You know what? You’re right. The risk of occupational injuries and illnesses is lower in the tech industry, statistically speaking. In fact, reportable injuries in the tech sector are 40% lower than the national average. Common sense tells us that the nature of today’s tech work—interfacing with software, mostly—is not a risky day-to-day endeavor. So why should you care about occupational safety? Fair question, yet when it comes to employee safety, the tech sector isn’t special.
Providing a healthy, safe work environment is not only an advantage for employers, but it’s also a legal obligation. That’s true for all businesses. From paid family leave to wellness programs and health incentives, the tech industry competes for talent by offering similar programs alongside relatively high wages, benefits, and stock options; these issues matter greatly to millennials, in particular.
While safety remains an afterthought for much of the tech sector, employees are not invulnerable to injuries at work. In fact, tech workers are acutely susceptible to several injury-types: slips, trips, and falls; musculoskeletal disorders; transportation-related incidents.
Think, also, of musculoskeletal disorders from repetitive stress of stationary work at computers, and a failure to understand how to adjust a workstation to avoid daily headaches, neck strains, sore eyes, knots in the shoulder, or hands that fall asleep while typing. These soft tissue injuries are especially costly for employers and painful for workers.
Think of slip, trip, and fall hazards in your work environment. Cords and cables for hardware, wet floors from foot traffic that bring Seattle’s rain indoors, and people standing on chairs and ladders to access power or perform maintenance. These are basic hazards, but that’s also why, too often, workers and employers take these risks for granted.
And think of the frantic morning commuters on, say, 520 and 405 (yes, I’ve lived the nightmare), or your cyclists; getting to work can be a dangerous proposition no matter how cautious we are.
Now, these injury types are common across all industries; what’s unusual for the tech sector is the relatively minimal amount of attention paid to mitigation of such risks.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calculates that workers in the information technology sphere miss an average of 12 work days after experiencing an occupational injury or illness. That’s higher than the national average of 9 days for all industries. From there, the math on lost productivity is easy.
So, that’s why it matters to you. What can do you about it?
First, create a workplace safety (downloadable .docx) program; if your company has one, expand it to account for those injuries and illnesses discussed here. From onboarding to retaining top talent, a strong workplace safety program communicates that employers care about the health and welfare of their workforce, beyond fringe benefits like free, healthy snacks or sponsored team weight-loss challenges.
Training is a big part of any workplace safety program, along with foundational written safety policies. For example, beyond specific hazards like slips, trips, and falls, there are two training topics that are universally applicable: Fire Extinguisher Safety and Emergency Preparedness. Anyone expected to extinguish a fire in your office complex needs training on how to safely operate a fire extinguisher in response. And we northwesterners know that nature can be unpredictable, that earthquakes happen where we live, and that coastal regions have to be on guard for tsunami activity. That’s where emergency preparedness planning comes in, on concerns over violence in the workplace and other emergency-related training.
If you’re not training on those two subjects, you’re likely out of compliance today.
To get you started, I’ve linked short safety tip videos with my recommended:
“10 Training Topics for the Tech Workforce”:
- Office Ergonomics
- Slips Trips & Falls
- Driver Safety
- Emergency Response
- Fire Extinguisher
- Violence in the Workplace
- Active Shooter Response
- Sexual Harassment (Managers, Employees, CA AB 1825)
- Electrical Safety
- Distracted Driver
To find out what training your organization must offer, here’s a free, 10-minute online training needs assessment.
For help, try reaching out to your workers’ comp insurance provider and ask them to connect you with resources. Many insurers offer free safety consultations or audits, and can pick up the tab for testing of work environments for things like indoor air quality and noise. Remember that you are a paying customer —it is okay to ask! Insurers offer these resources because it helps them and it helps you by reducing the likelihood of claims and supports lower premiums. Bonus: by taking advantage of these services and implementing other safety measures, like training, you may even qualify for a premium discount.
Stay safe out there!