Labelling really matters

Imagine a workplace without labels. Hazards are unmarked. Cables are unidentified. The content of boxes would be a mystery. How to avoid slips, trips and falls?

Statistics reported by the Health and Safety Executive show that working conditions caused injuries and new cases of ill health at a societal cost of £14.1 billion in 2014/15.

The data also demonstrates that falls, slips and trips account for over a third (36%) of employee injuries. Looking at this further, these incidents accounted for nearly six in 10 specified injuries (59%) and almost three in 10 (29%) were injuries that resulted in the employee having to take more than seven days out of the business.

The direct impact on the bottom line and beyond is considerable. Once you have considered the costs – monetary and time – to the employee and the business, especially if it is found that there was a fineable offence, the effect is significant enough. However, there are other implications to consider, such as the reputational cost – not just externally, but among current employees too. If employees believe the workplace to be improperly managed when it comes to health and safety, morale and commitment to the organisation will dwindle.

Clearly, labelling cannot be overlooked. So how can organisations go about making their approach to labelling as efficient and effective as possible?

The solution is twofold – make sure that everyone who needs to know is aware of the importance of labelling and secondly, make sure that the process itself is not a burden.

Falls, slips and trips account for over a third of employee injuries. Photograph: iStock

Stress its importance

A familiarity with the recommended and regulatory health and safety landscape is a challenge for any organisation. Labelling compliance may not be addressed apart from when checks take place. And leaving it until this late stage heightens the risk of failing certain tests.

Instead, the role for those responsible for health and safety should be to communicate the importance of labelling. Beyond helping the organisation to comply with recommended standards, labels have a critical role to play in terms of identifying hazards. Trip hazards can be clearly marked. Materials can be flagged as being dangerous or as posing a risk to people. Objects that have passed internal compliance processes can be clearly labelled, providing peace of mind to employees.

Increasing the visibility of labels in the workplace is a good way of raising their profile. But communicating around changes being made to labels is another example of best practice. You may be implementing a series of changes and – rather than letting employees simply see these on an ad hoc basis – you can use the opportunity to explain the rationale behind these in advance. Not only will staff be better informed but you will have the comfort of knowing that the labelling system is as effective as it can be.

Make it easy to do

We know that many people who oversee labelling haven’t actually received any formal training. Instead they are often informally trained on the job – most commonly because their trainers also ‘learned by doing’. Therefore, there are risks that the labels may not be compliant nor as effective as they could be.

While instincts are great in certain parts of the job, they are less helpful when it comes to adhering to different regulations.

Finding existing templates that are compliant with regulations, and providing these to the individuals concerned is one way of addressing this. You can also create your own templates that work best for your organisation. Perhaps you can combine information from different areas into one place for ease, and run off as many as you need, when you need them.

It is also a good idea to invest in the right tools for effective labelling solutions. Durable, resistant and long-lasting labels will be a smarter option than something more temporary, which requires a level of re-labelling. You can also find the right printer that suits you and those who will be doing the actual labelling. For example, you may decide that you need a printer that can be easily taken from site to site and that it must accommodate. Take time to understand the options available on the market and select the best one for you accordingly.

Ultimately you are the expert in your organisation’s needs. Being clear on exactly what you need to achieve – both in terms of stressing the importance of labels and finding the solution that works best – is a relatively straightforward yet vital process. And it’s one that you may not be able to afford to ignore.

Liesbet De Soomer is marketing manager at Dymo