How to Assess the Risks Your Business Faces and Take Steps to Reduce Them

If entrepreneurs were the types to ponder everything that could go wrong, they probably wouldn’t start their ventures in the first place.

But to stay in business for the long term, it’s vital for owners to assess their risks and take steps to reduce them, said Zandra Walton, division manager for risk control services in Liberty Mutual’s western region.

A well-considered safety plan protects employees and customers, reduces insurance claims, and increases productivity.

Potential sources of health and safety problems, property damage and liability vary widely by industry and geography, ranging from hazardous chemicals to employee ergonomic issues to hurricanes. Being unable to recover from a natural disaster or other event is a major reason for business failures.

But that’s no reason to be overwhelmed. The most common trouble spots are easy to fix. Slips and falls are “the No. 1 hazard type that many businesses don’t recognize as an exposure,” Walton said.

One remedy is good housekeeping: “Making sure that spills are cleaned up immediately and all areas are clear of trip hazards. Set policies and make sure people follow them,” Walton said.

Some of the most severe issues for small businesses arise from another common danger, auto accidents. Companies that put employees on the road infrequently — such as a retailer that makes occasional deliveries — sometimes neglect to take adequate precautions. For example, they might not do motor vehicle record checks, carry the right kind of insurance, or set policies on distracted driving.

“A lot of things that business owners can do are relatively simple and low cost, but awareness needs to be seen as an ongoing priority among all employees in a business,” Walton said.

Beyond the basics, Walton recommends researching the most significant risks to your business based on your industry and other factors, including local weather hazards. Chemicals and equipment that you use are among the factors to think about. Your insurance company, trade associations or government websites are good places to start.

Even the largest of catastrophes can often be managed with planning and a stepwise approach. Unfortunately, many business owners are unprepared.

A survey by Alibaba, Vendio and Auctiva of 600 small businesses found that 74 percent didn’t have a disaster recovery plan. And 84 percent didn’t have appropriate insurance coverage for a disaster.

In a sense, it’s understandable. Small business owners pour their energy into what they do best, and even then, margins can be thin.

But your chances of getting back to business after a disaster are far greater if you’ve considered questions such as how to restore power and get in touch with key employees and suppliers.

“Simple things like knowing where to get a generator and having key printed information available in several locations may help immensely if something were to occur,” Walton said.

Owners and high-level managers set the tone for risk control, she said. For the most part, she doesn’t see much difference in awareness from one industry to another except in certain highly regulated fields, such as semiconductor manufacturing.

Your insurance company can likely help you get a handle on potential threats. Walton’s team often consults with policyholders who want to learn more about their risks, as well as those that have incurred losses or are worried about regulatory compliance. Claims data, as well as any information on “near misses,” can be instructive.

Customers and employees appreciate the pride of ownership that a safer workplace represents, Walton said.

“You can often see from the moment you walk in the door what the culture of safety is in a business,” she said. “I’ve been in welding shops that were so well-managed you could almost eat off the floor, and I’ve been in others that were the exact opposite.”

This article was originally published by James Ritchie in BizWomen.

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