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Avoid Litigators– Broken Arms and Business Owners

My posts are about avoiding litigation. The most commonly discussed litigation involves injuries. As business owners, we think about products, services, marketing, and accounting. If we don’t have a store front, we may spend little time contemplating work environment. Attention to real life surroundings is important for employees and for business visitors.

Employee injuries result in workers’ compensation claims, lost productivity and decreased morale. Ergonomic correction may be simple. Local providers may even provide free in-office consultations on improving workstations and postures while your employees are working. Evaluate your worker’s duties and workstations to pinpoint repetitive stress injury hazards and take action. For example, a simple electric stapler may prevent carpal tunnel for an employee who spends hours collating. An quick method to evaluate workstations is to ask employees for suggestions related to comfort and efficiency.

Safety-sign-slippery-when-wetConsidering employees’ health and welfare may be second nature to savvy business owners who shepherd their own flocks; Safeguarding guests from injury is too often an afterthought. It’s not that we don’t care about the well being of our patrons, quite the opposite; we assume they are aware enough to keep out of harm’s way. Our employees know about the seam in the carpet, that one little step down in-between the office and the hallway, or the loose latch on the door to the loading dock. We take these little hazards for granted. Adopt the eyes of grandmother reviewing your workplace like her grandchildren will take a field trip there the next day: round corners, pick up debris, remove or secure potential hazards.

Conscientious business owners stock up on sand or a melting agent in the fall. After snowfalls, they arrive early and shovel. They systematically mop puddles in entryways following rains, never taking for granted that all employees or customers have sensible shoes. Whether it is your supplier, a new client, or a random stranger who wanders into your building, you face liability for a wrist broken in a fall. The people who walk through your door are expected to take reasonable care and may assume risk for exposing themselves to certain obvious dangers. On the other hand, attention to safety may save you countless hours defending an avoidable claim.

One Iowa lawsuit involved a business patron who walked down a corridor with an unmarked service door and an exit. The patron did not see the small exit sign and went out the service door to find an unexpected drop-off and a broken ankle. The question was whether the exit marking was adequate. Even though the area was not meant to be public, the error was foreseeable and the business paid for the patron’s injuries. The door now has a red and white "not an exit" sign. $4 would have saved thousands.

Another Iowa case involves a beautiful marble bench in an atrium. Unfortunately, the floor pattern and the lighting camouflaged the bench at certain times of day. When a patron fell over the bench, breaking both arms, she sued. An expert found there were aesthetically pleasing affordable alternatives to make the bench safe. The business paid for the patron’s injuries. A stainless steel garbage can is now at the end of the bench. $100 would have saved tens of thousands.

Yet another Iowa case involves a worker who caught his arm in a machine, severely injuring his arm. Neither he nor the employer knew the machine was originally sold with a guard that would have protected him. A review of the manual (and a free guard replacement) would have saved tens of thousands.

Walk through your building. Have your grandmother walk through. Look at it from the perspective of someone who has entered it for the first time. Are hazards lit and marked? Are employees comfortable? Do you need a consultant to evaluate your environment?

OSHA has a handbook to make your small business workplace safer. Iowa Workforce Development offers links to look for health and safety related sites. Employee suggestions may lead to safety improvements. The simple adage is true; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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Nice post. It is certainly easier to avoid litigation than to sue. Your insight is a great addition to the IowaBiz team!


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