Workplace distractions are ever-present. They reduce workers’ productivity, increase their stress, cause injuries and lower morale. Some are the result of modern technology, but others have been around a lot longer.
Following an interruption, it typically takes a couple of minutes to return concentration to work. These short interruptions and recovery periods add up to large amounts of lost productive time.
There are a multitude of distractions that can affect employee safety and productivity that employers need to be aware of.
- Smartphones– Smartphones and tablet computers are a major distraction, especially in office environments. Text messages, alerts and the urge to check Facebook and news – not to mention game apps like Candy Crush and Words With Friends – can pull employees’ attention away from the task at hand.
- E-mail– Misuse of e-mail can be another productivity sapper. This includes strings of e-mails sent to arrange a time for a meeting or conference call, when scheduling software could accomplish the same thing with one or two messages. It also includes clicking the “reply all” button, sending a thank-you intended for one person to a group of ten. Again, these small interruptions compound over time.
- Old-fashioned interruptions – A co-worker who stops by to ask a quick question and sticks around to chat for a few minutes. Meetings that are held because they’ve always been held, regardless of whether they accomplish anything. The colleague who sits three cubicles away and is incapable of having a quiet conversation.
- Personal issues– In some cases, a worker’s distractions may come from himself. His job may be boring, causing his mind to wander while he uses a tool or pours a hot drink. He may have problems at home – financial difficulties, family members who are ill, elderly parents, a child going through a rough time.
- Work pressures– This includes perceived pressure to finish a job quickly. Manufacturing or warehouse employees may feel pushed to fill an order in a hurry, or construction workers may face short deadlines.
- Complacency– Sometimes, employees have done a job for too long and have grown complacent in their knowledge. This can lead to their missing crucial steps in the process, resulting in faulty work – and worse.
Distractions are not only annoying; they can also be dangerous.
Tripping hazards, machines that use saws, punches, drills or lasers, and workplace chemicals can all cause serious injuries if workers are not paying attention.
An employee driving a forklift in a warehouse can collide with furniture or goods. Kitchen workers plus knives and stoves, plus distractions, can easily produce injuries that are costly and upsetting for the rest of the staff.
To an extent, distractions are unavoidable, but they can be reduced. One thing employers can do is to encourage frequent breaks. There is a limit to how long someone can focus intently on a task. Occasional stretch or walk breaks can help workers clear their minds, relax a little, and take care of personal phone calls and messages.
If necessary, managers can block employees from accessing certain websites or limit use of smartphones to break times. They can also model and encourage proper use of e-mail.
Meetings can be scheduled only when a group discussion is necessary to accomplish work results. To keep them on track, they should be time-limited and have stated agendas.
If it doesn’t interfere with customer service, employees can wear earbuds or headphones to muffle loud conversations. Employees subject to frequent interruptions from gossipy co-workers should be permitted to hang up “do not disturb” signs when necessary.
It is possible to reduce distractions without burdening the workplace with excessive rules. Employers who do so will raise morale, prevent injuries, improve quality and boost profits.
This year promises to be one of the worst flu seasons in the past decade, and that means you may end up having a number of employees who are off sick at the same time.
If the flu takes hold among your employees, it can quickly spread and force even more people than usual to take time off to get better. While it’s impossible to stop the flu from spreading in society, as an employer you can prepare for absences and also take steps to keep the virus from taking hold in your workplace.
Here’s what you can do to reduce the flu’s penetration among your workforce.
Urge your staff to get a flu shot
It’s not too late for people to get vaccinated. After a flu shot, it takes about two weeks for your body to develop antibodies. The winter is the best time to get the shot for the most long-lasting effectiveness.
No flu vaccine is 100% effective, so a flu shot is not a guarantee that your worker will not get sick. For example, the vaccine for the 2016-2017 flu season was only 48% effective.
Urge employees to stay home if sick
The flu is often accompanied by a fever or nausea. Advise your workers to stay at home if they are feeling these symptoms because if they come to work with the early stages of influenza, they are most susceptible to spreading it. In fact, the flu virus remains contagious for seven days.
