The federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, also known as OSHA, requires that employers provide a safe working environment for employees. Many states also have their own workplace safety law.
As an employer, you must follow these regulations for every worker regardless of the job title, status, or classification. That includes not only rank and file workers but managers, supervisors, partners, executives and family members who work for you. It does not apply to independent contractors or family members of a farm operator.
Compliance with the rules and regulations isn’t just a good idea, it’s the law. Since there are specific rules for specific industries, it’s wise to research the regulations that apply to you. The federal guidelines can be found on the US Department of Labor website at www.osha/gov.
OSHA requires employers to maintain a workplace that is free of “recognized hazards,” hazards that have been identified as being likely to cause physical injury or death.
An example would be unsafe conditions such as the presence of toxic fumes or broken equipment, as well as unsafe practices such as failure to provide employees with gloves, goggles, footwear or other such safety items necessary to the work they are involved in.
Your duty to provide a safe working environment extends beyond the walls of your building as well. When your employees perform work at a remote location, such as a demolition or construction site, you, as an employer, bear responsibility to see that the site is safe.
OSHA requires that the tools and equipment you provide to your employees be in safe working condition, and that you provide certain types of safety equipment when necessary. It also requires that the employer provide adequate training and supervision.
Here are a few things to be aware of:
• Eye protection: Employees need protective eyewear when working with glass, hazardous materials or chemicals as well as to guard against materials that may fall into or be blown into or splash into the eyes.
• Gloves: Properly fitting protective gloves are needed when employees handle anything that might injure hands or fingers. If the materials to be handled could transfer disease or blood-borne pathogens, the gloves should be rubber or latex.
• Back Belts: Due to the possibility back strain or injury in any job that requires a lot of physical activity, twisting, turning, digging or lifting, it’s good policy to require that your employees use back belts. In certain jobs, these should be required at all times. If objects to be moved are large — such as furniture or appliances — a wheeled dolly or handcart should be provided as well.
• Footwear: Except for specific types of work where they might be a necessity, sandals and open-toed shoes should be avoided in most employment settings. In a typical office or retail environment, comfortable walking shoes are fine, but in certain types of job settings – loading docks, warehouses, construction sites and farms, for instance – heavier boots that cover the ankles, especially those with reinforced toe coverings are more appropriate and provide better protection.
• Head Covering: In any environment where materials or debris may be likely to fall from a height, or where heavy objects are being moved, employees must use hard head coverings or “hardhats.” It also may be necessary for you to require the use of wide-brimmed hats by employees who spend any significant and/ or regular amount of time working in the sun.
• Use of Tools & Equipment: Employers are responsible for the good working condition of tools and equipment used by their employees on the job. Any employee using a tool, machine or other piece of equipment should be trained in its use and their ability to use that equipment verified by trained personnel.
• Use of Chemicals and Solvents: Chemicals and solvents necessary for the performance of work should always be clearly labeled as to what they are, how to use them and potential hazards of use. Each should be used, stored and transferred in adherence to it’s own specific guidelines. Employees should be aware of how to use any such substance before using it.
For most chemicals, solvents and solutions OSHA requires that the employer maintain a file of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) on each, which outlines any potential hazards and what to do in case of an accident involving that substance. It also requires that employers train employees as to where these MSDS are kept, so that they can be quickly located in an emergency.
Keeping employees safe is smart business. Accidents cost money, time and even lives. Just as it is with other things relating to human health and wellbeing, prevention is the key. When guidelines are clearly established, employees are adequately trained and regular checks, maintenance and updates are established and carried out, accidents can be avoided and employees kept safe.