Is Trouble Walking into your Workplace?

A new survey finds that while workplace security measures have increased since 9/11, many workplaces have done little to reduce the number of unauthorized visits by non-employees.

Despite increased security since last fall''s terrorist attacks, nearly one-third of U.S. employers still allow unauthorized visitors to enter their buildings, according to a national workplace survey.

Sponsored by The Hartford Financial Services Group, the survey found that nearly 40 percent of adults across the country have seen increases in workplace security measures since Sept. 11. Stepped-up security occurred most often in the Northeast, where 51 percent of the survey respondents saw improvements. Employees living in the West were least likely to have witnessed enhanced security, with only 39 percent reporting increases.

"It''s reassuring to see that employers are taking steps to increase workplace security," said Richard Vaughan, director of loss control technical services at The Hartford. "At the same time, it''s disconcerting to learn that about one-third of employers allow unauthorized people to enter their buildings without screening. This is a simple precaution employers can take to enhance the security of their employees and businesses."

Vaughan also noted that the survey showed that fewer than half of all employers - 45 percent - conduct emergency evacuation drills, indicating another significant opportunity for safety improvement. Use of such drills by employers was consistent across different regions of the country.

The survey, which measured several aspects of workplace safety, found that after unauthorized entry, the second most likely job-related safety threat was harassment - 17 percent of those surveyed reported harassment at their workplace. Some 16 percent of respondents said that violent incidents had occurred in their workplace. Another 15 percent said unsafe furniture or equipment was used on their jobs, and 11 percent said either they or a colleague had unprotected exposure to chemicals and other substances while working.

"Employers can significantly increase employee health and business productivity by addressing workplace safety issues," said Vaughan. "Taking simple steps often will greatly reduce the chance of employee injury and downtime. And workplace safety training can help prevent a safety issue from arising in the first place or greatly reduce the degree of injury or damage when issues do arise."

Vaughan recommends employers implement the following precautions to reduce common workplace safety threats:

Unauthorized Entry

  • Use picture or other positive identification cards for employees.
  • Reduce the number of entrances into the building.
  • Require visitors to sign-in upon entry and make sure an authorized employee accompanies them during their visit.

Emergency Evacuation Drills

  • Conduct drills periodically, under a variety of circumstances.
  • Assign, in advance, specific gathering places for evacuated employees to meet.
  • Designate and train employees on each floor or area to coordinate the drill program and report on results.

Harassment

  • Educate employees - especially managers and supervisors - about what constitutes harassment.
  • Provide an unbiased and confidential method for employees to report harassment.
  • Always follow-up on reports and respond consistently.

Violence

  • Train managers and supervisors on "warning signs" that potentially violent employees may exhibit. These can include significant changes in personality, personal care, personal habits and appearance, as well as in social interaction.
  • Carefully control access to workplace facilities (require picture or positive identification cards for employees and accompanied visitor check-in).
  • Provide vulnerable employees (receptionists, customer relations representatives, human resources personnel and others that have similar front-line visibility) with a discreet way of alerting for help, such as a hidden alarm button.
  • Maintain a "zero" tolerance for any kind of violence, including verbal and physical threats, as well as destruction of property.

Unsafe Furniture/Equipment

  • Conduct periodic maintenance and inspections.
  • Remove broken furniture and equipment quickly, preventing the chance for injury.
  • Choose suppliers with reputations for quality and durable products.
  • Specify for purchasers ergonomically appropriate furniture and safeguards.

Unprotected Exposure to Chemicals

  • Inventory all chemicals used in operations.
  • Obtain material safety data sheets (MSDS) on all items and follow the guidelines.
  • Instruct employees to refuse delivery of any chemical that is not on the master inventory.

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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