The American Society of Safety Engineers’ (ASSE) Management Practice Specialty and Service Branch Groups today congratulated the CEOs for taking the initiative to learn more about their company employees, vendors and customers by going undercover and behind the scenes in the new CBS show ‘Undercover Boss’. For future ‘Undercover Bosses’, ASSE has a couple of suggestions aimed at keeping them safe on the job.

“We know you weigh risk every day in the board room; however the risk associated with being on the front line is best undertaken with specific training,” ASSE Management Practice Specialty Administrator Christopher Gates, ARM, noted in his letter. “So, as you head out please review this important information employees should ask on their first day of a new job aimed at preventing on-the-job injuries and illnesses.”

ASSE realizes there is no one-size-fits all solution to workplace safety, but before a CEO goes undercover they should ask these questions: What safety training will I receive and when will I receive it? What are the physical demands of my job? What are my hours? Will I be working alone or with others? What kind of safety gear will I need to wear, is it provided by the employer and how do I use it? What workplace hazards should I be aware of (noise, chemicals, etc.), and how should I avoid them? Where are the first-aid supplies and fire extinguishers kept? Do you have a worker safety policy and a contingency plan in place? If so, when can I review it? Is there an occupational safety and health professional on staff?

ASSE officials also note that new employees should also be aware that working at a computer terminal, or being a salesperson, can also endanger your health. Other potential safety hazards include stress, loud noise and working alone.

Gates noted, “If you are injured at work, you usually become aware of it immediately. But if you are exposed to hazardous materials, or if you are hurt in some other way, you may not feel the symptoms for months, or even years. Look out for the hazards here and protect yourself. If you do get injured, report it to your employer right away and get proper medical treatment.”

Some potential workplace hazards (from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)) for some industries that ‘Undercover Boss’ will feature include: retail/sales – heavy lifting, excessively loud headsets, assault and violence; food service – slippery floors, hot cooking equipment, sharp objects; and, office/clerical – poorly designed computer work station, stress, harassment; and, service station – freezing temperatures, assault and violence.

Also, homicides were reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to be the second leading cause of on-the-job deaths in 2007, an increase of 13 percent – 167 retail workers were killed at work. That year 491 people died as a result of a shooting and 39 people died from being stabbed. The BLS notes that workplace homicides involving police officers and supervisors of retail sales workers both saw substantial increases in 2007. Nearly half of these workers were employed in late-night establishments such as gasoline stations, liquor and convenience stores. Of the worker deaths, 39 killed were employed at convenience stores, 32 worked at gasoline stations and seven worked at liquor stores. In the "ASSE Workplace Violence Survey & White Paper", the authors suggest helping employers address workplace violence by: 1) officers and directors – establish a workplace violence prevention policy, upper management must promote a clear antiviolence corporate policy; and, establish and maintain security policies; 2) human resource managers – examine and improve hiring practices; implement prescreening techniques; utilize background checks; encourage employees to report threats or violent behavior; establish termination policies; and, provide post-termination counseling; and 3) risk management and safety, health and environmental departments – train all employees in the warning signs of aggressive or violent behavior; train management in threat assessment and de-escalation techniques; conduct a formal workplace violence risk assessment; increase security as needed; develop and communicate a contingency plan to all employees which includes crisis management and media relations; review insurance coverage and verify coverage and exclusions; and, identify a defensive strategy.

However, workplace safety is also up to workers, Gates notes. Workers need to think about what they can do to avoid being injured or getting sick. As noted, employees should ask employers safety-related questions, follow basic safety guidelines at work and know your rights and responsibilities.