Safety Compliance in the Workplace
Safety Compliance in the Workplace
In workplaces across the nation, manufacturing safety and compliance is a matter of both the law and common sense. When companies can provide safe working conditions for their employees, it helps protect workers from injury, shields the business from costly fines and other penalties, and ultimately builds a culture of conscientiousness that will help ensure safety compliance moving forward.
There are two ways to approach safety compliance in the workplace—responsive or reactive. What’s the difference?
1. Taking a “reactive” approach is, unfortunately, many businesses’ default setting. They “try their best” to create safe working conditions, hope everything goes alright, and then deal with (react to) the consequences, whether injuries, fines, or both.
2. When companies perform their due diligence to adhere to federal guidelines for safety compliance, they put policies and procedures in place to create a “culture” of safety. Then, when issues do arise, these companies are in a position to respond, rather than react. In this context, “responding” involves a deeper understanding of the issue and its impact, and a measured remedy—while “reacting” might look more like scrambling for understanding and answers.
Obviously, the second option is the more sustainable method of dealing with potential hazards. Getting safety and compliance right takes a little research and work at the onset, but will save valuable time (and money) down the line.
What Is Safety Compliance?
When we talk about “safety compliance,” we’re talking about adhering to workplace safety standards and regulations as well as the process or processes by which a workplace works toward improved safety compliance.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, is the agency responsible for protecting worker health and safety in the United States. In fact, OSHA’s official mission is to “assure safe and healthy working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.”
Why Is Safety Compliance Important?
When a worker is injured or ill, or there are workplace or equipment issues that threaten worker safety,
it can be a literal matter of life and death. In fact, according to OSHA reporting, over 5,000 U.S. workers died on the job over the course of 2019. That’s over 100 workers a week. And around 6 million workplace injuries occur in American workplaces every year.
In addition to potentially endangering your business, safety compliance can impact a company’s bottom line in a number of ways—from costly downtime to expensive fines for violations of OSHA or other regulations.
What Are the Employer Responsibilities?
OSHA has outlined a number of employer responsibilities related to providing a safe work environment for employees. OSHA requirements for employers include:
- Complying with OSHA-recognized standards, rules, and regulations
- Ensuring that workers have tools and equipment that are safe and properly maintained
- Clearly labeling potential workplace hazards
- Keeping operating procedures up to date and effectively communicated to employees
- Providing safety training
- Displaying OSHA’s poster that outlines employee rights and responsibilities
- Documenting and maintaining records of workplace injuries and illnesses
You can read more about employer responsibilities on OSHA’s website.
What Are the Employee Rights?
The other side of safety and compliance concerns the rights of employees. Whether they know it or not, employees are entitled—by federal law—to a safe workplace, free of recognized health and safety hazards. Employee rights largely align with the employer responsibilities listed above, and include the right to:
- Receive relevant safety, health, and compliance training
- Work in a safe workplace, with safe equipment and appropriate protective gear
- Discuss concerns an OSHA inspector, or request an inspection
- Report illness or injuries, review past events, and access their medical records
Finally, employees can file confidential complaints with OSHA if they feel like workplace conditions are unsafe—and for the protection of whistleblowers, it’s actually illegal for an employee to be fired, demoted, transferred, or otherwise penalized for raising an issue.
How Is Workplace Safety Regulated and Enforced?
On a federal level, OSHA has defined industry-specific safety compliance standards, which can be accessed via their website. The main categories (each of which contains many subcategories) include:
- Agriculture and forestry (e.g., agricultural operations, logging)
- Construction (e.g., general, electrical, highway, residential)
- Energy (e.g., electric power generation, green jobs)
- Health care (e.g., dentistry, clinicians, nursing homes)
- Manufacturing (e.g., apparel and footwear, concrete, fireworks, food processing, metal, plastics, printing, textiles)
- Maritime (e.g., shipbuilding and repair, shipyards)
- Mining (e.g., oil and gas extraction)
- Retail and wholesale trade (e.g., lumber and building materials, restaurants, retail)
- Services (e.g., auto repair and maintenance, beauty, dry cleaning, landscaping)
- Telecommunications (e.g., communications towers)
- Transportation and warehousing (e.g., airlines, taxi drivers, trucking, warehousing and storage)
- Certain industries have their own systems and processes for maintaining safety compliance.
For example, there are a great number of OSHA safety requirements for construction—enough that OSHA put together this comprehensive resource that covers everything from management leadership and worker participation to hazard identification and labeling, assessment, prevention, and control.
Safety compliance for trucking companies is another example. For trucking companies, there is also the matter of other federal agencies—like the Department of Transportation, and the Federal Highway Administration—with their own regulations to be aware of.
What Does a Safety and Compliance Officer Do?
Also sometimes called an occupational safety specialist, the safety and compliance officer is in charge of ensuring a safe work environment, free of health and occupational hazards. They perform inspections, audit risks, and work to address any issues.
Safety and compliance officers are in demand, as they perform crucial responsibilities. Ideally, your safety and compliance officer will identify issues—and help to address them with training or other interventions—before OSHA or another regulating body can penalize the business for oversights.
Some of the main tasks a safety and compliance officer performs include:
Enforcing safety policies: Safety and compliance officers are trained to take a “by the book” approach to understanding and enforcing appropriate safety standards. When a safety officer can identify non-compliance early, it can save the business significant money through the avoidance of OSHA or other penalties.
