The frequency of injuries suffered by workers in the United States is alarming. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 2.8 million nonfatal injuries and illnesses at job sites in 2017 due to work-related environments. Days lost from work affect not only the injured employees, but the productivity for the business and their employers.
Instituting a safety program to protect workers from hazards found in and around the workplace makes sense not only as a means of ensuring that your company remains in compliance with OSHA regulations, but it also demonstrates to your employees that you care about their safety and well-being. Contacting a personal injury attorney to aid in the structuring and policies to be adhered to within a safety program will ensure protection for both the employer and employee.
(Learn about The 6 Key Elements of an Effective Safety Program.)
Being Aware of OSHA Safety Standards
OSHA issues safety standards specific to four industry categories:
- General industry
However, employers have a duty to furnish a safe workplace and work environment even in the absence of a specific OSHA standard. The general duty clause applicable to all employers regardless of other standards that might exist is defined in Section 5(a) (1) of the OSH Act as: “Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”
(Find out How to Refuse Unsafe Work.)
Employers can be cited for breaching the general duty owed to their workers when there is a hazard meeting each of the following criteria:
- The employer knew or should have known of the hazard or it was a hazard recognized as such within the industry. For example, a succession of injuries reported by employees while lifting heavy objects should alert their employer of a hazard that must be addressed. Published reports by industry experts regarding a specific health or safety hazard would put an employer on notice of the existence of a hazard.
- There must be a substantial probability of the hazard causing physical harm to workers unless corrective measures are taken by the employer.
- The hazard must be one that is capable of being corrected or minimized by the employer.
Being aware of and fulfilling your responsibilities under the General Duty Clause is not enough to remain in compliance with OSHA because of the specific standards that are also enforced by the agency.
OSHA published a list of its workplace standards that were most frequently violated by employers in 2018. It is a good idea to make managers and safety personnel aware of those standards that apply to your company and address them in its health and safety plan.
Here are some of the most frequently violated standards according to OSHA inspection reports:
- Fall protection
- Hazard communication
- Respiratory protection
- Control of hazardous energy
- Powered industrial vehicles
- Machines and machine guarding
- Eye and face protection
Implementing a health and safety plan for the workplace to address hazards and remain in compliance with the general duty clause of the OSH Act and OSHA standards begins with an evaluation of the workplace and the tasks performed by each employee. Once hazards that could cause injury or illness have been identified, corrective measures can be taken.
(Learn more about Fall Protection OSHA Violations.)
Steps Employers Can Take to Address Safety and Health Hazards
The steps employers should incorporate into a workplace safety and OSHA compliance plan depends upon the risks and hazards noted during inspections and assessments of the work environment.
Some of the more common common measures implemented by companies to protect workers include:
- Train all workers in proper lifting techniques to avoid back injuries.
- Designate paths throughout the workplace for the movement of personnel that keeps them away from and out of the path of motorized vehicles.
- Install or upgrade ventilation systems capable of filtering hazard substances to improve indoor air quality. Remedial measures to eliminate radon and asbestos will also improve air quality to make it safer for workers.
- Purchase and require workers to use personal protective equipment, such as hard hats, safety shoes, face shields, and eye protection. Individuals working in locations with chemicals and other air contaminants should be provided with the appropriate types of breathing apparatus to prevent them from inhaling dangerous substances.
This is only a partial list of steps employers can and should take to protect workers from injuries and illnesses related to the environment in which they must work.
It Pays for Employers to Improve Workplace Conditions
Creating and implementing a plan to protect your workers from harm makes good business sense. It costs American businesses almost $1 billion a week in workers’ compensation costs as a result of work-related injuries and illnesses. This does not include lost productivity and the cost of hiring and training of people to take the place of injured workers as well as the effect of poor morale among employers working under unsafe or hazardous conditions.