Tell them that while they feel they may be able to put in a full workday, not only is their work quality likely to suffer, but they can exacerbate their symptoms and put other staff at risk. Emphasize that their job won’t be at stake if they call in sick with the flu.
Have replacement personnel for key positions
We’re not talking about keeping someone on stand-by that doesn’t work at your organization. But for critical posts, it makes good business and risk management sense if you have more than one person trained to perform critical job functions at your facility.
If you don’t have someone trained for their job, you risk having an operational interruption, throwing your production schedule off track.
For workers with mild flu symptoms who are staying at home for the good of their co-workers, consider a telecommuting arrangement. If they are recuperating, they can hold video meetings on Skype and, if you have a VPN set up, they can access your database and their work, if they have the kind of job that can be done remotely.
Stock up on hand sanitizer
People who have just contracted the flu, but may not know it yet, can spread the virus through sneezes and touching surfaces that others may touch (think doorknobs). One of the keys to avoiding the flu is to keep your hands clean.
Place bottles of hand sanitzier or santizing wipes handy in various places at your facility. Make sure if you provide wipes that employees don’t need to open a lid to get at them (that’s just one more point of contact for the flu virus to populate and wait for the next victim).
Germ-killing wipes can also be used on non-porous surfaces, such as door handles and workbenches.
Order antiviral facemasks
Yes, we’ve all seen the photos of people in Asia wearing facemasks in public to either avoid spreading their germs or picking up a virus. But while most facemasks are only really good in not spreading the disease of the wearer, there are a few antiviral facemasks on the market that actually protect the wearer.
Curad’s Antiviral Facemask, for example, “inactivates 99.99% of tested strains of influenza viruses on five minutes contact with the surface of the facemask in laboratory (in-vitro) tests against … seasonal, pandemic, avian, swine, and equine influenza viruses.”
Humidify your air
The flu virus thrives in cold and dry environments and you can thwart it by installing a humidifier in your workplace. This is war, so any weapons you have to fight the spread of flu among your workers is worthwhile.
The holiday season can bring a combination of fun and excitement as well as stress and anxiety for your staff.
While the majority of workers enjoy December as it brings more cheer to the office, as well as goodies from vendors and maybe even a company party, not everyone feels the same.
A recent study by staffing firm Accountemps found that while half of workers report being more cheerful at work this time of year, 35% say they feel more work-related pressure.
Top factors affecting employee stress:
- Balancing work and holiday obligations (32%)
- Taking time off and returning to heavier workloads (23%)
- Having a smaller staff than usual because of time off (18%)
- Buying gifts for co-workers and contacts (11%)
- Attending holiday office parties (8%)
“Between professional responsibilities and personal commitments, it’s all too easy for employees to become overwhelmed during the holiday season,” Michael Steinitz, executive director of Accountemps, said in a press release. “Managers can support their teams by allowing more flexible schedules. Workers should take time off to enjoy the season with family and friends and avoid burnout that could carry over into the new year.”
What you can do
Employees surveyed said the following work-related benefits would help reduce their holiday stress:
- Higher year-end bonuses (37%)
- More flexible work schedules during the holidays (32%)
- More paid vacation during the holidays (17%)
There are other initiatives you can take to help your employees during the holidays.
Accountemps and the Society for Human Resources Management recommend:
- Telling your workers to list priorities for the day before leaving work. Advise them to keep a separate list for off-the-job to-dos.
- Telling your staff to ask for help if they have too much work. Their supervisor might consider solutions such as adjusting deadlines or delegating.
- Asking employees what you can do to help reduce their stress. Ask if they would like to postpone the company party until January. If you are hosting a pot luck lunch, ask if people would rather have pizza brought in, so no one has to cook.
- Perhaps you can give everyone one hour a week to go online and shop, so they don’t feel like they have to sneak screen time to get a deal on gifts.
- People are often extending themselves at this time of year, so make sure you are going out of your way to notice their good work and say thank you. Also, be aware of anyone that may need an extra word of encouragement or some additional support, like employees who have lost a loved one this year or those with little or no family in the area. Making sure they know you care can go a long way in retaining employees.
