Fisher & Phillips’ Steve Bernstein on building a business safety plan Featured

11:13am EDT May 14, 2010

It’s something that you probably don’t want to think about

very often, but it’s an issue that needs to be addressed just the same: What

will you do if an incident occurs that jeopardizes the safety of your

co-workers?

Steve Bernstein is the managing partner for the Tampa office

of Fisher & Phillips LLP, which employs 240 attorneys nationwide. He has

coached numerous clients on how to deal with workplace safety issues — from

chemical spills to fires, natural disasters and violence in the workplace.

Bernstein says the ability to respond effectively begins with

having a well-scripted plan for incident reaction as well as preventive steps

that comply with Occupational Health and Safety Administration guidelines.

“It starts with a cultural perspective,” Bernstein says. “If

you don’t have a plan in place to demonstrate your commitment to safety from

the top down, you’re not likely to get it done. Some of our clients make the

mistake of going from A to C — in other words, going right to front-line

supervision and equipping them with enough information to get by. I have other

clients and businesses that have a dedicated safety manager with responsibility

for safety compliance.

“That’s great, but those things in a vacuum aren’t going to

get you where you want to go, unless you have a commitment demonstrated from

the upper echelons of the organization. From the CEO on down, that commitment

needs to be there and ideally it needs to be demonstrated to employees through

vehicles of communication.”

You need to piece together a compliance and response plan that

fits the needs of your business, but there are some elements that need to be in

any business safety plan.

“You can’t really pull an off-the-shelf safety program, but

certainly there are elements that need to be in every safety program,”

Bernstein says. “It includes training, communication, recognizing hazards and

evaluating them, and labeling hazards. But it starts with sitting down with the

folks who are out there on a regular basis and outlining a program that fits

the realities of the workplace.

“There has to be accountability and measurable results. You

start by setting objectives that are meaningful because vague objectives and

standards are hard to measure. Ideally you designate one or a group of people

to carry out those objectives, and you hold them accountable if you fail to get

there.”

The best lessons you can learn from are the lessons learned

from actual incidents. As you are putting together a safety plan, carefully

study incidents that have happened at other companies, preferably in your

industry. Review how the leadership of those companies responded and take the

lessons they learned into account when formulating your own plan.

“A crisis reaction plan is an important part of any program,”

Bernstein says. “You start by closely examining disasters or incidents that

have occurred in other businesses in your industry and using that as a model to

try to frame a scenario that most of your work force would relate to, and you

can drill them on it.

“There is a lot of scenario planning that can go into this,

but it needs to be real for these employees, so it should take into account

true life incidents that have occurred.

There are outside firms that can help you construct a plan,

but I’d caution against relying too heavily on outside help because chances are

they’re not going to know your business as well as you do.”

How to reach: Fisher & Phillips

LLP, (813) 769-7500 or www.laborlawyers.com