NEW Rubin-Michael

The author Michael Rubin is chair of Goldberg Segalla’s national OSHA and Worksite Safety Practice Group. A Certified Safety Professional (CSP), Michael focuses his practice on issues involving occupational safety and health law.

It’s time to ring in the New Year and embark on creating a fresh set of safety New Year’s resolutions for your company. The myriad ways to make 2020 better than 2019 might seem overwhelming, but one surefire way is to take a hard look at your existing safety and health program and seek to enhance your safety performance. Below are five different, distinct ways in which to do so – all consistent with the theme that everyone enjoy a happy, healthy and prosperous 2020.

Evaluate your 2019 safety performance. It’s always tempting at the end of the year to “turn the page” and look forward, not back. In the world of safety, however, the prior year offers a wealth of valuable information that cannot be overlooked.

Employers should analyze their 2019 lagging indicators, such as their OSHA recordable injuries (specifically, forms 300/301), lost workdays and Workers’ Compensation costs. This should prompt a host of questions, such as: did you thoroughly investigate any accidents, determine the root cause, share the results with your workforce, implement appropriate controls and provide any necessary training or re-training? Also, does the injury data reflect any dangerous trends or emerging hazards?  Furthermore, what about any close calls, near misses, or safety complaints? All of this is worthy of your scrutiny – and becoming a safety resolution.

Identify hazards. Hazard identification is the first step in the risk assessment process and involves examining the work environment to identify those hazards associated with each job or task. What better time to do this than now?  

Ways to engage in the process of hazard identification include engaging in a comprehensive analysis of all of the following: i) your prior year’s injury data; ii) inspection records; iii) self-audits; iv) safety meeting minutes; and v) lessons learned by others in the industry. Also, it sounds basic, but speak with your employees – engage with them. Ask them what concerns they have, what they believe can be improved and what they have observed. Communication, especially thoughtful discussion at all levels, is critical.

Reemphasize your health and safety plan. The best health and safety plan (HSP) won’t get you very far if your employees don’t know about it, have never been given a copy of it (or access in some way), have never received any training on it; and/or are never re-trained.

Employers should ensure that what their HSP says mirrors reality. That means if your HSP says you have a safety committee, you should have the committee. If your HSP says you use particular forms annexed as exhibits, you should use those forms. Same for your disciplinary policy. It should be a written document that is followed. Furthermore, one word of warning: an HSP should never simply sit on the shelf (this is an OSHA pet peeve – especially if dust is involved). Make it a resolution to use your HSP to your advantage. An HSP should be living, breathing, evolving and most of all, an effective/helpful resource.

Analyze applicable OSHA safety and health standards. This should not be deemed a “resolution,” but instead an absolute necessity. Indeed, the expression “ignorance of the law is no excuse” is just as true today as it ever was.

Crane owners should ensure their compliance with all applicable standards – not just the crane standards (found in Part 1926, Subpart CC) but other standards relating to PPE, electrical safety, hazard communication, recordkeeping and machine guarding, just to name a few. It’s important to remember that OSHA might show up to inspect not only your jobsites, but also your shop, yard and main office. Companies often get cited for not complying with OSHA’s hazard communication standard. They often get cited for not complying with the recordkeeping regulations.

Also, make sure your record retention policy mirrors OSHA’s. For example, your monthly and annual crane inspections must be documented and the written results maintained (monthly inspections for at least three months and annual inspections for at least 12 months). Compliance with OSHA’s “minimum” safety standards must be one part of your comprehensive health and safety program.

Encourage employee engagement. Employee engagement starts and ends at the same place: at the top. It is critical that management lead by example and focus on creating a culture of safety. It should be no surprise then that the first core element identified by OSHA in its “Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs” is “management leadership.” There are many ways to encourage employee engagement, including implementing safety incentive programs – especially those that are tied to certain proven-to-be-effective leading indicators.

At all times, not just the start of the year, employee safety should be top of mind. All employers are encouraged to add some or all of the above resolutions to their plans.