Conducting audits and inspections: This aspect of a safety and compliance officer’s job requires a steadfast and meticulous eye for detail. Regular audits and inspections are vital in the prevention of accidents or downtime. Safety and compliance officers will also perform internal safety audits, to make sure company policies are aligned with OSHA and other mandated guidelines.
Ensuring compliance: OSHA and state agencies define safety and compliance standards for a wide range of industries, from agriculture and construction to healthcare, manufacturing, and transportation. The safety and compliance officer keeps their knowledge up to date on these. On a regular basis, they complete required forms and reports (like injury or accident documentation), and submit them to the appropriate body. They also make sure all OSHA-related workplace signage and posters are highly visible and up to date.
Investigating accidents: Accidents are inevitable. When an accident happens, whether major or minor, safety and compliance officers are responsible for learning as much as they can about what happened—and why. Based on the details of the situation, the safety and compliance officer can recommend changes to prevent similar accidents in the future. The other side of accident response is documentation. The safety and compliance officer’s role is to document the situation, submit any related paperwork, follow up in a timely manner, and keeping company leaders informed about what has happened.
Training employees: With the right employee training, workplace safety and compliance issues can be greatly reduced. Too often, companies are hit with fines that could have been avoided had workers just known and better-understood expectations and requirements.
The Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act
For small businesses, it can sometimes be difficult to justify creating a position and hiring a safety and compliance officer. Because safety compliance is so important, Congress passed the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) in 1996. This benefits small businesses by allowing them to have more input into the process of federal and state safety compliance, and reducing penalties for certain safety violations. Small- and medium-sized businesses can also request a free safety consultation through OSHA.
How Do You Ensure (and Encourage) Health and Safety Compliance?
The main ways to ensure health and safety compliance include OSHA inspections, as well as workplace compliance and employee safety training.
OSHA inspections follow a specific, step-by-step process (which is outlined in this PDF). OSHA prioritizes different hazard types, so that the greatest threats to workplace safety can be addressed in a timely manner. They outline their six priorities in the following categories:
- Imminent danger (anything that threatens serious physical harm or death)
- Severe injuries and illness
- Worker-raised complaints (which may be raised anonymously)
- Hazards or potential hazards are referred by other federal, state, or local agencies
- Targeted inspections (for especially hazardous industries or workplaces)
- Follow-up inspections (to determine whether hazards were adequately remedied)
What Are the Most Commonly-Cited Violations?
By knowing the standards that are most-often cited by OSHA, businesses can better prioritize the safety and compliance issues that matter most. In 2020, the top 10 OSHA standards cited (with their relevant category or industry) were:
- Fall protection (construction)
- Hazard communication (general industry)
- Respiratory protection (general industry)
- Scaffolding (construction, general requirements)
- Ladders (construction)
- Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout) (general industry)
- Powered industrial trucks (general industry)
- Fall protection (training requirements)
- Eye and face protection (general safety and health)
- Machinery and machine guarding (general requirements)
Workplace Compliance and Employee Safety Training
To improve your workplace compliance and employee safety training, start by auditing your current workplace compliance training. If you’re wondering what topics should be covered, you might start with this alphabetical listing of topics provided by OSHA.
Virtually every industry has its own set of safety compliance in the workplace topics to address, such as:
- Chemical hazards and toxic substances
- Fire safety
- Hazardous substances (e.g., asbestos, lead, hazardous waste)
- Indoor air quality
- Long work hours, extended or irregular shifts, and worker fatigue
- Winter weather
Tips for Improving Safety Compliance In the Workplace
Do your research. Review the resources linked in this article to learn as much as possible about the specific standards and regulations that apply to your company and industry, identifying any potential problem areas you’ll want to address in your safety compliance plan.
Develop a plan. Consult workplace safety regulators as needed, as well as OSHA standards and guidance. Important components of a safety compliance plan include not only identifying hazards, but appropriately labeling hazards, creating procedures for handling them, and communicating vital information to the rest of the organization.
Be diligent. By setting out a specific plan, and then exercising persistence and due diligence in implementing changes to improve compliance, workplace safety will start becoming part of the culture.
Consider appointing a safety compliance officer. We discussed the responsibilities of a safety compliance officer above. You’ll want to find a candidate with an exceptional eye for detail, integrity, and an ability to drive change.
Provide effective safety compliance training. A safety compliance plan only works if everyone knows it exists—and what it is. With that in mind, workplace safety training should be maintained with up to date information and practical guidance for workers.
Label hazards. Additionally, signage and other documentation—anywhere a worker might encounter a hazard, there should be clear, visible warning of the potential danger (and how to avoid it). Find the right hazard label from DuraMark.
Count on DuraMark for Compliance
When it comes to safety compliance in the workplace, appropriate signage and labeling of hazards can prevent many costly, dangerous situations from happening. DuraMark produces durable, high-quality labels and signs for the full range of workplace hazards, including custom items. We produce standardized or custom labels and signs for everything from asbestos,biohazards, and hazardous materials to electrical, forklift, and machine safety.
Why count on DuraMark? Because our industrial polyester labels are exceptionally durable, lasting up to three times longer than the competition’s. Our proprietary materials are able to withstand and resist UV radiation, extreme temperatures (from -40 to 302 degrees Fahrenheit), and remain clear and readable in even the roughest work environments. Learn more about our range of workplace safety labels, and then contact us for more information about how DuraMark can help you meet your workplace safety compliance needs.