By Andrew Miller
Defying OSHA standards is a nightmare for every construction company. Yet safety and health violations do happen – regularly and at large scale. In fact, the agency releases a detailed report of the most cited OSHA violations each year.
As an employer, you must understand the serious impact of worksite accidents on your productivity, operations and the reputation of your business. Dealing with an OSHA infringement is stressful, but bouncing back after an incident involves much harder work. If your company has recently faced a costly OSHA penalty, here is a list of practices you can apply to help improve workplace safety and put your business back on the right track.
1. Establish a system of rules.
Perhaps the first and most straight-forward step in reducing workplace hazards is to identify and establish the rules that adequately address the specific risks your business may present.
You can start by considering the OSHA violation your company was cited for and build up your safety instructions from there. Even though there is a great deal of flexibility on how rules are worded, employers are encouraged to provide a similar level of protection to those mentioned in relevant OSHA standards.
Keep in mind that you need to find an effective way to convey the rules in writing – a way that works well for your company. Simply sending a copy of the OSHA Act to each employee and expecting everyone to follow it is likely not going to work. In addition, since there are always changes around the workplace, these rules need to be modified and updated on a consistent basis.
Having a written safety manual is also useful, especially if your workers intentionally ignore and violate OSHA standards. In such cases, you might want to contest the agency’s citation.
2. Educate and train your workers.
You can have a 300-page handbook of clear, detailed safety rules and still face OSHA fines. You must also make sure your employees understand and follow these rules. Employers with a true safety mindset need to go beyond distributing written copies of workplace practices to their workers. Employees come from all walks of life. They learn things at different paces and might be more receptive to a certain method of learning rather than others. Make sure you have everything covered. Do you have a translated version of safety practices for non-English speaking employees? What kind of training do you provide and how often do you offer it? For more inexperienced workers, do you offer additional help?
It's important to have an accurate recordkeeping system to make sure everyone at your facility is aware of violations and accidents that have happened. This way, companies can identify and address common safety issues that may lead to higher rates of injuries. According to the latest update from OSHA about recordkeeping, most employers are now required to follow a new electronic reporting procedure with records called OSHA 300 Logs. Businesses must submit the logs to the agency on a quarterly basis.
3. Perform periodic self-inspections.
Many employers tend to have a feeble attitude towards inspections and maintenance. However, this step is critical in maintaining a safe work environment, ensuring your equipment is always in proper working condition and preventing any potential injuries from happening.
No inspection is minor and they should not be taken lightly. Simply observe your employees’ behaviors at the worksite. You can start with basic daily walkthroughs that allow supervisors or managers to discover and document any signs that might indicate danger or violations. Again, this re-emphasizes the important role of having an organized, thorough recordkeeping system in place. OSHA may use these records (or lack thereof) to scrutinize your business conduct, especially if you have previously violated their regulations.
4. Discipline and reward workers.
In spite of safety guidelines and proper training, your workers could still disregard OSHA standards or make mistakes. Accidents happen and when they do, it can be hard to stay calm and keep everything under control unless you establish a policy for disciplinary action beforehand.
Every worker must be aware of the consequences for violating workplace practices. Detailed information regarding these occurrences is usually indicated in an employee rule acknowledgement form. In order for safety rule enforcement procedures to be effective, everything about your staff at work must be documented and tracked.
Having an active record that clearly shows repeated violations will help you evaluate the situation and discipline workers more effectively. At the same time, workers who follow rules, show significant improvement in their attitude towards safety, and actively promote safety practices at your worksite should be rewarded. This will boost employees' morale and encourage strong work ethics.
Disciplining and rewarding your employees should not be a one-time thing. It should be an ongoing practice, especially if you want to reap its long-term benefits.
Moreover, you can’t suspend Jack, who has repeatedly failed to wear a safety harness, while giving Jim only a verbal warning for violating the same rule. Make sure that upon discovery of violations, the overseeing manager actively enforces all rules in a clear and consistent manner. This way, you can guarantee that employees who overstep the same rule, causing similar accidents, receive equal penalties and disciplinary action.
Violating OSHA regulations is definitely not something that construction businesses want to experience. However, even if the worst has happened at your company, there is always a chance to start again and enforce a safety culture.
Above all, it is vital to be proactive in your safety procedures and avoid accumulating small, unresolved problems that can lead to larger, dangerous problems down the road. This will keep your business away from costly OSHA visits, and more importantly, help build a happy and productive environment for your employees.
Need further help recovering after an OSHA violation? Contact Dakota Safety today!
Dakota Safety specializes in providing passive fall protection systems and safety products for clients all across America. They are based in Saint Paul, Minnesota.