By: Thomas H. Welby Geoffrey S. Pope Published: December 2018

Safety Strategies for the Small or Startup Contractor (Part 2)

While the OSH Act does require that you train your employees concerning recognized hazards and OSHA compliance, it doesn’t prescribe a comprehensive, formal safety program.  Nevertheless, our view is that it’s highly desirable to have one.

If your budget will not support a full-time Safety Director, the alternative we recommend — which has proved effective in many smaller companies — is to make all of your company’s employees your “Safety Directors,” with everyone having an active role in ensuring workplace safety.

Employees should have a seat at the table when management sets goals, and formulates your company’s safety program.  They should also be involved in the development, implementation, and evaluation of health and safety training programs, and identifying ways to improve them.

To maximize employee participation, strive to assure them that their involvement is desired, that their proposals will be heard, and that there will be effective reporting procedures.

To eliminate or reduce barriers to participation, try to ensure that employees can take part, regardless of their skill level, education, or language.  If you want a sustained level of participation, provide frequent feedback, to show that employees’ safety and health concerns and suggestions are being heard and addressed.  Meetings that involve employees should take place during regular working hours, and both supervisors and ordinary workers should be made aware that both the law and company policy forbid retaliation for reporting injuries, illnesses and hazards, participating in a company safety program or activity, or otherwise invoking employee protections under OSHA.  The area where you have minimum wage and other postings of information required to be imparted to employees should display, also, a copy of the “Section 11(c) Fact Sheet,” which advises employees of the “whistleblower” protections they are afforded by the OSH Act.

Once you have enlisted as “safety directors” so many of your employees as display any interest in acting as such, you can proceed to identify and assess those hazards as may exist on your current jobs, or that are commonly encountered in your trade.

This requires, first, the collection and review of information concerning hazards present, or likely to be encountered, in performing work.

Employees, including members of the rank and file, should be involved in identifying hazards in regularly-performed tasks, and implementing measures to mitigate them.  Safer work practices should be defined, documented, and made known to all affected employees.  Employees (not only supervisors) should be involved in site inspections, close call/near miss investigations, and the training of employees and new hires.

After an initial inspection has been made, there should be periodic follow-up inspections, to identify new or persisting hazards.  Injuries, illnesses, close calls, and near misses should be investigated, to determine the nature of the underlying hazards, their causes, and gaps in your safety program.

Management and employees should, together, brainstorm foreseeable, if uncommon, scenarios (fires, workplace violence, weather emergencies, infrequently-performed maintenance operations, restarts after equipment shutdowns, etc.) to plan, in advance, how to respond to such scenarios.

Health hazards (typically more complex than physical safety hazards) may require special attention.  Things such as chemical hazards, excessive heat or noise; exposure to pathogens; and ergonomic risk factors (e.g., heavy lifting, repetitive motions, etc.) should be identified, via inspections and testing of the air on jobsites, a review of operations, and medical data, where available.

Procedures should be prescribed for investigating workplace incidents.  Investigators should include representatives of management, workers, and persons with the technical competence to identify and analyze root causes.  The results of investigations should be communicated to managers, supervisors and workers, and preventive measures implemented.

As information is compiled concerning hazards actually existing, others typical in operations by your trade, and ones which, although infrequently encoun­tered, are foreseeable, you need to assess the universe of such hazards, and consider the likelihood of each of them occurring (or recurring), the severity of potential outcomes, and the number of workers actually or potentially affected.  Once you have done that, you need to prioritize the risks identified, and address them accordingly.  Keep in mind that OSHA imposes a continuing obligation to control all recognized, serious hazards. 

 The next stage in developing your program is hazard prevention and control.  This requires you to target hazards that are characteristics of the work you do, and to review the relevant OSHA standards, NIOSH publications, industry consensus standards, manufacturers’ literature, and engineering reports, to identify potential control measures.

Solicit input from your workers, who will often be the best sources for insights into how hazards can be controlled.  Using a “hierarchy of controls,” select control measures for each of the primary hazards you have identified.  Then, make a second list, addressing foreseeable emergencies and non-routine operations.

The “hierarchy of controls” has, at its topmost level, the physical removal of the hazard.  This will usually be the most effective response, but often the most difficult, impactful, complicated, and/or expensive.  Beneath removal is replacing the hazard, which, in some cases, may not be quite as effective as removal, but will get the job done.

Next in the “hierarchy” is to isolate employees and others from the hazard.  It may be impracticable to remove or replace hazardous substances, equipment, or activities, but sometimes you can attenuate the risk of harm, by keeping people at a distance, or minimizing the number of persons exposed.  Administrative controls, or changing the way people work (limiting their time exposure to high levels of noise, for example) if not as effective as replacing noisy equipment, may keep risks within prescribed acceptable limits.  Finally, protecting workers with Personal Protective Equipment, may be the easiest, and cheapest, effective solution.

After you have identified hazards and potential controls, and selected measures for each of the primary serious hazards that your employees face, then you should integrate that information into a coherent plan, fixing priorities, and assigning responsibilities.  Starting with the most dangerous and frequently-encountered hazards, work downward, and have a separate set of controls for emergencies and non-routine operations.

After you have developed and implemented your hazard-control plan, you need to follow up, to ensure that controls have been properly implemented, and that they remain effective.

Managers, supervisors, and workers must be trained regarding safety and health policies, goals and procedures, contacts for questions or concerns, the reporting of hazards, injuries, illnesses, and close call/near miss occurrences, and rights and responsibilities under the Act.

Employees must, of course, be trained concerning the hazards they may encounter, and how the same are to be avoided or controlled.  This must be done in a language and at a level of sophistication that your workers will comprehend.  Stress that the program works only in the measure that all interested parties remain involved, and actively encourage suggestions, the communication of concerns, and the reporting of injuries, incidents, and hazards.

Your program should, finally, be shared and coordinated with the efforts of host employers, contractors, and staffing agencies, and be constantly re-evaluated to ensure participation, effectiveness, and ways it can be improved.

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