A safe workplace does not happen by accident. Rather, it is the result of a well-thought out and flawlessly executed plan that, once conceived, is successfully integrated into your company’s strategy at all levels. But building a truly safe workforce today means going above and beyond the usual safety protocols.
Some employers may believe that being compliant with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards means they are immune to potential hazards, but that is definitely not the case. OSHA’s regulations provide a baseline for workplace safety, but sophisticated organizations know that going beyond the basics can help improve employee morale and engagement in addition to protecting themselves from costly fines and settlements. They can also better address the risk of high employee turnover, which can be just as costly. To best mitigate these risks, organizations need to understand what is at stake and take steps to enhance their workplace safety strategy.
Recent OSHA Rules and Regulations
OSHA regulations are constantly being revised, so it is in your company’s best interest to routinely research the latest information as it pertains to your industry and region. Below are just a few recent changes to consider:
Monitoring walking-working surfaces. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics cites slips, trips and falls as the leading cause of injuries and fatalities in the workplace. To better protect workers from these accidents, OSHA has issued a final rule on how to operate around walking surfaces, which the organization has defined as any horizontal or vertical surface on or through which an employee walks, works or gains access to a work area or workplace location.
Newly implemented provisions require organizations to fix equipment such as ladders, rope descendent systems and fall protection systems to be in accordance with OSHA’s latest safety standards. Management is expected to fully create adequate walking-working surfaces by Nov. 19, 2018. Organizations should explore what site adjustments are needed, purchase the necessary equipment and provide the required training to staff.
Required injury-tracking applications. Establishments with 250 or more employees, as well as those with 20 to 249 employees in certain industries with historically high rates of occupational injuries and illnesses, are now required to provide OSHA with annual Injury and Illness Records (Form 300A). These organizations were expected to electronically submit their 2017 Injury Tracking Application (ITA) by July 1, 2018. Beginning in 2019 and every year thereafter, covered establishments will have to submit the information by March 2. Some state and local governments are not required to submit their forms through the ITA, including Illinois, Maine, New Jersey and New York.
Avoiding Regulatory Penalties and Fines
Penalties for non-compliance with OSHA regulations are now higher than ever. As of January, the U.S. Department of Labor has increased the maximum penalty amounts for OSHA violations. “Serious” and “other than serious” violations now result in a nearly $13,000 fine, while “willful” and “repeat” offenses warrant fines of close to $130,000. Combined with electronic record-keeping and stricter, clearly mandated safety measures, employers are being held more accountable than they were in the past. In short, the financial penalties for neglecting workplace safety standards—and your chances of getting caught—have increased substantially.
On the flipside, companies that comply with OSHA rules and regulations will not only avoid fines, but will also see a greater return on investment when it comes to reduced workers compensation, decreased productivity costs and dwindling employee turnover. Many businesses are also elevating their safety standards across the board, incorporating advanced behavioral training and predictive analytics to anticipate and prevent injuries. These businesses have found that building the safest possible workplace is an investment that pays off both financially and operationally.
Implementing Proper Safety Procedures
Many accidents can be better avoided when management takes charge. Employers and other key stakeholders will need to be vigilant in identifying potential workplace hazards and make sure they are setting the right tone for behavioral expectations across the organization. Leadership should look to implement the following processes to ensure all team members are adequately protected:
- Conduct regular safety inspections. Develop a checklist to simplify the process and update it as regulations, procedures and workplace conditions change. To be successful, it is critical that the identification and reporting of hazards are incentivized and encouraged.
- Prioritize job hazard analysis. By breaking a job down into sequential tasks, the hazards related to the work environment and any other processes, equipment and materials can be readily identified and addressed.
- Report near misses. Near-miss reporting allows employers to identify close-call safety incidents that did not result in an injury. A near miss is a leading indicator of a potential safety hazard that should be addressed to prevent future injury.
- Provide positive reinforcement. Encourage adherence to safety best practices by rewarding employees who follow procedure. Acknowledge those who assisted in correcting an issue, for example, or highlight a team that met all safety goals. Positive reinforcement will motivate staff to take an active role in following—and improving—their organization’s safety program.
It may seem difficult to wade through all the policy changes that regularly affect the workplace. Organizations that make safety best practices a priority, however, will be better equipped to handle new requirements as they arise without impacting workplace productivity.