HR Management & Compliance

Are You Training Employees on Their Critical Role in Workplace Safety?

Today, we talk with nationally recognized safety attorney Adele Abrams, who will teach two Safety Engagement & Employee Training 360 Master Classes. The one-day classes about employee engagement and the importance of supervisors in developing a successful safety program will be held September 30 in New York City and October 3 in Houston, Texas. Among topics to be covered are the supervisor’s role in a safe, healthy, and compliant work environment; safety committee success; incentives that motivate without breaking the law; effective discipline; and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforcement activity and priorities.
Q. You maintain that employee engagement is critical to an effective safety and health program. Why?
A. Safety should not be force-fed to employees—they need to have buy-in. If employees feel they have ownership and involvement with the program, they are going to be more likely to comply with it. Also, somebody sitting in a corporate office writing your safety program may have never performed the jobs involved and may not be aware of the complicating factors and safety needs. No one knows these things better than the employees themselves.
I’ve found that by getting employees engaged, you can find out what they are doing right and wrong, for example, taking shortcuts that may have become engrained practices but that supervisors are unaware of. Getting new employees involved by performing a risk assessment is a way to help uncover issues that long-term employees may have become blind to.


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Q. You believe strongly in the role of supervisors in top safety performance. Can you explain?
A. Supervisors are a company’s eyes and ears. They oversee the activity of those they supervise and must be trained to recognize when something is going on that’s noncompliant or when someone is behaving in an unsafe manner.
I see a lot of pressure on supervisors to maintain production without regard for safety. For example, in a manufacturing plant, you have an order that needs to be filled by the end of the day. But a machine breaks in the middle of the day. Does the supervisor suggest that workers just nurse it along and keep going in order to complete the order? Or, let’s say a forklift is not steering properly. Does the supervisor encourage workers to use it anyway to avoid delays? Bad things happen when this is the attitude.
I’ve handled over 200 fatality cases, and I’ve seen too much bloodshed to believe that such incidents are just the cost of doing business. And, as a certified safety professional, I believe to my core that safe production is going to be improved production. If you have a fatality case, you are going to be shut down for days, weeks, or sometimes months during an investigation. And you’re going to have personnel pulled out for depositions and interviews with OSHA. It’s better to operate safely in the first place and avoid all that.
It’s also critical to invest in professional development in the area of safety supervision. Too few companies do that. I’m currently trying to help a client work out an OSHA settlement. It’s a routine inspection case, but one thing I discovered is that there was nobody in the company who could even train workers on OSHA requirements. Their safety guy was a retired police officer hired to do security who barely knew what the letters in OSHA stood for. To put someone like that into a supervisory role is a recipe for disaster.
It’s true that unless you have a critical incident or are part of an OSHA site-specific or National Emphasis Program, the likelihood of having an OSHA inspection is low. But for a small, family-owned business, a $150,000 penalty can pretty much put you out of business. That’s why I recommend that supervisors take OSHA’s 30-hour course for their industry sector. And, to the extent possible, rank-and-file employees should go through the OSHA 10-hour course.
If OSHA sees that you have taken this step, it can definitely be a mitigating factor. One of our attorneys is a former OSHA compliance officer. He says that if an employer can demonstrate that it has offered this type of training, and even better, if it has a safety management system, it’s not likely to face willful violations. Doing things like taking the BLR safety master class, which I’m going to be offering, shows that you are investing in your employees’ safety.
To hear more from Adele Abrams, attend one of BLR’s Safety Master Classes on September 30 in New York City or October 3 in Houston.
 


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In tomorrow’s Advisor, we’ll emphasize keeping employees engaged in safety practices off the job, plus we’ll explore a dynamic resource of prewritten, interactive PowerPoint® sessions that help you train on 25+ key safety subjects.