Professional development Leadership

You’re in charge of safety – now what?

Advice for newcomers

New safety person
Photo: Mike Sharkey

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Getting to know OSHA

When establishing relationships and connections, you’ll also need to fulfill legal and compliance obligations. A major part of that involves federal OSHA or an OSHA State Plan, depending on the state in which you work. The federal agency’s website features recommended practices for safety and health programs.

“Start there,” Smith said.

The website also has a list of “key employer responsibilities.” In the list, OSHA mentions certain responsibilities that may prove surprising, depending on your level of expertise, Boroughf noted. “Somebody may come in and say, ‘I want to have access to the OSHA log,’” she said. “They need to understand who can have access to the log of work-related injuries and illnesses.

“Also, there are specific legal requirements in OSHA for reporting all work-related fatalities and hospitalizations, amputations, and losses of an eye. Then, the employee (or an employee’s ‘designated representative’) does have the right to have access to their medical records and exposure records.”

An important question to answer: Is your workplace covered under a national, regional or local OSHA emphasis program? If so, that means OSHA inspectors are likely to show up more often at your establishment.

That scenario raises another question: Do you know what to do if an OSHA inspector comes to your workplace and how that inspection would proceed? The agency has a step-by-step guide on its website. Another resource is the Safety+Health feature, “What to expect when OSHA is inspecting,” published in the June 2019 issue.

Smith noted that OSHA’s On-Site Consultation program is available to help many small and medium-sized businesses. He cautions, though, that any hazards identified during the consultation process must be corrected – or your organization will likely face a potential citation down the road.

Additionally, Smith recommended striving to get into OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs. To be included, employers submit applications to the agency and “undergo a rigorous onsite evaluation by a team of safety and health professionals.” OSHA then reevaluates participating organizations every three to five years.

One significant benefit of VPP inclusion is organizations don’t have to undergo programmed inspections as long as they retain their status.

Training options

The National Safety Council offers a number of training options, especially for workers new to the safety field. Among the options are OSHA 10- and 30-hour courses for construction, or a 10-hour course for general industry.

Another is the Principles of Occupational Safety and Health, a recommended first step toward an Advanced Safety Certificate. The Supervisors’ Safety Development Program is an additional option.

For more information, go to the website or call (800) 621-7619.

Workers’ compensation

Another major obligation is workers’ compensation. One key term to know is “experience modifier.” The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation defines it as a measure of expected future claims costs. Importantly, the experience modifier – sometimes referred to as “the mod” – determines the amount of your premium payments.

Insurers typically use three years of data for an organization, including the frequency and severity of workplace incidents. They then compare that data with companies of similar classification or operation, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance.

“Some of those metrics are ones that really affect the bottom line,” Smith said. “And that’s one of the things that I think every safety professional needs to understand. If you control your workers’ comp costs, that’s going to have a benefit for years to come.”

States have different rules on workers’ comp, Smith pointed out, such as whether an employee or employer has the right to select a doctor.

If you have a third party that handles your workers’ comp claims, Boroughf said safety pros need to understand that they have to report injuries to that administrator and provide detailed incident investigations. She warned that taking a hands-off approach with third parties isn’t wise.

“It’s important to have at least monthly reviews of the workers’ comp claims to ensure the claims are moving along to closure,” she said. “Just because you have a third-party administrator, you just can’t disengage. You have to be on the ball and ensure the claims are moving along.”

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