Smitty was the kind of guy that everyone loves to have in the workplace. The kind of guy you would want next to you in a foxhole while pinned down by enemy machine gun fire. Always positive, always smiling, the first one to put his hand up to do absolutely anything for the team. We were a start-up business selling personal hygiene items online. We’ve since grown to be reasonably well known but in the early days, it was just 3 of us in a dingy garage on the outskirts of Scunthorpe. We were young, brash, idealistic, and had no idea how to run a business, yet somehow we managed to carve out a niche through sheer force of will.
Eventually, we grew out of our garage, rented modest premises with a small warehouse and grew our team. We all wore a dozen or so different hats, as is typical with any start-up. Smitty gladly volunteered to add warehouse manager to his long list of responsibilities. Of course, we were flying by the seat of our pants and no-one ever gave even a passing thought to workplace safety.
On any given day, Smitty could be seen free-climbing on the warehouse racking to pull down a box of products for shipping. We all marvelled at his dexterity and laughed at the precarious positions that he got himself into. Until that fateful day.
Startled by a sickening thud, we all rushed over to find Smitty lying motionless on the warehouse floor. It must have been at least 3 meters from where he had fallen. The worst moment of my life was having to look into the eyes of Smitty’s wife, holding their 3-month-old baby girl and let her know that he beloved husband was in the hospital with a broken back and the doctors were unsure whether he would ever walk again. He never did.
This incident cost us untold thousands of pounds in compensation and lost productivity, but most importantly, it robbed a family of their husband and father and our workplace of a valued colleague and friend. It was all so tragic and could have been easily avoided if we had just followed a few simple rules to ensure workplace safety.
Have a detailed workplace accident plan, and make sure that all your staff know it well. Ensure that emergency numbers are well signposted so that help can be obtained as soon as possible. Make sure that you have adequate first aid kits placed in each area. I bought Hipac’s First Aid kits for my business and they were effective and affordable.
Appoint a Designated OH&S Officer
There should always be go-to person who is charged with ensuring that the appropriate standards and procedures are in place, that they are well understood by all staff and complied with at all times. Make sure that person receives the necessary training in all relevant OH&S standards.
Establish a Safety First Ethos
Start-up business all have, by definition, a certain degree of bravado. Unfortunately, in our case this caused us to take unnecessary risks with our safety, and Smitty ended up paying the ultimate price for personal hygiene. Even if your business starts out with a couple of people in a back room, make sure that from day-1 health and safety are an absolute priority.
Drum It In
Don’t assume that just because your employees took a first aid course or OH&S training 5 years ago, that they are up-to-date and ready to avoid or respond to safety challenges. Implement a regular OH&S training schedule so that staff are constantly reviewing and upgrading their knowledge base.
All of this requires a not-insignificant investment of time and resources, however, the alternative is far costlier. Workers compensation will cost you far more than a good OH&S regime. More importantly, the emotional and psychological cost cannot be measured. Just ask Smitty.