Safety and health at the workplace should be a top priority for all employers, small and large. Considering we spend a large part of our lives at work, any adverse effect on people’s health incurred in the workplace could result in not only a poorer lifestyle but lead to reduced happiness and even lifelong suffering. This means that employers should ensure the safety of employees in the workplace. However, this does not mean that the only person responsible for good health and appropriate safety practices is the employer. Employees too are obligated to learn, obtain information, and adopt good safety and health habits.
To support the application of safety and health processes and procedures in the workplace, the United States Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has developed (and maintains) a range of standards that employers and employees must strictly comply with. These OSHA regulatory standards span all private-sector employers and employees across the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and other U.S. jurisdictions. These standards cover a range of industries including construction, manufacturing, hazardous waste operations, services sectors, hospitals, energy, oil and gas, consumer retails, and even emergency response operators. OSHA covers this scope of work by the direct requirement to comply with occupational health and safety standards through Federal OSHA or by taking a secondary route of an OSHA-approved state plan.
Accordingly, safety and health at the workplace should be taken very seriously, and appropriate methods to minimize hazards and reduce the risks at worksites should be implemented.
Steps to Making Safety a Top Priority
Let’s discuss what employers and employees can do to make health and safety a top priority in the workplace.
1. Create the “Right” Culture
Creating a safety-first culture at the workplace would be a good starting point. This means that everyone, from the person holding the top leadership position to the lowest level employee in a company, must accept, understand, and aspire to make safety the priority. This safe culture mindset must apply whether making a strategic decision or simply executing pre-defined work processes.
2. Safety and Health Policy and Values
The foundation to creating the “right” safety culture will be a company’s values and its safety and health policy. The corporate values will guide employees’ beliefs and help in developing an appropriate safety and health policy and program for maintaining high levels of safety and health at the workplace to protect workers.
3. Establishing a Safety and Health Program
The idea behind a safety and health program is to identify the risks and put in place actions to eliminate or reduce these hazards before they cause an injury or illness to workers. To support the development of the safety and health program, employers can refer to OSHA’s 1989 Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines.
4. Developing Safety and Health Plans
This is an important step in making safety a priority matter at the workplace. While employers and employees can believe in safety, to truly action it into work activities requires a manual for employees to follow – The Safety and Health Plan! The safety and health plan will give step-by-step direction on processes and procedures to follow to ensure safety always comes first.
This is where OSHA’s safety standards play a large role. Every employer must identify the different standards–HAZWOPER, construction industry, general industry, or maritime, as applies to them. Employers must also identify if they must comply with safety standards regulated by other governing bodies. For instance, the EPA gives added guidance on the safe work practices for handling and managing hazardous waste while the Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates the transportation of hazardous materials (hazmat). Once these standards are identified they must be applied to the different activities and operations of an organization. Thus, one company can have several health and safety plans for various operations, projects, or worksites.
Below are a few key elements that must be included in safety and health plans.
- The names of key personnel in charge of safety and health, as well as alternate designees.
- A description of the risks associated with each work operation/activity, or phase of the project.
- A confirmation that personnel is adequately trained for the tasks they are allocated.
- List and describe the personal protective equipment (PPE) that will be worn.
- Describe site- or operations-specific medical surveillance measures, if any.
- Explain the approaches that will be used for monitoring and sampling activities.
- Explain the processes and procedures to be implemented to reduce safety and health risks.
- Include a site map (if required).
- Disclose security measures that must be implemented.
- Provide details of decontamination activities that must be executed (if required).
- Establish Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
- Create a contingency plan to handle emergencies.
5. Safety Training
While all the above must be in place, regular and ongoing safety training is also a requirement for prioritizing safety in the workplace. Employers must provide employees will adequate training including online training, on-site training, and job- task-specific training as relevant to ensure workers’ safety and health. Remember, that OSHA also mandates worker training and often cites employers when adequate training is not provided!
HAZWOPER OSHA training is geared to support employers in their training needs. The company provides online training courses to meet the training requirements of HAZWPOPER, OSHA, RCRA, and DOT regulations. The Company’s training courses are mobile-friendly and use an innovative HAZWOPER media player (Learning Management System – LMS) ensuring students stay engaged, are challenged, and obtain adequate knowledge.
As we start this new year, let us work towards making safety and health a priority at the workplace. This is not only beneficial for the safety and good health of employees but is also a boon for organizations as high levels of safety levels in the workplace support a company’s good reputation in the longer term. Making safety and health aspects an integrated part of workplace practices is beneficial for the employer – will reduce costs due to declining medical bills and lesser or no fines being imposed for non-compliance with safety standards. Such ethical business practices will also attract conscientious stakeholders who will support your safety and health policies in the longer term.