It does not matter if employees are working in an office or in a trench, employers have a responsibility to provide workers with a safe place to work. When the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act was established in 1970, the regulations included employer responsibilities. Start the New Year off right by ensuring that the CEO and managers at all levels within a company know and understand what these responsibilities are.
Although OSHA has posted these responsibilities on its website, many managers have no knowledge of them. Sure they probably know that workers have a right to a safe place to work — which is the final objective — but there are things that must be done to achieve this goal.
The following is a list of the 10 employer responsibilities that every employer must do and what your company can do to ensure compliance:
- Provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards and comply with standards, rules and regulations issued under the OSH Act. This is easier said than done, especially if your managers don’t know what the rules and regulations say or where they can find them. If a manager does not know the rules or regulations, you cannot expect your worksites to be in compliance with OSHA regulations because many of the rules are very specific as to what is required, and if they are not followed, OSHA citations can be issued. To correct these situations, employers should provide OSHA training and make copies of the applicable OSHA regulations available to all managers. Copies of the OSHA 1926 Construction or 1910 General Industry regulations can be purchased from the Federal Government Printing Office or from one of many other resources available. OSHA regulations can also be found and downloaded from www.osha.gov. No matter where the rules and regulations are found, managers should be required to familiarize themselves with the requirements applicable to the types of work they supervise such as trenching, confined space entry, heavy equipment operations, welding, etc., in addition to the commonly known regulations for personal protective equipment, ladders, electrical, hazard communications, etc.
- Examine workplace conditions to make sure they conform to applicable OSHA standards. Many workplaces and jobsites are similar, however, many are also different. It is the employer’s responsibility to take a close look at all operations to determine what is taking place in each workplace and to make sure it complies with the applicable regulations. A good place to start with any new job is to create a Job Safety Analysis (JSA). For example, if you were to create a JSA for a job that is laying plastic pipe you probably would not have listed welding in an enclosed space. However, installing steel pipe would call for welding in an enclosed space, such as a trench, and will require compliance with a specific OSHA regulation. Do the managers and foremen know the requirements for welding in an enclosed space and other specific regulations that apply to the worksite?
- Make sure employees have and use safe tools and equipment and that all this equipment is properly maintained. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that when tools and equipment leave the shop and are sent out to a jobsite, they are in good condition. Every shovel, just like every excavator, must be in safe working condition when it arrives at a jobsite. All tools and equipment that are found not to be in good condition, such as a shovel with a cracked handle or an excavator with a cracked hydraulic line, should be replaced or repaired.
- Establish or update operating procedures and communicate them so that employees follow safety and health requirements. Every effective safety plan starts out with a written safety program that includes policies and procedures that all managers and employees are expected to follow. However, before anyone can be expected to comply with the established policies and procedures, managers themselves must be familiar with the program. This is especially important when a person is promoted to management or is assigned management responsibilities. It never seems to amaze me how many managers at all levels have never seen or looked at the written company safety program.
- Employers must provide safety training in a language and vocabulary workers can understand. Knowledge and information is the key to a safe workplace, yet many employers fail to ensure that their managers and workers have been appropriately and sufficiently trained to perform their job. Training must go beyond basic safety knowledge such as wearing personal protective equipment. OSHA regulations require employers to ensure that their workers know how to safely perform specific tasks, such as welding in an enclosed space, using a chainsaw, entering a confined space or rigging a load to be lifted by the excavator. In addition to providing the training, the employer is responsible for ensuring that the employee understands the information provided. Therefore, it may be necessary to provide the training in the employee’s native language so he or she will fully understand how to safely perform a task or operation. Never assume an employee knows how to perform a task until he or she has been trained or at least evaluated by a competent individual.
- Employers with hazardous chemicals in the workplace must develop and implement a written hazard communication program and train employees on the hazards they are exposed to and the precautions for working with the chemical safely. The best place to start to ensure compliance with these requirements is the OSHA page on Hazard Communication, which can be found at www.osha.gov. Failure to comply with OSHA’s requirements for implementing a Hazard Communication Program, including training, and keeping copies of the safety data sheets (SDS) available, have once again become one of OSHA’s Top 10 most frequently cited violations.
- Provide medical examinations and training when required by OSHA standards. Some standards such as the Respiratory Protection (1910. 134) standard and Hazardous Waste Operations (1926.65) have requirements for medical surveillance by a licensed healthcare professional. The employer has a responsibility to ensure that all workers who are subject to these requirements are provided with access to a healthcare professional at no cost to the worker.
- Post, at a prominent location within the workplace, the OSHA poster or the state-plan equivalent informing employees of their rights and responsibilities. Probably the easiest of all employer responsibilities to comply with is obtaining and posting the “OSHA Job Safety and Health: It’s the Law” posters which are available for free from OSHA or State-Plans. The poster is designed to inform workers of their rights under the OSH Act. All construction employers are required to display the poster in their workplace in a conspicuous place where workers can see it. To download a copy of the poster or to find out how to order posters, visit the OSHA website at www.osha.gov/publications.
- Keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses. Under the OSHA Recordkeeping regulation (29 CFR 1904), employers are required to prepare and maintain records of serious occupation injuries and illnesses, using the OSHA 300 Log. This information is important for employers, workers and OSHA in evaluating the safety of a workplace, understanding industry hazards and implementing worker protections to reduce and eliminate hazards. OSHA’s Recordkeeping page (www.osha.gov/recordkeeping) provides all the recordkeeping information and forms necessary to comply with this requirement. In addition to the injury and illness recordkeeping requirements, there are other records that must be maintained as required by specific OSHA standards such as medical records for the Respiratory Protection, Hazardous Waste Operations and Bloodborne Pathogens standards. Although OSHA is not always clear on how and when training records should be maintained, I highly recommend that you keep a record of all training, including the name of the employee, the date, the topic, a brief summary and the name of the instructor that provided the training. Many standards also require inspections be made and records to be kept, so you should be sure to comply with these requirements as well. There is a saying that “If it was not documented, it was not done” and this saying often holds true in an OSHA hearing or court of law. I know paperwork can be a burden, but the only way to avoid trouble is by maintaining accurate records.
- Do not discriminate against employees who exercise their rights under the OSH Act. Employees have a right to a safe place to work and they also have a right to file a complaint with OSHA about on-the-job safety hazards and violations that are not corrected. Whistleblower protection, Section 11(c) of the OSH Act, prohibits any person from discharging or in any manner retaliating against any employee because the employee has complained about unsafe or unhealthful conditions or exercised other rights under the Act. To prevent employees from reporting hazards to OSHA, employers should encourage their employees to report hazardous conditions to their supervisors or safety department, with the understanding that no action will be taken against the employee for reporting the hazards. If a hazard is reported, supervisors should be required to take action to investigate and remove employees from any hazardous operations immediately until the worker(s) can be protected or the hazard corrected or eliminated. There is no doubt in my mind that the last thing any employer wants is for an employee to notify OSHA of the employers unwillingness to correct or eliminate hazards.
There are a number of other employer responsibilities included in the OSH Act in addition to the 10 listed above, so be sure to visit the OSHA website and download the entire list. If you have not already done so, start the year out right and make sure all managers are educated and informed about the employer’s OSHA responsibilities because failure to comply with these responsibilities can result in violations and penalties. Always remember that all employers are legally bound to provide all workers with a safe place to work at all times.
George Kennedy is NUCA Vice President of Safety.