Workplace safety is an important
issue because it’s in the best
interest of both employers and employees. Protecting the safety and
health of employees is a basic responsibility of any employer.
“Safety shouldn’t be an ‘add-on’ for a
company,” says David M. Weir, president, UPMC Work Partners, which is
part of the UPMC Insurance Services
Division. “A safety policy should be
incorporated into a company’s standard
Creating a culture of safety requires a
commitment to not only reduce accidents but to also actively promote safety throughout the year. Implementing
workplace safety is not only the right
thing to do, but it is also good business,
both in terms of the health and productivity of employees and money saved on
a reduction of accidents and related
Smart Business talked with Weir
about what employers need to know
about workplace safety.
What are the most important things businesses need to do to implement good safety practices in the workplace?
Most companies have safety policies
and plans, but for many of them, those
documents are little more than dust collectors rather than a functional part of
an organization’s operations. At many
companies, the safety manager is an
important person only when a major
accident occurs. Companies need to
understand this: The ‘right way’ to do
business is the ‘safe way’ to do business.
You need to do what you can to create a
culture of safety within a company to
prevent accidents, not just to respond
when an accident occurs.
What are some of the factors that can work
against the establishment of a good work-place safety program?
The first would be not being specific in
spelling out the roles and responsibilities in terms of safety for everyone,
from the top of an organization down to the employee level. Second, in too many
cases, a company’s work safety plan is
not an actual working document and
that can result in a lack of enforcement
of the proper safety procedures. To create a safe workplace, a company has to
elevate employee safety as a core value
of the company, make a real commitment to it, and demonstrate visible support of that value.
To make sure safety programs are
being implemented properly, employers
should ask the following: Is safety talked
about at management meetings? Are
managers evaluated in part by the safety
record of their departments? Is safety
included as part of new-hire orientation?
Is there specific training for more hazardous work environments? Is there adequate support in terms of staffing, equipment and training time for safety initiatives? All of these things need to be in
place and should be measured.
Is some kind of punishment necessary in
order for safety practices to be properly
enforced in a workplace?
Disciplinary action for safety violations should be handled in a similar fashion as the company manages other
policy violations. Typically, a progressive disciplinary action is used.
However, any blatant disregard for safety practices should be dealt with quickly and with significant consequences
and/or possible termination.
Does a company face liability issues when
it comes to workplace safety?
Yes. Many companies may have sufficient policies and procedures in place,
but that does not excuse them from all
liability. For example, were the policy
and procedures in place, but never really enforced? If that is the case and an
accident occurs as a result, that could
be legally damaging. Was a hazardous
situation identified but never addressed? Again, if that were the case
and an accident were to be the result,
the company could have potential criminal liability.
Where should employers start when implementing workplace safety?
First, they need to be aware of all the
regulatory agencies local, state and
federal that have jurisdiction over
their business. These would include
such agencies as the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA), Department of Transportation
(DOT) and agencies that oversee specific industries like the Mine Safety and
Health Administration (MSHA).
Employers should also know that if
they need help with safety issues, they
can find resources online from a number of federal and state agencies, such
as OSHA and the National Institute
for Occupational Safety and Health
(NIOSH). In addition, a company’s
insurance broker and insurer should be
good sources of information on this
DAVID M. WEIR is the president of UPMC Work Partners. Reach him at (412) 454-8720 or [email protected].