This post is brought to you by my friends at SocialMonsters.org. I am a big believer in having a culture of saftey and HR can play a big role in that.
This June, Wisconsin-based employer Ashley Furniture Industries reached a $1.75 million settlement with the Department of Labor that requires the company to improve workplace safety conditions in order to avoid even stiffer fines. The company had faced $2.2 million in potential fines following an Occupational Safety and Health Administration review of over 1,000 workplace-related injuries employees had suffered between 2011 and 2015 at four of the company’s plants in Wisconsin and Mississippi. As part of the settlement, Ashley Furniture agrees to maintain a vice president for safety and to involve employees and management in a program for the safe handling of machinery.
As this illustrates, initiatives by management and especially by human resources leaders can play a key role in promoting workplace safety and avoiding stiff OSHA penalties. Here are some steps HR leaders can take to promote a safer work environment and protect their employees and companies from unnecessary safety and legal risks.
Designate a Safety Manager and Competent Safety Supervisors
A foundational step toward improving your workplace safety standards is designating specific personnel with responsibility for implementing this task. A best practice is having a designated safety manager. In many cases, your safety manager can execute their function more effectively with support from competent safety supervisors, and in some cases, designating a competent on-site person can be an OSHA requirement.
When designating safety personnel, it’s important for them to be truly competent in relevant safety procedures and not merely invested with a title, says National Safety Council senior associate editor Kyle Morrison. To be genuinely competent, a designated person must both have the background to recognize safety hazards and possess the authority to make changes that improve safety. In some cases, one individual may be competent in multiple safety tasks. In other cases, competency can be divided among multiple people with sufficient expertise and authority.
Provide Safety Training Support
In order for safety managers and supervisors to exercise their authority effectively, it’s essential to provide them with safety training support. This includes both their own safety training as well as training that can assist them in educating workers in safety procedures. For example, conducting a seminar on fall prevention can help you avoid one of the most common causes of workplace injuries.
To be effective, a safety program should be geared toward addressing safety gaps in the workplace and meeting specific goals and objectives, advises the National Safety Council. These objectives should be measurable, such as lowering the number of fall-related injuries per year, for example. Workplace safety training activities should be selected in order to implement chosen objectives, and ideally should include opportunities for workers to directly apply the safety procedures they’ve learned in hands-on demonstrations and in their daily tasks. Finally, safety training should be evaluated for effectiveness and improved based on feedback.
Conduct Safety Check-ups
Scheduling and conducting regular safety reviews is another important key to keeping your workplace safe. OSHA recommends that your company’s designated safety manager, along with a qualified professional consultant, conduct a comprehensive safety and health survey of your entire facility to identify and correct potential problems. Your review should also evaluate your safety programs, including safety and health activities, equipment policies, employee capabilities and the history of accidents and illnesses at your facility. OSHA’s website provides a comprehensive checklist for how to conduct your own safety inspections.
In addition to doing general safety inspections, you may also need to do inspections and monitoring for specific health issues. For instance, OSHA currently requires employers to keep asbestos levels below 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter per 8-hour work shift. Following related preventive practices such as monitoring air levels can protect your company from an expensive mesothelioma lawsuit; to fully understand the risks, contact a mesothelioma attorney. Depending on the nature of your industry and the machinery and equipment your employees use, you may need to conduct other specific inspections to assure workplace safety.