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As an employer, one of your chief responsibilities is to ensure the safety of your employees. One way to do that is to implement a company safety program that addresses all situations that could put your employees at risk of injury. By being proactive, you’ll not only stay in the good graces of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) but you can reduce the number of workers’ compensation claims and injury lawsuits that employees may file against your business. Establishing a company safety program can also qualify you for a 25% reduction in any OSHA fines. OSHA’s citations can carry fines that range from $13,260 per violation up to $132,598 per willful or repeat violation, based on the adjusted penalty amounts that took effect January 23, 2019.
An effective company safety program will entail much more than a first aid kit. The complexity of your safety program will depend on the amount of risk associated with your business activity – it should be thorough enough to give you the tools necessary for maintaining a safe and healthy workplace. If your small business has few risks associated with it, your program should be relatively simple. On the other hand, if your business is in a hazardous industry, your safety program will require more policies and procedures and may require hiring a safety director to oversee the program.
According to OSHA, “an effective occupational safety and health program will include the following four main elements: management commitment and employee involvement, worksite analysis, hazard prevention and control, and safety and health training”.
Management’s commitment to the program provides the motivation and resources for organizing and controlling activities within the company. In an effective program, management considers worker safety and health to be as essential as other company goals. Employee involvement provides the means by which employees express their own commitment to safety and health protection for themselves and their fellow employees.
Some recommended actions:
A thorough and practical analysis of the work environment involves a variety of worksite inspections to identify existing hazards and conditions that could create new hazards.
Some recommended actions:
Workplace hazards are often prevented by effective design of the job site or job. Where it’s not feasible to eliminate these hazards, they must be controlled to prevent exposure to unsafe conditions.
Some recommended actions:
Training is an essential component of an effective safety and health program. The complexity of training depends on the size and complexity of the worksite as well as the nature of the hazards and potential hazards at the site.
Some recommended actions:
The violations that were most often cited by OSHA last year were in fall protection in the construction field. This isn’t surprising since falls contributed to 381 out of 971 (39.2%) total deaths in construction in 2017. A newcomer on OSHA’s most-cited list was eye/face protection, also in construction.
The following were the top 10 most frequently cited standards by Federal OSHA in fiscal year 2018 (October 1, 2017, through September 30, 2018):
OSHA’s violations list can offer insight into what’s under its scrutiny, but ultimately it’s your responsibility as an employer to assess the risks in your workplace or on job sites. To protect your employees, you need to identify the hazards that could lead to serious injuries. Should injuries occur, track them to see how they can be prevented in the future. This will help reduce your workers’ compensation premiums and claims, and minimize your chances of receiving an OSHA citation.
In fiscal year 2018, there were 32,020 total federal OSHA inspections, a slight decrease from 32,408 in the previous year. OSHA recently announced it will focus on companies that have electronically submitted information that confirmed their high injury rates.
To get in front of an OSHA citation, see what other companies in your industry have been cited for. Considering OSHA’s increase in penalty amounts this year, it’s important that you do this. It’s most important, however, for the safety of your employees.
You may also want to check out your region’s Local Emphasis Program (LEP). LEPs are enforcement strategies designed and implemented at the OSHA regional and/or area office levels. These programs are intended to address hazards or industries that pose a particular risk to employees in the office’s jurisdiction. These LEPs will be accompanied by outreach intended to make employers in the area aware of the program as well as the hazards that the programs are designed to reduce or eliminate. This outreach may be in the form of informational mailings, training at local trade shows, or speeches at meetings of industry groups or labor organizations.
There are ten OSHA regions with each region providing support to four or more states. For example, Region 1 provides support to Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Here are the LEPs currently offered to companies in Region 1:
The above directives are currently only available in PDF format and can be found on the OSHA website at https://www.osha.gov/enforcement/directives/lep
OSHA provides a wealth of support and information to help employers maintain safe workplaces so the adage “ignorance of the law is no excuse” definitely applies here. If you should have known of a hazard in your work environment, OSHA will penalize you as if you knew.
Need more help identifying potential hazards?
The most frequently cited OSHA violations above are focused more on construction and manufacturing environments. However, ALL workplaces pose potential threats to employee safety. To keep employees safe and minimize workers’ compensation claims (and premium increases), you need to be aware of the most common workplace injuries. And, as you know, “knowing is half the battle”. By being aware of these potential threats, you can devise a plan to effectively mitigate them.
A slip-and-fall accident occurs when an employee slips on a slippery or wet surface and falls. This type of accident can also occur if an employee trips over objects such as supplies or a co-worker’s haphazardly placed belongings. In the fall, the employee may suffer head injuries, broken bones, or other injuries.
To prevent slip & fall accidents:
Back or neck strains are among the most common workplace injuries and typically occur when an employee is attempting to lift a heavy box or object. Extreme instances can involve a disc being thrown out of alignment, requiring surgery and extensive rehabilitation. Neck strain is common among employees whose jobs require being on the phone for extended periods. Sudden jerking movement to stop falling items can also lead to injury.
To prevent back or neck strains:
One of the most common workplace repetitive-use injuries is carpal tunnel syndrome which afflicts around 1 in 20 adults in the U.S. The jobs that have high rates of incidence are those that require employees to use their hands for forceful and repetitive tasks such as sewing clothing, butchering meat or repeatedly lifting heavy items, or where employees maintain an awkward posture while working, like driving a car, working on an assembly line, typing, or computer work.
To prevent repetitive-use injuries:
Disorganized, unkempt workplace environments are especially at risk for this type of injury. Books and supplies haphazardly placed atop file cabinets or on shelves could fall and cause serious injury to employees. Even worse, the file cabinets themselves could fall onto employees. Improperly mounted signs and wall art also place employees in peril.
