Employers Have a Legal Obligation to Ensure Workplace Safety
The primary goal of workplace safety and health policy is to prevent injuries, illnesses, and fatalities and the suffering and financial hardship these events cause workers and their families. While ensuring health and safety in the workplace has always been a critically important issue, when the COVID-19 pandemic swept through our nation and the globe, it exposed the flaws of our existing structures. Employers have long realized that organizations that invest in occupational safety achieve more meaningful results, retain talent, and help workers perform their jobs more effectively. But COVID-19 stressed the system and forced companies to address procedures that were lacking and adopt ones. The takeaway is this: if employers want their organizations to be productive, they must invest in preventative measures to ensure the health and safety of their workforce.
Prevention is the Key to Workplace Safety
While traditional approaches to workplace safety were often reactive, and problems were addressed only after a worker is injured or becomes ill, a new standard or regulation was published, or an outside inspection discovered an issue to be corrected, new practices use a proactive approach. A proactive approach to workplace safety is a practice that is focused on preventative measures that recognize and identify hazards before they cause injury or illness.
Employers are Obligated by Law to Provide Safe Work Environments
Under federal law, employers are obligated to provide a safe and healthy environment for their workers to reduce the risk of illness, accidents, and injuries. Workplace safety requires employers to limit factors that could cause harm to their workers, employees, clients, customers, vendors, or anyone who enters their place of business. Examples of workplace safety measures include the policies, precautions, and procedures the employer implements to reduce the risk of dangerous incidents within the work environment.
The Benefits of a Safe Work Environment:
The many benefits associated with maintaining a safe workplace also include increasing worker morale by promoting a sense of well-being. A safe and healthy work environment will also boost productivity by allowing employees the peace of mind to perform optimally, reduce employer turnover and absenteeism, and lower the costs associated with injury and illness.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration ensures that all employees have a legal right to perform their jobs in a safe workplace free of known dangers to themselves and their co-workers. OSHA is a regulatory agency of the United States Department of Labor that sets standards and provides information and training to employees and employers to ensure that America's workforce stays healthy and safe. An act of Congress established the agency under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), and it was signed into law in 1970. The agency's mission is to "assure safe and healthy working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, outreach, education, and assistance." OSHA's workplace safety inspections have effectively reduced injury rates without adverse effects on employment, sales, credit ratings, or firm survival.
OSHA Mandates the Safety Protocols Employers Must Provide Follow
Employers are legally obligated to provide workers with a safe workplace and follow all OSH Act safety and health standards. The OSH Act requires employers to eliminate or reduce hazards in the workplace by ensuring safe working conditions without relying on personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, or earplugs. Effective ways to reduce workplace risks include using safer chemicals and eliminating harmful fumes by using ventilation systems to filter the air.
Employers Have a Responsibility to Ensure a Safe Work Environment
Employers must provide working conditions that are designed to protect their workers. Employers are responsible for:
· Providing safety training for all workers and presenting the information in a language and vocabulary they understand.
· Providing all necessary and required protective gear to workers at no cost to the worker.
· Providing hearing tests, medical exams, or other health-related tests as required by the OSH Act.
· Performing tests in the workplace, such as air sampling, required by some OSH Act standards.
· Informing workers about exposure to chemical hazards.
· Keeping up-to-date and accurate records of all work-related injuries and illnesses.
· Prominently post any OSHA citations and post injury and illness summary data at least annually.
· Notifying OSHA within eight hours of a job-related fatality.
· Notifying OSHA within 24 hours of all job-related inpatient hospitalizations.
· Prominently displaying the official OSHA Job Safety and Health.
· Not retaliating or discriminating against workers for exercising their legal rights to report safety issues in the workplace.
Enforcement is essential in OSHA's efforts to reduce workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. Assessments are planned for worksites in particularly hazardous industries. Workplace fatalities, multiple hospitalizations, worker complaints, or referrals can also trigger inspections. Inspections are initiated without advance notice, performed by trained compliance officers, and are targeted to specific hazards and high injury rates.
Inspections are scheduled based on imminent danger, catastrophes, fatalities or hospitalizations, worker complaints and referrals.
When an OSHA inspector discovers violations of OSHA standards or serious hazards, the agency may issue citations and fines. Citations include the methods whereby an employer can fix the problem and the date when corrective actions must be completed. OSHA's fines are relatively low when compared with other government agencies. When determining the proposed penalty amount, OSHA will consider the gravity of the alleged violation and the employer's size of business, good faith, and history of previous violations. Employers can contest any part of the citation, and appeals are heard by the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC).
OSHA Record Keeping
Tracking and investigating workplace injuries and illnesses are essential to preventing injuries and illnesses. Under OSHA's Recordkeeping regulation, employers in high-hazard industries must prepare and maintain records of occupational injuries and illnesses. This information is essential for employers, workers, and OSHA to evaluate workplace safety, understand industry hazards, and implement worker protections to reduce and eliminate risks.
Workplace Safety is a Team Effort
Although workplace safety is the obligation and responsibility of the employer, workers should be encouraged by their employers do their part to prevent accidents and ensure their ongoing safety and well-being of their colleagues by being aware of workplace conditions.
1. Encouraging Employees to Participate in Workplace Safety
Employers should encourage employees to report issues when they become aware of unsafe conditions in the workplace. Employees should report unsafe conditions so the employer can assess the problem and resolve dangerous situations before anyone gets hurt.
