Avoiding Injuries on Team Building Days: A Guide for HR Professionals

There’s a reason that football players huddle, practice, train and plan. Working as a team requires preparation and trust that can only be achieved by spending time together.

According to an American Academy of Family Physicians article, staff retreats can help you concentrate on maintaining an efficient work environment. Team-building excursions allow people with different skills and strengths to work together in an enjoyable way. They can help create inclusion for new employees and solidify morale between employees in an already positive office environment.

If you’re struggling to maintain a positive atmosphere at work, team-building retreats can also help you focus on the ways in which your employees should be interacting. Working on team building in the office can make people feel like they’re simply working, which doesn’t really work to boost morale.

That’s why many staff retreats involve leaving the office for a day, weekend or week of activities. However, many of the personal injuries that can befall employees in the workplace can still put them at risk outside of the office. How can you make sure that your retreat doesn’t end up in a lawsuit?

The 5 Top Workplace Injuries

According to an article in the Houston Chronicle’s small business section, the top 10 causes of workplace injury are as follows:

  • Fatigue and overexertion
  • Stress
  • Slips
  • Trips
  • Falling objects
  • Hazardous materials
  • Repetitive motion
  • Lifting
  • Workplace violence
  • Collisions

Your staff is not immune to these factors on a team-building day. In fact, the top 4 may even be more likely to happen if your employees are taken out of their comfort zone. Following similar safety practices as those that you follow in the workplace can help keep employees from getting hurt.

It is important to prevent fatigue and overexertion during your team-building efforts, especially if you’re involving people in a physical activity. If the environment is competitive, your staff may be tempted to push themselves to the limit. Provide adequate breaks and time for rest.

One way to do this is to incorporate social activities into the schedule. Giving your employees time to just relax and get to know each other can improve morale. You don’t have to just focus on organized activities.

Provide Safe Transit

Make sure that you get from point A to point B safely. OSHA states that driving accidents cost companies approximately $60 billion a year. Many of these incidents occur in occupations that center around driving, such as the trucking industry.

However, any time you put your employees on the road, you’re putting them at risk. The CDC reports that car crashes are a primary cause of injury in the U.S. every year.

Minimize that risk by making sure that the company vehicle is properly maintained. Inspect company vehicles regularly. Make repairs as soon as problems are detected. Before embarking on a trip, check the tire pressure, gas levels, brakes and turn signals.

If you’re not driving a company vehicle, encourage your staff to check basic safety features before they set off. Regardless of the vehicle that you drive, make sure that everyone wears a seatbelt.

Driver fatigue contributes to many motor vehicle collisions among workers as well as the general public. Make sure that any drivers don’t operate the vehicle for more than 2 hours straight. Switch drivers, or have drivers stop and rest every 2 hours to prevent driver fatigue.

Prepare for The Weather

Many team-building activities are conducted outdoors. Maybe you’re going on a hiking trip, snorkeling, horseback riding or orienteering. Make sure that your employees have the right clothing and equipment to handle the weather.

Sunscreen

According to Medical Daily, about half of all adults are sunburned every year. While that may not seem like a serious injury, every sunburn increases the risk of skin cancer.

Plus, it’s easy to forget about protecting your skin when you’re not actively sunbathing. However, if you’re outdoors for any period of time, you should wear sunscreen.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, up to 80 percent of damaging UV rays can harm your skin. If you’re around snow, sand or water, the risk of UV damage is increased. The sun’s rays can reflect off of these materials.

Anyone working outside should apply a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. It should go on 15 minutes before you head outside. Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, or more if you have been swimming or sweating.

Don’t forget your lips and eyes. Wear large sunglasses to protect your eyes, and use a lip balm with SPF to protect the delicate skin there.

Cold Weather

If your employees will be spending time outdoors in cold weather, make sure that they have appropriately warm clothing. Wearing several layers is the best way to dress for cold weather.

Moisture-wicking fabrics should be worn next to the skin to prevent sweat from getting trapped against your body and making you colder. Wool and polypropylene are ideal options, according to Ecotrakker.

Thin fleece is a useful layering option. If it’s rainy or windy, you’ll need an outer layer that keeps you protected from those elements. Employees should pack extra layers so that they can change if they get cold or wet.

Hot Weather

If you’ll be outside in hot weather, make sure that your employees have lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. You will need to allow for plenty of breaks and provide enough water. Employees with certain health conditions may not be able to participate in activities in extreme heat. Make sure that you provide alternative options for them.

The National Weather Service recommends that you take the following steps to reduce risk to outdoor workers during excessive heat:

  • Stay hydrated
  • Take frequent breaks in the shade
  • Build up the workload gradually
  • Be familiar with symptoms, prevention and emergency measures to prevent heat-related injury

Check the weather forecast before you go outside for a staff training activity. Being unprepared for the weather may leave your team at a greater risk for injury and illness.