To prevent injury from falling objects:
A workers’ compensation claim can be filed if an employee receives a cut or laceration while using a letter opener, box cutter, or another sharp tool in your workplace. Sharp edges on office machines or broken furniture can also result in serious injury. A deep enough paper cut could lead to a workers’ compensation claim.
To prevent cuts and lacerations:
If employees are involved in collisions or crashes in tractor-trailers, forklifts or other small mobile machinery while on the job, these common workplace injuries are typically not covered by a commercial auto insurance policy. Any injuries sustained during a collision are cause for a workers’ compensation claim which can increase your workers’ compensation insurance premiums.
To prevent collisions and crashes:
Employees who work around chemicals such as pesticides, toxic cleaning products, and dyes may experience short- or long-term effects of exposure. These effects can range from lightheadedness and headaches to chronic conditions like emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
In environments without proper ventilation (i.e. libraries), fumes can build up and cause what’s known as sick building syndrome (SBS). This can happen in other types of businesses as well. The symptoms of SBS include cough, chest tightness, fever, chills, and muscle aches. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), SBS costs businesses billions of dollars each year in employee downtime and workers’ compensation claims.
To prevent fumes or chemical inhalation and exposure:
Unfortunately, not everyone in your company will get along. Factors such as job competition, personality clashes, and derogatory remarks can lead to disagreements. If those disagreements lead to physical fights and someone gets hurt, there’s a good chance that a workers’ compensation claim will be filed.
Implement dispute resolution procedures to mitigate conflict. To prevent fights between employees:
Employees who work in industrial factories, airports, or near landscaping equipment can experience short- or long-term hearing problems. Prolonged exposure to loud noises and ototoxic chemicals in the workplace can result in a condition called industrial deafness. An estimated 24% of hearing loss in the U.S. has been attributed to workplace exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To prevent exposure to loud noises:
Busy, multi-tasking employees who regularly walk around the workplace while staring into their cell phones can collide with doors, windows, office machinery, or co-workers. It’s also common for employees to bump into glass doors, not realizing that the door is closed or to round corners with their hands full and view obstructed such that they collide with co-workers. Employees can suffer concussions, lacerations, and fall-related injuries as a result.
To prevent employees from accidentally walking into objects:
Your employees expect you to provide a safe, non-threatening work environment. In addition to potential injury from “inside” incidents (machinery, hazardous materials, slip-and-falls), your safety program should address threats that come from outside. These include threats of violence from customers, disturbed ex-employees or current employees, and the general public. Emergencies that may require evacuation (fire, natural disaster, chemical leak) should also be addressed. If your business requires employees to go into clients’ homes or high-crime areas, what measures have you put in place to keep them safe?
In order to create or improve your safety program so that it addresses outside threats to your employees’ safety, you need to identify risk areas. This can be accomplished by conducting a safety audit. You could also ask your insurance company to schedule a complimentary visit by a professional risk manager. This expert can tour your facility and help you identify and correct any hazards or security issues.
To identify potential threats, create a checklist that includes risks posed by both criminal assault and emergency situations. Here are some questions to include in your safety audit:
Once you’ve completed your safety audit and identified any deficiencies, be vigilant about eliminating those safety gaps. Your audit results can help you train your employees to be more aware of specific hazards associated with their jobs. You could also solicit feedback from employees to ensure that you’re covering all safety issues.
Here are some measures to consider for protecting employees from outside threats:
When deciding if you need to hire private security guards, gather your area’s crime statistics from your local police department. This will give you an idea of whether your employees are at risk of violence. Also consider the following:
If you’re leaning in the direction of hiring private security, weigh the pros and cons before finalizing your decision:
OSHA sets the standards that employers are expected to follow to ensure workplace safety. However, in spite of the best efforts, safety measures can fail resulting in an employee getting injured at work. It’s important that you quickly treat the injury and file a workers’ compensation claim.
The more prepared you are, the less likely it is that the injury will prove costly. By following the recommendations above for minimizing the potential for workplace injuries, you can respond quickly, thereby reducing the severity of the injury and how much it will cost your business.
Immediately after the injury occurs, you should follow these steps:
If the injury is severe enough to require filing a workers’ compensation claim, work with the employee to file a claim with your insurance provider. To speed up the claims process and help the employee receive much-needed funds to pay for personal expenses, it’s in your best interest to maintain open communication with the employee, the doctor (if allowed), the claims adjuster, and your insurance agent.
This is another area where being prepared is beneficial. Consider creating documents in advance that outline the workers’ compensation process and return-to-work policies for your business. By providing these documents as part of the onboarding process for new employees, you build trust and can potentially lower claims costs.
Ideally, filing a workers’ compensation claim will be enough to satisfy an injured employee but there’s always the chance that the employee will pursue litigation. If the employee files a lawsuit against you, still try to keep the lines of communication open. To speed up the process, share all relevant information and documentation with attorneys and claims adjusters. The longer the litigation process lasts, the more expensive it becomes as attorneys’ fees can add up quickly. Early out-of-court settlement of the case is an option that you may prefer over a more costly, protracted lawsuit.
By following the recommended preventive measures in this article, you should be able to reduce the number of workers’ compensation claims and injury lawsuits filed against you in the first place.
When you make an effort to keep your employees safe in the workplace, you create a win-win situation. You show that you care about them as human beings and not just as tools for making a profit. When employees feel safer and more secure at work, distractions that could hinder productivity are removed.
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