- Encouraging time off. Urge people to take advantage of that with a vacation day or a half-day Friday to do their holiday shopping, decorate their house, get their baking done, or just relax and enjoy the season. They will likely come back in a better frame of mind and be more productive.
- Providing extra shifts for people to earn holiday money.
With year-end festivities about to begin, you should include safety into your holiday plans, be that if you are simply decorating the office or throwing a holiday/year-end party for your staff.
Since the holiday season or your party is only once a year, it’s easy to overlook safety even though you already incorporate it into the other aspects of your operations.
While you obviously want your staff to relax and have fun at your holiday party, you also want to make sure they get home safely and that nobody gets hurt or sick at your party. This takes planning and consideration.
Some of your safety priorities should be
- Liquor consumption,
- Safety on the premises of your party, and
- Food-borne illnesses.
Due to their infrequent nature, the liability risks of company-sponsored holiday events are often overlooked. To ensure the health and well-being of all who attend, it is important to be aware of any potential liability concerns that your company may face if the event doesn’t go exactly as planned.
While you want your staff to enjoy themselves, safety should still be your top priority during the holidays.
Keep in mind that if someone trips and injures themselves on an extension cord for your holiday lighting or other holiday decorations, it would be considered work-related and could possibly be subject to workers compensation. The same may hold true for injuries sustained at work parties as well. Consider the following:
- If you are holding a party at outside your office, you need to inspect the venue first to make sure it meets your safety standards. Some things to keep an eye out for include: exits emergency lighting, and flooring that might prevent slips and falls, particularly if there is a chance of bad weather.
- Keep an eye on the weather forecast and if storms are looming on the date of your party. Consider the effects that weather may have on safe travel to and from the party. You may need to make special plans to keep sidewalks and parking lots clear if the event is outside of normal business hours.
- If you are in an unfamiliar area, do you need security? It’s something to consider.
- Keep an eye on party-goers to ensure that no one wanders off or goes to his or her car alone after dark.
- Prepare an emergency plan in case someone is injured or needs medical assistance. Know where the closest hospital is and if anyone knows how to use a defibrillator or can perform CPR.
- Do you have employees with disabilities who have special needs? Wheelchair bound employees should be able to get in and out of any venue you choose.
Other liability issues
Other issues to consider:
- Applying your workplace policies on behavior including those on violence, harassment, discrimination and the general code of conduct, even if you’ve chosen a venue other than your workplace. Prior to the event, let employees know the standards to which they will be held.
- Making sure your staff knows that the event is optional and it won’t reflect poorly on their performance evaluation, advancement potential or job security if they don’t’ attend. Emphasize this in all invitations and announcements should emphasize this point.
- Making sure that the party is not tied to any specific religious tradition and is referred to as a “holiday party.”
- Monitoring employee’s behavior to ensure that it conforms to company policies. Take prompt action if any activity or behavior exceeds acceptable bounds. For instance, if someone is getting too friendly, carrying a mistletoe and asking for kisses from others, you should pull the person assign and discreetly to manage the incident before it becomes a bigger issue.
- Limiting alcohol consumption, which can help avoid impaired decision making and lowering inhibitions which can lead to poor behaviors.
- Avoiding activities or items such as mistletoe, a game of Twister, or inappropriate music that could lead to physical contact, unwanted social pressure or inappropriate conversation.
- Taking complaints that stem from the party seriously. As you would with any other incident, document, investigate and take appropriate action.
Some companies have recognized the liability exposure that alcohol represents and have chosen to hold holiday events free of beer, wine, or liquor. If it will be served, there are some important considerations that can help to limit potential problems:
- Hold the event at an off-site location and hire professional bartenders who have their own insurance and are certified for alcohol service. Speak with the vendor to determine what protocols it uses to keep from serving minors and others who are visibly intoxicated.
- Make sure an array of choices of non-alcoholic beverages.
- Don’t have an open bar. Instead hand out drink tickets to control consumption.
- Stop serving alcohol at least an hour before the event ends.
