Workplace Safety- Are You Managing Risk in your Small Business

Here is a blog post I wrote for our Close Quarters Business site. I hope you find some value in it:

Does your small business (or medium-large business for that matter) have a plan of action to deal with safety risk? When was the last time Senior Leadership read the company safety manual? Do you think your company is too small for a written safety manual? These are issues I come across frequently having been an Occupational Safety and Health consultant since 2007 and managing safety (public safety and in the private sector) for the past 20 years or so.

Many companies contact me as a result of a negative experience with safety. Either a workplace injury, illness, OSHA citations, or worse! The best clients I ever get are the ones that do not wait for something bad to happen to create new or improve existing safety and health programs. So where does one begin? I listed a few areas to get any business leader started:

Address your company’s culture.

Is safety seen as a necessary ‘evil’? Do supervisors only respond to employees’ concerns when they become complaints? Is your culture one based on trust and open communication? How do you make the shift from “production-first” culture to a “Safety-first” culture?  Simple; you must accept the fact that Safety = Production! It is that simple.

Once you get your head in this space, you can begin to address your employees in a productive way regarding safety. You will not come off as just going through the motions, checking the box so to speak. Just to turn around and hound workers on everything else, not giving them the time or resources to ‘not get hurt’.

Develop a written safety plan.

Always avoid “canned” written programs.  If you are not sure where to start, there are folks out there that can help. Especially Insurance Carriers, Business Association Safety Committees, and even Consultants. But make no mistake about it; you will need a company-specific safety program!

At a minimum, a safety and health program would need to address the following elements:

1. Management Commitment and Leadership.

  • Policy statement: S.M.A.R.T goals established, issued, and communicated to employees.
  • Program reviewed/revised annually.
  • Participation in safety meetings, inspections; agenda item in meetings.
  • Commitment of resources is adequate.
  • Safety rules and procedures incorporated into business operations.
  • Management observes safety rules.

2. Assignment of Responsibility.

  • Safety designee, knowledgeable, and accountable.
  • Supervisors’ safety and health responsibilities understood.
  • Employees adhere to safety rules.

3. Identification and Control of Hazards.

  • Periodic safety inspection program involves supervisors & employees.
  • Preventative controls in place (PPE, maintenance, engineering controls).
  • Action taken to address hazards discovered.
  • Safety Committee, where appropriate.
  • Technical references available.
  • Enforcement procedures by management.

4. Training and Education.

  • Supervisors receive basic training.
  • Specialized training taken when needed.
  • Employee training program exists, is ongoing, and is effective.

5. Recordkeeping and Hazard Analysis.

  • Records maintained of employee illnesses/injuries, and posted.
  • Supervisors perform accident investigations, determine causes and propose corrective action.
  • Injuries, near misses, and illnesses are evaluated for trends, similar causes; corrective action initiated.

6. First Aid and Medical Assistance.

  • First aid supplies and medical services are available.
  • Employees are informed of medical results from tests, treatments, etc.
  • Emergency procedures and training, are provided where necessary.

Safety should be considered one of the most important aspects of your business. After all, if the employees are getting injured or sick (even just ONE), how can they possibly focus on quality, cost, delivery, or customer service? Aside from the physical written program (manual), its a good idea to expand on the following points as well:

Agree on a procedure for handling an OSHA inspection.

Be prepared.  It is okay that OSHA shows up.

An employer should include a policy for handling OSHA inspections in its safety manual. The section should discuss who will be responsible for accompanying the compliance officer on an inspection and how an employee should behave during an inspection.

For example, rather than allowing compliance officers to wander around alone, you should escort them around the workplace. Your safety director or member of management should also carefully document the inspection with notes, photographs, or videos. If an OSHA inspector is snapping a photograph, your employee should be taking the same photo with his or her camera.

Educate your employees on the OSHA standards for their industry.

Become knowledgeable about the standards that apply to your industry. Learn what some of the most frequently cited safety violations are for your industry as well.

Also, never underestimate the power of training! Conduct training to keep specific workplace safety items fresh in the workers’ minds.  That way they will be better able to answer questions related to these areas should management or OSHA ask about them.

Invest in personal protective equipment.

Provide the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) to your workers. If an injury or accident could be reasonably avoided through the use of some form of protective equipment then it MUST be assigned and employees MUST use them!

Allow your employees to play an active role in developing your safety program.

Employees do not only have to understand the need for a formal written program but should also have some say in how it is developed. Meaningful involvement goes deeper than just asking if they have any questions about the written safety program AFTER top-level management or a consultant provided a “canned” manual. Employees must be a part of the decision-making process regarding safety and health. Also, get some input from the different employee groups.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Employers can always all OSHA for advice on how to best meet specific safety standards. If folks aren’t comfortable with that then there are a number of free/low-cost services from the previously stated resources, including: State Worker’s Compensation Departments, Self-Insured Insurance Carriers, Business Associations, and yes, even by hiring consultants.

Managing risk doesn’t have to be a lone-wolf proposition for you. There are folks that have been there and done that! It all starts with finding out where your gaps are and going from there. I hope this quick-list gets you started. Anyone that has any questions about what to do get started please feel free to leave comments and let’s get started helping each other out!

Be sure to leave comments and let us know what you think!

Published by

Blaine J. Hoffmann, MS OSHM

Husband | Father | Consultant | Entrepreneur | Blogger | Podcaster

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