Workplaces with safety-sensitive positions face much higher risks than other workplaces, and these higher risks can be costly. If these risks aren’t addressed, safety-sensitive positions can translate into extra insurance costs, higher turnover, and reduced productivity along with higher rates of absenteeism and occupational injuries. Unfortunately, for many industries, eliminating safety-sensitive positions isn’t an option. (Learn more in The 8 Most Dangerous Safety Sensitive Positions).
There are, however, a few ways to limit your risks.
Start with Pre-Employment Screening
One of the best ways to protect your company is to ensure that you do your best to hire the right person for a safety-sensitive position. Front-loading this screening to the pre-employment stage is time-consuming and potentially costly, particularly if you decide not to hire an individual, but over the long term, the cost savings of avoiding having to deal with a bad hire later can be substantial. (Learn more in What It's Like To Get The Full Battery of Pre-Employment Tests). Your pre-employment screening can, and probably should, include drug testing,
Fit for work testing and aptitude tests alongside comprehensive criminal record check and credit background check. One caveat — ensure you are subjecting all potential employees to similar background checks or you will risk running afoul of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC).
Create a Drug Testing Program
There is no question that the use of drugs in the workplace, even prescription drugs, can drastically increase the risks associated with safety-sensitive positions. Drug use can affect the mental and physical capacity of your workers, increasing both errors and accidents. It’s also linked to decreased productivity and a higher absence rate. Department of Transportation (DOT)employees are covered by strict regulations requiring drug testing that should form the bare minimum for other employers with workers in safety-sensitive positions.
Pre-employment drug tests can ensure you hire well, and random testing can ensure your hires remain reliable. Envelop both in a comprehensive, well-vetted workplace drug and alcohol policy that clearly lays out testing procedures and consequences for positive test results and includes drug education efforts. The policy will minimize your risks by reducing drug use, but it can also help you reduce your exposure by ensuring employees and managers clearly understand your policy and intentions.
Fatigue can have far-reaching effects on safety-sensitive workers, effects which can have a direct impact on their safety and the safety of those around them. It can impact decision making, reaction time and has been found to have effects that mimic those of alcohol intoxication. Fatigue can be caused by stressors or medical conditions such as sleep apnea, but it can also be caused by poor lighting, high temperatures and high noise levels. Mitigate your risks by training supervisors to recognize the signs of fatigue and reassign fatigued workers to less safety-sensitive positions.
Make sure to vary long, repetitive tasks. Ensure there is proper lighting, a moderate noise level and a comfortable temperature. If your workers must work frequent long shifts or overtime, considering providing prepared meals and sleeping areas.
Encourage Healthy Lifestyles
While you can’t control what your employees do on their off time, you do have a unique opportunity to help encourage them to live a healthy lifestyle all the time. This can really pay off for your safety-sensitive workforce. Obesity and other risky conditions can lead to chronic heart disease, diabetes and other health issues which can dramatically increase the risks of safety-sensitive positions. Start by stocking the break room with healthy alternatives to the usual chips, chocolate and soda. Offer some outdoor space, fitness classes or maybe sponsor a healthy lifestyle challenge. Provide water coolers or bottle refilling stations.
You’ll see a payoff not only in reduced risk but also in increased productivity and fewer missed days at work. Don’t forget to address mental health issues through company newsletters, posters or guest speakers. Many companies also augment this with on-site counselling.
Understand Injury Data
While statistics alone cannot reduce the risks for safety-sensitive positions in your workplace, they do provide you with information you can use to identify and address potential risks in your workplace. The Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) compiles injury and industry-specific data and provides a calculator which can help you compile, organize and assess your own company-specific data.
Consider Workplace Threat or Risk Assessments
Knowing the risks your safety-sensitive workers face and the risks they might present is crucial in reducing your company’s risks. A company risk assessment that focuses on safety-sensitive positions can identify potential issues before they endanger your company or workers. The same is true of workplace threat assessments. There are over 2 million workplace violence incidents every year in the U.S. that threaten both worker safety and public safety.
There are companies who can undertake these assessments for you, including interviewing and assessing potential threats from individuals. They can also provide consultation and strategies for dealing with threats or identified risks.
Conduct Fitness for Duty Evaluations
Physical or mental impairments can cause an employee to become a danger, damage company property, negatively impact your reputation or become a legal liability for the company. Be proactive. Consider creating a policy that requires fitness for duty evaluations of any safety-sensitive employee returning to work after a serious injury or whose conduct or behaviour on the job gives you reason to believe they might not be able to perform their job safely.
Fitness for duty evaluations are usually conducted by a physician and will reduce your risks by ensuring your employee is physically and mentally capable of handling the work and will not be a danger to himself/herself or others.
Keep in mind that workers with certain disabilities are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations. These are subject to stricter interpretations of fitness and the examination must reveal that the employee is unable to perform the functions of the job or poses a direct threat to their safety or the safety of others.
Your policy needs to include an action plan that clearly outlines consequences including what the company can offer in terms of support, accommodations or transfers. This is required by the ADA but for other employees, it can help reduce your risks and exposure to employee lawsuits.