- Keep lots of starchy and high-protein snacks for the partyers to munch on to slow absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.
- Give a supervisor or manager the authority to cut off anyone who is intoxicated.
- Provide alternative transportation that may include free cab rides.
A word about insurance
Make sure you that any vendors you use, carry insurance. Insist on seeing the certificates of insurance with sufficient coverage and liability limits for:
- Catering firms,
- Bartending firms,
- Facilities, or
- Entertainers should be required to produce
When reviewing rental contracts, be sure to note any hold harmless or indemnity agreements that could release the vendor from liability and instead hold your company responsible for losses from situations over which you have no control.
Also, talk to us to make sure that your own insurance policies cover any mishaps that may occur at your company event.
If you have workers in a wildfire zone, you need to have measures in place to protect them in the event of a catastrophe.
Smoke from these wildfires is dangerous as it contains chemicals, gases and fine particles that can lodge deep in people’s lungs. This can make it difficult to breathe, aggravate asthma as well as existing heart and lung conditions – not to mention all the coughing and wheezing that most people would experience.
To protect workers exposed to wildfire smoke, Cal/OSHA recommends that employers take the following measures:
- Engineering controls like using a filtered ventilation system in indoor work areas.
- Administrative controls, like limiting the amount of time your employees work outside, if this is possible.
- Provide employees with respiratory protective equipment, such as disposable filtering dust masks.
To filter out fine particles, respirators must be labeled N-95, N-99, N-100, R-95, P-95, P-99 or P-100, and must be labeled in a way that is approved by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
- If you have employees working outside in areas that have been designated as “Unhealthy,” “Very Unhealthy,” or “Hazardous,” be sure to provide them with approved respiratory protective equipment.
Make sure workers are wearing respirators properly. Manufacturer 3M has the following tips:
A filtering facepiece respirator without a valve
To perform a user seal check on a non-valved, cup-shaped disposable respirator:
- Completely cover the outside of the respirator with both hands.
- Do not push the respirator against your face.
- With your hands in place on the surface of the respirator, exhale or breathe out sharply.
- If you feel air blowing on your face or eyes, the respirator needs to be adjusted.
- To adjust, repeat the user instructions on how to put on the respirator.
- When the respirator is a good fit, you will not feel any air blowing on your face or eyes.
- If you can’t get a good fit, try a different model.
A filtering facepiece respirator with a valve
To perform a user seal check on a valved, cup-shaped disposable respirator:
- Completely cover the outside of the respirator with both hands.
- Do not push the respirator against your face.
- With your hands in place on the surface of the respirator, inhale or breathe in sharply. The respirator should collapse slightly.
- If air leaks between the face and the face-seal of the respirator, the respirator needs to be adjusted. To adjust, repeat the user instructions on how to put on the respirator.
- When the respirator is a good fit, you will not feel any air leaking between the face and the face-seal.
- If you can’t get a good fit, try a different model.
Many business owners don’t think twice when asking a worker to run to the office supply store, to the bank or run another errand for the company while on the clock.
But as soon as that employee enters their personal vehicle on a trip for your business, you automatically become vicariously liable for their actions.
Think it’s not a big deal? There have been cases when employers have been found liable and ordered to pay up to $25 million for crashes involving employees using their cell phones while driving, according to the National Safety Council.
That means if your employee is in an accident and injures a third party, damages another car or injures themselves, your firm could be held liable.
For injuries to only your employee, your workers’ compensation insurance would handle the costs, but for injuries to others and third party property, you are liable since they were carrying out duties for your firm.
The employee’s auto insurance will be primary, but the problem arises when the coverage is insufficient. The employer can then be sued by the third party.
With that in mind, you should do all you can to reduce your exposure by writing a policy for your driving employees. Some things you might want to consider in your policy include:
- A list of expectations you have of your driving workers.
- No talking on a cell phone or using any functions like apps and texting.
- Barring other activities while driving, like eating and drinking, in order to avoid other distractions.
- Training workers in the safe operations of vehicles.
- Making sure that any employees who drive for you are properly licensed.
- Requiring that they take breaks on longer trips.
