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HR Needs to Prioritize Workplace Safety in 2024. Here’s Why. 

HR Needs to Prioritize Workplace Safety in 2024. Here’s Why. 

April 2024


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The human resources department has a lot of responsibilities. 

Its members help with recruitment, compensation, and benefits. HR manages training and development, oversees employee relations, and helps with compliance. 

With so many responsibilities, it’s easy for HR executives to neglect the need to maintain a safe work environment. However, recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) strongly indicates that workplace safety needs to be a focus area for HR this year. 

Disturbing Data from the BLS on Workplace Safety

At the end of 2023, the Bureau of Labor Statistics published the latest workplace fatality data (which tracks the previous year). The report revealed that there was a startling uptick in deaths on the job in 2022.  

According to the new data, a worker dies on the job every 96 minutes.  

This isn’t counting things like personal health. We’re talking about work-related injuries, which led to 5,486 fatalities in the United States in 2022.  

Two years earlier, the number of workplace deaths had dropped due to the pandemic. But the number started to creep its way back up in 2021, and by 2022, it had reached fresh all-time highs. 

Even so, the 5.7% overall increase in deaths from 2021 to 2022 wasn’t just due to people returning to in-person work. You can’t even blame it on a growing workforce.  

The BLS shared that the total percentage of fatal injuries also reached all-time highs. The number of deaths per 100,000 FTE (full-time equivalent) employees stood at 3.7% in 2022, up a tenth of a percentage point from 2021, which was already one of the highest years on record.  

Insights from the BLS’s Report

There are some unsurprising elements to the new BLS data. Transportation, for example, was the highest portion of the occupational deaths reported (over a third of the total).  

The farming, fishing, and forestry industries had the highest death rate, too. These three sectors of the economy had 23.5 fatalities per 100,000 FTE workers—over six times the average. 

There were some alarming surprises, too. For instance, work-related homicides (524 in 2022) increased 8.9% from 2021 to 2022. Suicides (267 in 2022) also rose by 13.1% in that time after two consecutive years of decrease. Unintended overdoses have risen every year since 2012, and 2022 was no exception, with 525 American workers dying from an overdose while on the job—also a 13.1% increase. 

What Leaders Can Do to Improve Workplace Safety

The past few years have been traumatic for everyone as the world has navigated the pandemic, the Great Resignation, high inflation, stubborn struggling economic conditions, and so on. The myriad of challenges and concerns have created some of the most dangerous workplace conditions we’ve seen in over a decade. 

So, what can HR leaders do about the growing issue of occupational deaths and workplace safety? It’s hard to create a list of universal solutions. The truth is that every industry, workplace, and team has its own safety threats. However, here are a few key questions leaders can ask themselves as they seek to improve and maintain a safe workspace for their employees: 

  • Do you work in a high-risk industry? Transportation, construction, fishing, extraction, protective services—there are certain industries where workplace safety is more important to prioritize than others.  
  • What workplace safety hazards are you facing? Falls, slips, and trips are still a leading cause of death, as are violence and exposure to harmful substances. With remote work a factor now, mental health concerns like overdoses and suicides should also be a priority for a growing number of HR teams. 
  • How often do you reevaluate your safety protocols? Consistent reevaluation ensures that you maintain a healthy, up-to-date rhythm with your workplace safety efforts. OSHA recommends annual evaluations as a minimum. 

In addition to asking these key questions, implementing company policies that prioritize workplace safety can significantly contribute to a safer work environment. One effective measure is to start every meeting with a safety topic, a practice observed in various industries such as engineering and construction firms, manufacturing companies, the oil and gas industry, healthcare organizations, and transportation and logistics companies. By making safety a regular part of the discussion, leaders not only underscore its importance but also keep it at the forefront of employees’ minds. This approach helps cultivate a culture of safety, ensuring that employees are continuously aware of potential hazards and proper safety protocols. Moreover, it demonstrates leadership’s commitment to maintaining a safe workspace, particularly in industries prone to higher risks. 

Asking the right questions can help you discover workplace safety concerns before they become an issue. 

Championing Workplace Safety as a Leader

One of the most important aspects of cultivating safety-first leadership is hiring and developing the right individuals in the C-suite. Thoughtful, resolute leaders are essential to maintaining workplace safety. They must not treat safety as just another item to check off their list. They must be willing to adapt and innovate as they look for the latest threats and best tools to keep their teams safe. 

Thoughtful, resolute leaders are essential to maintaining workplace safety.

Our team at Stanton Chase incorporates workplace safety into our leadership philosophy. As a leading executive search and consulting firm, we work with our clients to find and place competent leaders who understand the value of safety. We also consult with existing HR executives, helping them develop the skills and understanding required to keep their organizations functional, efficient, and above all, safe. 

About the Author

William Brewer, CCP, is a Director at Stanton Chase Los Angeles. He is also Stanton Chase’s Global Human Resources Functional Leader. Prior to moving into executive search, Bill had 25 years of experience in corporate human resources. In addition to his executive search career, Bill is an adjunct Professor at the University of Redlands. Bill also serves as a mentor for the MBA program at the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and has been a mentor with the School of Business at the University of Redlands.     

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