Autumn has arrived and it's time to start planning holiday festivities for your workplace. Maybe you'll decorate your office. Or perhaps you'll reward your hard-working employees and your loyal customers by throwing a holiday party. No matter what type of celebration you choose, don't forget about safety! Here are six hazards to watch out for when planning your holiday events.
Nothing evokes Christmas like the spicy aroma of a freshly cut pine, spruce or fir tree.
Sadly, a Christmas tree can be a fire hazard, especially if it has begun to dry out. If you use a real tree to decorate your workplace, be sure to keep it watered. A dry tree can go up in smoke faster than you might think. Even a well-watered tree should be placed far away from any source of sparks or flames.
An artificial tree is much less likely to burn than a real one but only if it is fire-retardant. No matter what type of tree you use, be sure to place it where it won't block exits or impede foot traffic.
Christmas decorations create a festive atmosphere in the workplace. However, they can also create risks. String lights can have bare wires, so inspect them carefully to prevent fires and electric shocks. String lights often require extension cords, which can be a trip and fall hazard. To prevent accidents keep the cords out of the way of foot traffic. If you use extension cords outdoors, don't let them come in contact with water (including rain or snow). And don't overload the electrical sockets.
Overloaded sockets can produce sparks or cause electric shocks.
Avoid using tinsel and small ornaments if children or pets visit your business location. Both can be a choking hazard. Some "natural" ornaments like poinsettias, mistletoe, and holly berries can be toxic if ingested. Also, be careful when using spray-on "snow." It may contain noxious chemicals that can cause nausea, headaches or worse if inhaled. If you want to use candles, opt for the battery-operated variety. Wax candles are messy, have an open flame and can generate toxic fumes.
Like many companies, you may sponsor a holiday event in which liquor is served. Unless your company is in the business of making or serving alcoholic beverages, state laws generally consider you a social host. Still, alcoholic beverages create risks. Employees or other attendees may become intoxicated and injure someone else. The injured party may then sue your firm for negligence. You can avoid such suits by holding your event at a restaurant or other off-site venue that provides bar-tending services. Instruct the bartender to refrain from serving anyone who is underage or visibly drunk.
Food is an essential part of the holiday season. However, nothing that can put a damper on a celebration quite like an outbreak of food-borne illness. You can prevent such events by ensuring that all food provided at holiday gatherings is handled properly. (See the Food Safety link below.) Don't serve egg nog containing raw eggs as these may harbor salmonella. Check the label on the carton. If you serve home-made eggnog, cook the eggs before using them. The FDA offers instructions on how to do this (a link to the recipe is provided below).
Does your company experience a large increase in sales around the holidays? If so, you may need to hire temporary workers to handle the increased work flow. Hiring temporary workers in November and December can be particularly risky. Both you and the temporary agency may be pressed for time and fail to vet employees properly. To prevent potential problems, make sure that "temps" are provided adequate training. Also, be sure to read the employment contract carefully. It is important to understand whether you or the temporary agency is responsible for providing workers compensation coverage.
Temporary workers do not qualify as insureds under the standard general liability policy. Suppose a temporary worker injures a customer. The customer then sues your firm and the worker. Your firm will likely be covered for the suit but the worker may not be. Conversely, if a temporary worker is injured on the job and sues your company for bodily injury, your liability policy may cover the claim. Theemployers liability exclusion in the policy does not apply to temporary workers.
Some types of businesses attract large numbers of people during the holidays. A retail store may sponsor a sale that attracts a crowd of shoppers. A restaurant may host an event attended by a horde of revelers.
If you are planning a holiday function for a large number of people you'll need to use crowd management techniques to protect your workers, customers or other attendees from potential injuries. OSHA provides a safety guide on crowd management (see the link below). It is designed for retailers, but other types of businesses could use it as well.