Don’t Take Shortcuts

We’re not talking about the route that you map out to get to the staff retreat. Arbill reports that one of the best practices for preventing workplace injury is to take things slow.

You may be tempted to try to get a lot done when you have a limited amount of time for team building. However, don’t let that make you neglect to give important instructions and take care with your actions.

Make sure that your employees know what is expected of them. Especially if you are doing a new activity, give clear instructions. Written instructions can help if supervisors will not be available to answer questions during the activity.

Answer questions before the activity begins to make sure that everyone understands what is expected of them. Make sure that your staff knows where to go or who to call in case of an emergency.

Be Inclusive

It can be tempting to give out minimal details before a staff retreat in order to build suspense among the ranks. This well-meaning idea can backfire, however.

If you have employees who cannot participate in certain activities because of medical concerns, for example, you need to be able to provide them with an alternative. Of course you want all of your staff members to participate in team-building activities. However, be careful when making team-building exercises mandatory. Allowing individuals to opt for an alternative activity can prevent you from dealing with legal issues down the road.

You can maintain an inclusive atmosphere by involving employees in safety management, says EHS Daily Advisor. When everybody is looking out for safety issues, things are more likely to run smoothly.

Prepare for The Risk

One way to minimize injury during a team-building activity is to assess the risk ahead of time. The University of California at Berkeley has a risk assessment worksheet available for campus organizations planning events and activities.

It involves considering everything that could go wrong and coming up with solutions ahead of time to reduce those risks. Some factors to consider are the risk of:

  • bodily injury
  • personal or emotional injury, such as discriminatory actions
  • property damage
  • illegal actions, such as speeding or otherwise violating the law
  • financial damage
  • reputation damage
  • security issues
  • medical problems
  • allergies

You don’t need to go overboard when conducting a risk assessment. There are risks inherent in every activity, including watching TV in the comfort of your own home. Instead of overwhelming yourself by worrying about the details of every possible risk, focus on the likely ones.

More Things to Consider Before Enacting A Team-Building Activity

Especially if you’re taking staff members away from the office, you’ll need to consider several factors to ensure everyone’s safety. These considerations can be incorporated into your risk assessment.

  • Make sure that the activity is appropriate for the age and activity level of everyone involved – You can determine whether to choose an activity that will work for everyone or allow people to participate in alternative activities. If your staff is made up of people with a wide range of ages and physical health, you may be limited in the types of activities that you choose if you want to involve everyone.
  • The needs of all participants, including religious, dietary and medical needs, should be considered – Will people be required to bring their own food or will you provide it? If people are bringing their own, will you be able to provide adequate refrigeration and handling of their food? Will the activity take place during a time that some members might need to perform religious rituals? Asking your team about their concerns can help you minimize risk.
  • The location and time should be appropriate – Making it mandatory for people to be involved outside of regular business hours can pose problems. In addition, you don’t want to cause worker fatigue with a packed schedule. Keeping things simple, close to home and brief can be the best way to keep a team-building activity positive.
  • Clothing and gear should be appropriate – Some people may not have the necessary equipment or clothing for certain types of weather or situations. If this is the case, you should be willing to provide the necessary gear to keep everyone safe and comfortable. Inspecting your equipment ahead of time can help prevent accidents during the event.
  • What will happen if any supervisors are unable to oversee the event at the last minute? – You have worked hard to create a team-building session that is safe and well organized. It’s important to make sure that instructors, supervisors and trainers are on hand during the event. Make provisions for backup if your primary options are unable to show.
  • Are there any negative consequences involved with canceling the event? – Most likely, your employees have cleared their calendars for this event. If the event is canceled for whatever reason, what will be required of your employees? Will they have to report to work? Will they be refunded for any expenses they have incurred? Go over the answers to these questions ahead of time and inform your employees so that nobody is surprised if it happens.

Prepare For Emergencies

If an emergency does happen, it’s important to have a plan. Bring along a well-stocked first aid kit. You should have one in your office; it makes sense to bring one along when you leave the building.

Before you begin, go over the emergency plan with all of your employees. Include important contacts. However, your employees should know that in any emergency, they can always call 911.

You can strengthen your employees’ relationships, build morale and create a more positive work environment by conducting regular team-building activities. However, when the team travels outside of the office, there will always be unexpected hazards. Minimize them through comprehensive instruction, patience, risk assessment and preparation.

Make sure that you also minimize the risk of discrimination by ensuring that all staff members are able to participate in any mandatory activities. When you organize a safe and fun team-building event, you’re most likely to get the best results.

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