10 tips to create a safer workplace
Monday, November 13, 2017
Protecting workers should be a priority for every employer. This article lists 10 tips for employers who want to create a safer workplace.
1. Assess your vulnerability under OSHA's priorities
Determine which Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards are applicable to your operation. Then, find your SIC classification — which may determine which of OSHA's emphasis efforts affect you — and comply with the requirements of those national and local emphasis programs.
Finally, ensure that your facility is prepared to handle an OSHA inspection and that your managers know their legal rights during and after an inspection.
2. Audit your company's OSHA record keeping
Record keeping is one of the cornerstones of any safety program and a driver of OSHA's enforcement efforts. OSHA has historically instructed its compliance officers to review fully every company's OSHA 300 logs when conducting an inspection.
An employer can expect a full-blown OSHA safety or record keeping audit if there are deficiencies in the logs. Audit and correct your last five years of logs, looking at insurance, first aid and other records, as OSHA might do. Also, look for "patterns" of injuries — which OSHA will also do.
3. Audit your workplace for routine violations
OSHA is looking for the "low-hanging fruit" or more common safety and health violations, such as blocked exits and electric panels, improper materials handling and racks, personal protective equipment violations, record keeping errors, housekeeping problems, etc. These routine violations are challenging to prevent.
In the case of an employer with many locations, past violations will result in repeat citations. OSHA's focus on such routine items, as well as use of its "egregious" policy, is generating six- and seven-figure penalties. Multilocation employers are especially at risk, and only improved and consistently enforced safety rules, self-audits and supervisor accountability will reduce exposure.
4. Review abatement of all past OSHA citations
Prepare for OSHA to consider past citations for at least the past three years in issuing "repeat" citations. Also, OSHA may cite for "failure to abate" if you cannot document past abatements of items again out of compliance.
5. Turn good intentions into a workable plan
By developing a pragmatic, comprehensive safety and health management system — which includes management, commitment and all employee involvement — a company can genuinely change its safety and health culture. However, this effort requires more than a written plan.
6. Utilize safety as a profit center for your company
Beyond reducing workers' compensation claims, a comprehensive safety and health management program can become a "profit center" for a company, allowing it to be more competitive in the local, national or global marketplace. Connect safety to productivity and quality; use it along with "green" and similar efforts as a marketing tool, and as a way to increase employee engagement and satisfaction.
7. Develop emergency action and related plans to deal with the inevitable
Companies must maintain and constantly update emergency action or emergency response plans that focus on crises such as natural disasters, hurricanes or active shooters. These plans should tie in with an enhanced emphasis on evacuation plans, exit and egress compliance, training and EAP/ERP and related plans.
Recent catastrophes have shown many gaps in employers' planning. Your plans should also consider "nonsafety" issues, such as business continuation, management of leaves and benefits, remote work and wage-hour compliance, etc.
8. Improve your company's wellness plan and protect it from liability
A wellness plan offering more than just smoking cessation benefits is essential for dealing with an increasingly older and heavier workforce. Although there are pitfalls associated with wellness programs, they can be effectively and lawfully managed.
9. Understand the implications of OSHA's multiemployer citation policy
Recognize and respond to how contractors, customers and vendors can expose you to OSHA violations or harm your employees, including employees working away from your site. Develop a proactive plan to avoid these liabilities.
10. Solve other problems by solving safety problems
Showing employees you care and involving them in safety management can prevent a multitude of legal problems. As an example, surveys have shown that if safety is the primary issue in union-organizing drives, the union success rate in those drives is the highest for any issue. Not surprisingly, safety may be a public and embarrassing issue during labor disputes.
Use increased safety efforts to create a workplace where employees do not experience the issues that often spawn lawsuits, union organizing or conflict in an already unionized setting. Use training and audits to correct a wide range of legal and HR vulnerability, including wage-hour and other problems.
This article outlines 10 basic tips for creating a safe workplace. Obviously, this list is not all-inclusive and employers can take many other actions to maintain a safe workplace. Employers who take these actions will go a long way toward protecting workers, increasing employee engagement and improving profits.
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