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Safety First
Workplace Safety: Tips, Laws, History, and What You Need to Know
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Leah Thomas
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Are you aware of your legal rights when it comes to ensuring you and your colleagues’ safety in the workplace? 

Are you taking the proper steps to make sure you’re being as safe as you can possibly be at work? 

Are you following the safety procedures provided to you? Do you have absolutely no idea what I am talking about? That’s OK! Workplace safety is a serious issue, but we’ve made it easy. We’ve outlined the most important aspects of staying safe in the workplace, from the laws to the history to general safety tips.

Who benefits most from workplace safety regulations?

While you may have heard that employers benefit the most from workplace safety regulations, or that workers with disabilities may benefit the most, neither of these are true. Those who benefit the most from a company’s implemented safety regulations are all workers — especially those who are less likely to take a leave from work when injured or be forced to deal with expensive medical bills. 

While it is important and necessary for employees to follow the provided safety regulations from each company, accidents and injuries do occur. And situations occur where an employee becomes injured but is too afraid to miss work, meaning she would not be paid. She may also be afraid of not being able to afford her medical bills. These situations only lead to further injury. Which is exactly what safety regulations work to prevent.

Safety regulations allow an employee to claim their benefits upon injury. Workers compensation benefits cover hospital expenses and other medical bills for injured employees, as necessary. Workers will be covered when it comes to receiving the treatment that they need, as well as missing the work that is necessary in order to recover. 

What event had an enormous effect on us workplace safety?

On March 25 in 1911, a fire broke out in the Triangle Factory in New York and killed 146 employees. 

Working conditions during that time were horrible. Workers were crowded in sewing lines and were paid just $15 a week regardless of how many hours they put in. And business owners would refuse to install sprinkler systems.

When a fire started on the eighth floor of the factory building, a member of management was unable to use the rusted fire hose in reach. The owners of the factory left their workers behind without warning them of the fire. Workers were then forced to use the fire escape, as the fire had blocked the stairwell. The fire escape broke, and over a dozen employees died from the fall. Only one of the four elevators in the building was working, and 36 women died when the working elevator broke down due to the heat from the fire. 

The firefighters’ ladders only met the seventh floor, and women stuck on ninth floor were left with no other choice but to jump to avoid the flames. Fifty-eight women died attempting to do so. And 49 other workers died from either inhaling the smoke or from the flames themselves. 

After the fire, workers began protesting the lack of workplace safety regulations and began advocating for labor unions as a means of preventing these tragedies. The Ladies Garment Workers Union organized a specific protest for improved safety in the workplace and for mandatory sprinkler systems as well as fire escapes. They also fought for higher wages, fair hours and overtime pay.

The many protests following the tragedy led to the 40-hour work week, labor unions, sick leave, benefits, child labor laws and safety regulations. 

Laws that protect U.S. Workers

There have been many laws implemented since the 1911 Triangle Factory fire. The Fair Labor Standards Act guarantees a federal minimum wage for American workers. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 and has been so since 2009 (although this differs from the individual state minimum wages.) This act also ensures workers are paid overtime for any hours they work over the standard 40, and it offers protection for minors by putting a limit on the number of hours a child under the age of 16 is permitted to work. 

In 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Act was created. The act outlines safety guidelines and precautions that must be taken in the workplace. It enforces companies and organizations to take the necessary steps in order to protect their workers from danger and harm on company time.

The “Employer Shared Responsibility Payment” provision of the 2010 Affordable Care Act states that companies with at least 50 full-time employees are required to offer a minimal level of health insurance. An employee must work 30 hours in order to be categorized as full-time. 

More recently, the Trump administration rolled back an Obama-era rule that enforced employers to submit electronic detailed reports of any and all workplace injuries. The rule, called the Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses, was meant to aid the government and inspectors in identifying dangerous working conditions and environments.  

Workplace safety tips

1. Pay attention

Simply being aware of your surroundings can prevent a good majority of workplace accidents. Employees should pay attention especially when operating large machinery or completing a workplace task that requires specific training, but also when completing even the most menial of tasks. Avoid distractions like cell phones and other potential hazards. 

2. Give yourself work breaks

Exhaustion can fog one’s brain and can lead to accidents in the workplace. In order to properly execute the first workplace safety tip of paying attention, one must be mentally able to do so. The more tired you are, the more likely you are to just go through the motions and the less likely you are to pay attention to what you are doing. 

3. Stay updated on safety procedures

Make sure you are aware of all new or updated safety procedures. Do not be afraid to ask questions if you do not understand a certain precaution or don’t understand why it is necessary. And hold others accountable: ensure everyone around you is paying attention as well. 

4. Report anything you think may be unsafe

There is nothing wrong with being a little too cautious. If you see something you feel is unsafe in the workplace, you should report it to your supervisor immediately. If someone is skipping a step in the safety procedures or if a machine isn’t being maintained properly, you and your coworkers may all be at risk. 

5. Be aware of your rights

Stay updated on your legal rights, especially those that your workplace should be providing you with. Make sure management is taking care of its staff and following the above laws enacted by the federal government to ensure your safety.

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