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How fostering DEI can improve safety and reduce workplace injury risks

Thinking about workplace design can help accommodate workers with different abilities, body types and cultural preferences, according to the National Safety Council.

By Carolyn Crist

Workplace injury prevention programs that incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion principles can reduce worker risks and create a culture of safety, according to a June 10 report from the National Safety Council.

Different workplace factors can lead to inequitable outcomes, the report found. For instance, workers of color face more work-related injuries, including musculoskeletal disorders. Women, nonbinary and transgender employees often don’t have access to the correct size of personal protective equipment. And employees who use a wheelchair or other assistive devices may not be able to use the full range of their workstation.

“At the National Safety Council, we believe fostering diversity, equity and inclusion is not only a moral imperative but also essential for creating safer and healthier work environments for all,” Lorraine Martin, president and CEO of NSC, said in a statement.

From a workplace design perspective, companies can improve safety for all employees through elimination, substitution and engineering, the report found. Jobs that require high exertion, awkward or sustained postures or a fast pace can be eliminated, when possible. Ergonomic accommodations can help employees with different sizes, abilities and medical conditions.

For instance, employees who use a wheelchair or have a smaller body type may not be able to access everything they need. Adjustable assistive devices and technology, including lifts, ramps, carts, counterbalances and conveyors, can reduce strain and repetitive motion and increase the reach and range of motion for all workers.

Personal protective equipment, in particular, has traditionally been designed to fit the average White male, NSC reported. Women, nonbinary and transgender workers may not receive safety gear and gloves that fit correctly, which can increase injuries. PPE policies can also incorporate different cultural norms and practices to help employees feel safe and included.

Psychological safety plays a major role in workplace safety and employee well-being, the report found. Black and Hispanic workers expressed the most unease about reporting unsafe work conditions, which affects inclusion, belonging and safety, NSC found. Leaders and managers can help increase engagement by showing appreciation for their employees and involving them in decision-making and safety matters.

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Overall, creating a strong culture focused on safety improves inclusion and reduces injury risks as well, the report found. Companies can implement clear policies and procedures to create accessibility for all workers, use an open and anonymous reporting system, seek and include feedback on job tasks and risk factors from a range of employees, and promote diverse representation across job types in safety leadership and training materials.

HR professionals can play a role in fostering a culture of safety, experts told HR Dive. They can create training and education materials about how to wear gear and the importance of safety measures. HR staff may also play an administrative role in maintaining safety equipment records, particularly for measures that require medical evaluations, such as respiratory protection or hearing protection.

Besides physical safety, HR pros can create psychological safety at work, too, according to a McLean report. HR leaders can encourage employees to ask for help, seek feedback, listen with curiosity and discuss mistakes as learning opportunities.

The U.S. Department of Labor is working on new ways to create a culture of safety, reduce injuries and increase worker participation in safety programs. As part of that, the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is exploring how organizational cultures can be inclusive of safety and reduce barriers — such as financial, social and behavioral factors — to creating safe and healthy workplaces.

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