time to refresh your plan. Your security program should include policies and procedures that help you:
- Integrate daily safety routines
- Host a pre-shift meeting to discuss daily tasks and provide safety reminders
- Perform routine safety inspections using a checklist
- Reduce and eliminate hazards
- Assign qualified employees to a dedicated safety committee
- Train workers to perform their jobs safely – don’t rely on assumptions
- Establish an incident reporting process
- Develop a security statement communicated and signed by all employees
Your safety program in action
Once you have established the framework for your security program, you must put it into practice for it to be effective. Training sessions called tailgate talks can help. These are informal meetings where your team can discuss security topics specific to their job and your business.
Common themes often include injury prevention, fire hazards, vehicle and equipment use, chemical safety, and facility inspections. Different members of your security team can lead discussions depending on the topic. Here are some other best practices to consider in your conversations:
- Use an attendance sheet to keep track of who attended the meeting and who you need to follow up with afterwards.
- Allow a question and answer session before recapping the security message.
- Provide an opportunity for hands-on practice, quizzes, or other strategies that engage your employees.
- Give employees information to take with them. Make a summary presentation available and accessible to all employees.
By engaging your employees, you can keep safety top of mind and reduce the risks that contribute to accidents. If you need help with safety training, your insurer may have a safety team that includes someone like me who can help organize training sessions, educational resources and regular inspections. Do not hesitate to ask for help.
The role of workers’ compensation coverage
Now, I hope the return on investment for workplace safety is clear. It is more cost-effective to avoid injuries altogether than to pay the direct and indirect costs of an incident. Yet accidents do happen, and when they do happen, insurance can help cover the costs associated with a workplace injury.
Workers’ compensation coverage can help pay for medical bills, lost wages, and legal fees when one of your employees is injured in the performance of a work-related function. For context, the average cost of a workers’ compensation claim from 2018 to 2019 was $42,008, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI).
Although most states require workers’ compensation coverage, several factors can affect your policy, including payment structures, medical cost containment strategies, and loss control services. These areas could serve as their own item, so it’s best to discuss your options with an agent or insurer.
Workplace safety requires commitment and repetition because injuries can happen anytime and anywhere. While this article alone cannot cover all security recommendations, I hope it stimulates conversation within your team. Your next safety talk could help reduce future accidents. As always, speak with your local experts to discuss a plan specific to your business. You can also contact me if you have any questions. Be careful.
Preventing Workplace Injuries in a Changing Workforce Context