Safe Workplaces Lessen Legal Exposure in California
December 14, 2012
Any California small business attorney would tell you that a small business owner should make workplace safety a top priority. It is not only morally right to care for the safety of your employees and customers, but the time and energy a small business owner invests in workplace safety can reap dividends in the form of avoided litigation, better employee productivity, and enhanced reputation with customers.
Many business owners are familiar with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and its guidelines for a safe workplace based on the type of business you are operating. These guidelines are a good starting point for workplace safety, but it is important to remember that complying with the bear minimum standard does not necessarily safe your business money in the long term. The following are some ways in which you, the business owner, can take personal responsibility for the safety of your workplace and lessen your legal exposure at the same time.
First and foremost, remind yourself to conduct frequent visual inspections of the areas in which your employees and customers are most likely to occupy. In addition to the aesthetic properties of the areas you are inspecting, ask yourself, "Am I observing something on my premises that could remotely result in a lawsuit?" If you see some kind of defect or hazard, be proactive in remedying the problem. If you have to delegate the work to someone else, be specific about what is wrong and exactly how you would like it to be fixed, as opposed to saying, "Take care of it."
On a similar note, make sure that your business has sufficient lighting within and around it. Good lighting allows your employees and customers to navigate your premises without difficulty and to avoid any potential hazards that may arise. Make no mistake: hazardous conditions will arise from time to time on your property. But the degree to which an employee or customer can identify the hazard and avoid it can go a long way toward limiting your legal exposure. And, as a side effect, good lighting makes your business a less optimal target for crime. In some cases, business owners have been held liable for the occurrence of crimes on their premises because the employee or customer was able to prove that the business owner was negligent in deterring crime. Don't be that owner.
Be mindful of ergonomics. If your employees are required to lift and place heavy objects for extended periods, be sure that those employees have the aid of the proper tools, machinery, and safety equipment. If your employees sit at a computer for extended periods, be sure they have comfortable chairs and that they take periodic breaks in which they walk around. If your employees stand for extended periods (like in a store or restaurant setting) provide them with a stool or chair for the less busy times of day. Provide employee training on these issues where appropriate.
Believe it or not, a California small business lawyer can be a valuable preventative tool when it comes to workplace lawsuits. If you think your business might benefit from an attorney's perspective on workplace safety issues, consider contacting one for a consultation.