With the many changes in the modern workplace there is one constant, employers must protect employees from or correct known workplace safety hazards. The law and enforcement focus has changed over the years to adapt to the evolving workplace, technologies and materials. For example, as recently as June of this year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an Inspection Guidance for Inpatient Healthcare Settings. This new guidance essentially expands OSHA’s use of existing enforcement resources in hospitals and nursing homes to focus on potential injuries and hazards associated with musculoskeletal disorders related to patient or resident handling, bloodborne pathogens, workplace violence, tuberculosis and slips and trips and falls. Given the one constant, protection of employees and correction of hazards, this article is intended to help guide employers through the health and safety laws and regulations that apply to most workplaces, as well as help steer away from common and expensive compliance problems.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (the Act) was established by Congress in 1970 to assure the safe and healthy working conditions for employees. The Act also authorized the creation of OSHA, the agency charged with setting and enforcing workplace safety and health standards (regulations) for private employers. Where OSHA has not promulgated a specific standard for a workplace condition, the Act provides an employer is subject to a “general duty” to provide their employees with a workplace that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm,” also known as the General Duty Clause.
Consequences for employer violations of the Act and OSHA standards can be severe and include civil as well as criminal penalties. And, while the OSHA standards are numerous, because the stakes for noncompliance are very high (employee safety and substantial penalties), employers are encouraged to pay close attention to the implementation of OSHA requirements. To get employers started, below are some important safety compliance tips.
Be prepared for an OSHA inspection before it occurs
OSHA has broad authority to conduct inspections of workplaces to ensure compliance with the OSH Act and safety standards. Inspections typically occur during normal business hours and will, most likely, be unannounced. Employers should have a plan in-place in anticipation of an OSHA visit in an effort to provide for the best outcome. At a minimum, the plan should include some of the following:
- Who will be in charge of the inspection process;
- Who will determine if legal counsel is needed during the inspection;
- Who will be involved in the Opening Conference;
- Who will accompany OSHA during the facility tour and arrange for interviews? Will it be the individual in charge;
- Who will ensure which documents are provided to OSHA and ensure they are complete, up to date and readily available; and
- Who will attend the Closing Conference.
Don’t ignore OSHA’s recordkeeping rules
Subject to some exceptions, OSHA regulations require employers to keep up-to-date and accurate records of workplace injuries and illnesses on the OSHA 300, 301 and 300A Forms. In addition, OSHA requires all employers (including those exempt from the recordkeeping and reporting requirements) to report the following:
- All work-related fatalities within 8 hours – only those occurring within 30 days of the work-related incident;
- All work-related in-patient hospitalizations of 1 (one) or more employees within 24 hours – only those that occurred within 24 hours of the work related incident; and
- Any amputation or loss of an eye within 24 hours – only those that occurred within 24 hours of the work-related incident.
Perform post-incident investigations
Post-incident investigations are used to identify existing hazards, institute corrective actions, and ultimately prevent future incidents. OSHA strongly encourages employers to investigate all incidents where an employee is hurt and where there is a near miss (close call) in which an employee may have been injured if the circumstances were just slightly different. Having a system in place to ferret out and correct potential hazards can help with maintaining safety compliance and demonstrating to OSHA that the employer is committed to having a safe workplace.
For more detailed information on the actual steps involved in an incident investigation, the National Safety Council has prepared the “How to” guide for conducting an incident investigation.
Prepare a safety or health management program
Employers should prepare a Safety Management Program (Safety Program). A Safety Program is a set of specific policies and practices for addressing OSHA’s regulatory requirements and identifying how the company will reduce employee exposure to workplace hazards. While OSHA’s General Industry Standard’s do not necessarily require businesses to have a Safety Program, OSHA regulations do require that companies prepare written programs for certain standards (e.g., Hazard Communication Program, Emergency Evacuation Program, Bloodborne Pathogen Plan, Lockout/Tagout program, Respiratory Protection Program, etc.) Additionally, some states, including New Hampshire, require certain employers prepare and maintain a written Safety Program.
Important OSHA reminders
- Post the OSHA Poster informing employees of their rights and responsibilities at a prominent location in the workplace.
b. Post your 300A, Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses, annually in a visible location in the workplace from February 1 to April 30.
c. Post OSHA citations at or near the work area involved until the violation has been abated or three (3) working days, whichever is later.
In an effort to avoid the consequences of noncompliance, affected employers are encouraged to pay close attention to the implementation of the OSHA requirements and, where need be, obtain the assistance of experts.
This article was originally published on July 18, 2015 on UnionLeader.com.