2. Utilizing Personal Protective Equipment
Employers with employees who require personal protective equipment (PPE) should have mandates that require workers to wear all necessary safety equipment. Employers should implement regular reminders about PPE assignments to keep workers safe and protect them from injury.
3. Maintaining a Clean and Orderly Workstation
Employers must ensure clean and orderly workstations to maintain safety in the workplace. According to data provided by OSHA, slip and fall accidents cause over 35% of all work-related deaths. Spills or messes in workstations should be cleaned immediately to prevent accidents and injuries.
4. Taking Appropriate Breaks
Employers should ensure that all employees take scheduled breaks throughout the workday to replenish themselves and maintain their focus. Break schedules should be posted for all employees, encouraged by management, and followed by the entire workforce. Workers who become overtired or fatigued will increase their risk of injury.
5. Following Protocol
Workers may fail to take the necessary steps to use the equipment intended to maintain their safety. Some employees may eliminate specific safety measures to finish their tasks more quickly. But all team members should follow workflow procedures precisely as they are written and use the equipment as intended to avoid accidents and injury.
Ten Tips to Ensure Workplace Safety
Employers can implement the following ten safety tips to ensure workplace safety:
1. Background Checks
As part of the recruiting process, employers should conduct background checks on those candidates to whom they plan to extend an offer of employment. Background checks will allow employers to identify potential problems before an employee is onboarded. For example, if the candidate has had multiple charges filed against them or they have a criminal record, employers can take the steps necessary to protect themselves and their employees. Employers who choose not to perform background checks are at risk of putting their business and employees in harm's way.
2. Post Safety Information in Highly Trafficked Areas
Employers should provide all employees with regular workplace safety training. Employees should also have easy access to your company's safety policies in your employee handbook and company intranet site. Employers should also post safety policies and information in highly trafficked areas, like the employee lunchroom or break areas. If your staff is bilingual or multilingual, provide the information in the language(s) your workers speak.
3. Conduct Regular Workstation Inspections
Injuries that occur in the workplace are often caused by preventable issues, like slip and fall hazards. Designated management staff members should be tasked to inspect work areas regularly to ensure all employees' ongoing safety. Regular inspections will allow your company to identify safety hazards and prevent accidents.
4. Encourage Paid Time Off
Burnout also can lead to injuries. To ensure the safety of their workers, employers should encourage all employees to take advantage of their vacation time. Encouraging your workers to relax, recharge, and focus on their well-being can allow them the time they need to replenish themselves and return to work refreshed and with a heightened level of energy.
5. Train New Employees Thoroughly
An employee's first few days on a new job are especially high-risk. Employees using dangerous equipment or machinery should begin with comprehensive training sessions, and every new hire should understand and know how to uphold the company's safety standards.
6. Update Policies and Procedures When New Information Becomes Available
When new procedures, protocols, and equipment become available, employers should take the time to update and post policies and procedures accordingly. All employees should be aware of the changes, receive a copy or the publication or a link if the information is posted online, and receive additional training as needed.
7. Recognize Safe Behavior in the workplace
Employers are wise to provide positive reinforcement that draws attention to those workers who consistently practice safe workplace behavior. Consider offering workers with an excellent safety records a gift card or monetary reward to acknowledge them and encourage other employees to behave similarly.
8. Hold Safety Meetings
Employers should address workplace safety by holding regular safety meetings for the staff. These sessions should be held to ensure all your employees are aware of your company's need for and dedication to workplace safety.
9. Invest in Safe Equipment
Few things are more dangerous than employees performing job functions without the proper equipment. Employers can keep their employees safe by investing in the appropriate tools and equipment that employees use to conduct their jobs every day. These can include everything from complex machinery, tools, and devices, to safety glasses, ear plugs, gloves, hard hats and respirators, to adjustable height standing desks and ergonomic chairs and keyboards. When new equipment becomes available or is mandated by the safety standards of your industry, it is the employer’s responsibility to update equipment accordingly.
10. Label Dangerous Items
Any items that are dangerous or potentially hazardous in the workplace, from cleaning chemicals and supplies to machinery, should be clearly labeled with information that identifies them as unsafe and labels the hazards and proper procedures for use.
Workplace safety is a legal obligation and the responsibility of employers nationwide. The primary goal of workplace safety and health programs is to prevent injuries, illnesses, and the suffering and financial hardship these events cause workers and their families. Traditional approaches to workplace safety are often reactive, and problems are addressed only after a worker is injured or becomes ill, a new standard or regulation is published, or an outside inspection discovers an issue that must be corrected. Modern practices are those that use a proactive approach that focuses on preventative measures that recognize and identify hazards before they cause injury or illness. Workplace safety training can be pivotal in creating a physically and psychologically safe environment where all employees feel secure and confident. Creating a safe environment for your employees can result in an atmosphere that boosts employee well-being, engagement, morale, job satisfaction and increased productivity.
About Attorney Natalie Lynch
Attorney Natalie Lynch is the managing member of the Lynch Law Firm and a highly skilled labor and employment attorney. She is also a credentialed investigator and dispute resolution mediator with many years of experience working with businesses to help minimize employment risk factors. She is the only consulting and credentialed investigator in Central Texas who conducts third-party investigations into allegations of harassment, discrimination, hostile work environment, and other issues.
Call the Lynch Law Firm Now for a Free Consultation
If you have questions about an OSHA workplace safety investigation, call the skilled and experienced attorneys at the Lynch Law Firm. Contact us now to schedule complimentary consultation with the Lynch Law Firm. You can reach Natalie Lynch at 512 298 2346 or email.