- Requiring that their driving record be monitored periodically.
- Spelling out that they must buy personal auto insurance with certain minimum limits. The insurance policy should not include a business exclusion.
Beside having a driving policy in place, you can also make sure to hire employees who are safe drivers by checking their driving records during the hiring process.
Also, make sure that your management is on board with the policy. That means that managers should avoid texting or calling employees while they are driving on company duty. That would clash with your policy on barring cell-phone use while driving.
Finally, you should make sure that you have proper insurance in place in case calamity strikes. And unfortunately, some employees will inevitably be slack in following even the best laid out policies.
Commercial auto will cover all of your workers who drive company vehicles for collisions, but it won’t cover employees if they are driving their own vehicles while on the job. Such vehicles are considered non-owned autos because they are not owned by the named insured.
Employees are not insureds while driving non-owned autos, even if they are using the vehicles on company business.
But if you do have workers who use their personal vehicles for work, like sales reps, you can purchase an endorsement for your commercial auto policy: Entitled Employees as Insureds. This endorsement covers workers who drive their personal vehicles on behalf of their employer.
But it provides excess coverage only, meaning that the employee’s personal auto policy will apply first if the worker is sued after an accident involving their personal auto. The endorsement would apply only if the employee’s personal policy limits are breached.
If one of your employees or a customer had a serious medical emergency while at work, would your staff know how to respond?
Unfortunately, most U.S. employees are not prepared to handle cardiac emergencies in the workplace because they lack training in CPR and first aid, according to new survey results from the American Heart Association.
The AHA found that most workers do not have access to CPR and first aid training, and half could not locate an automated external defibrillator at work.
The findings reflect the poor preparation many people have for dealing with a medical emergency and, since we spend one-third of our day at work, the chances are high at someone at some point may have a medical emergency in your workplace.
Some key findings from the study:
- 55% cannot get first aid or CPR and defibrillator training from their employer. And even if employers do offer this training, it’s often either one or the other.
- 50% cannot locate the defibrillator at work. In the hospitality industry, that number rises to 66%.
The AHA also interviewed corporate safety managers, who pointed out the need for more frequent training. The survey found that:
- 33% of safety managers said that first aid, CPR and defibrillator training only became important and was offered after an incident demonstrated the need.
- 33% of safety managers said lives had been saved at home and at the workplace as a result of training provided at work.
- 75% of safety managers said injuries or medical conditions had been treated in the workplace with this training.
- 36% of safety managers felt it would be valuable to offer training more frequently than every two years (the current requirement).
What you can do
Under OSHA’s General Industry medical and first aid regulation, employers must ensure that either medical treatment for all injured employees is in “near proximity” or that a person at the workplace is “adequately trained to render first aid.”
If an employer determines that medical services are not in near proximity, then first aid training must be provided to ensure that someone with such training is available during all shifts.
Employers can contact organizations such as the American Red Cross or a local private institution for training.
First aid training typically includes one-time, short-term treatments like:
- Cleaning minor cuts
- Treating minor burns
- Applying bandages
- Using non-prescription medicines.
While OSHA does not require that you have someone on staff who knows CPR and how to use a defibrillator, having someone skilled in those areas is a good idea.
For many industries, OSHA recommends CPR and defibrillator training as a best practice but doesn’t require it, except for a few high-hazard industries.
The AHA recommends that all employers offer first aid, CPR and defibrillator training because it can save lives.
If someone suffers a heart attack at work they have only a 5 to 7% chance of surviving while waiting for emergency medical services to arrive. Workers who
receive immediate defibrillation, however, have up to a 60% survival rate one year after cardiac arrest, according to the AHA.
Safety experts recommend having at least one person on every shift that is trained in CPR and how to use a defibrillator. In fact, the more employees who are trained, the better.
All employees should know who on staff is trained so they can fetch them in case of an emergency.
The best approach is to have a full staff training on first aid, CPR and use of defibrillator, which you should consider keeping in your office.
Everyone in the office should know where the nearest defibrillator is located. It should be in a conspicuous place, like hanging on a wall.