As an employer in today’s ever-changing work environment, it is crucial to consistently evaluate your workplace.
- Do you have written safety procedures and rules in place for your company?
- Have you effectively trained your employees?
- Is it communicated to employees that safety is a top priority at your company?
- Why has there been an increase in injuries and influx of employee safety violations?
Employers face a daily challenge of emphasizing how safety is a top value to employees. It must be implemented in the workplace as well as the home environment to ensure a 24/7 approach. Safety values have the power to protect the well-being of you, your coworkers, and your family if followed diligently. If an unsafe action were to undermine any one of these values it could result in devastation. Is it worth it to shave off a few extra minutes by not putting on protective equipment or skip steps of a safety procedure if the consequences could harm yourself or others? The answer is always NO. No means of production, quality control, or monetary value take away from the protection that safety provides. A way to ensure the value of safety is protected, you must hold employees accountable for their actions, especially if they present unsafe behavior.
A disciplinary system helps to ensure workplace safety and health by educating employees on what values and responsibilities are expected of them. It provides workers with opportunities to correct their behavior before an accident happens. The purpose should be to control the work environment so that workers are protected and accidents are prevented. Keep in mind that once a system has been put in place it must be followed suit. Jumping to conclusions, placing blame, and/or abusing the system should be avoided.
The disciplinary policy should be comprised of a corrective action process aimed to document and correct undesirable employee behavior, including violations of safety rules. All employees must take responsibility for following safety rules at the workplace.
Major elements of the policy should include:
- Physical inspections by company officials which may indicate violations showing overall lack of commitment to company safety goals shall be under the same level of disciplinary actions.
- Constructive criticism/instruction by supervisors to educate and inform employees of appropriate safety performance and behavior.
- Correcting employee’s negative behavior to the extent required.
- Informing employees that continued violation of company safety policies may result in termination.
- Written documentation of disciplinary warnings and corrective action taken.
It is important to remember that an employee may be a very productive worker, family member, or even friend, but if they don’t follow company rules and safe work practices, they can adversely affect your company. Decreased employee morale, increased workers’ compensation costs, or even OSHA citations are factors that must always be taken into consideration. Implementing a solid disciplinary policy system, which is thoroughly understood by employees, is your next line of defense. With proper training and documentation of disciplinary actions, the system is simplified and allows for a clear set of steps and a paper trail to follow. Having the proper documentation of what exactly happened leading up to an employment termination, injury, or an OSHA violation shows that the employer has taken preventative measures to avoid such action. At the same time, employers cannot always be there to hold the employees hand.
Conducting and documenting employee training on applicable safety topics, work procedures, and company policies should be the first step upon hiring a new employee. New employee training is your first chance to emphasize to the new hire that employee safety is a priority at your company and that safe work practices are taken seriously. This is crucial step to ensure that employees know how much the company values each employee and their safety on and off the job.
As set forth in OSHA’s Field Operations Manual, to prevail on the affirmative defense of “Unpreventable Employee Misconduct – Isolated Incident,” the employer must show that it:
- Established a work rule adequate to prevent the violation. This can be established through written safety programs.
- Effectively communicated the rule to employees. This shall be through proper training documentation.
- Established methods for discovering violations of work rules, and yet did not know about an isolated violation of the work rules; Documented inspections of your jobsite and/or facility are the key for this one. Make sure you note any hazardous conditions and all corrective actions taken when performing your walk through.
- Established effective enforcement of the rule when violations are discovered through documented disciplinary actions. Ensure that you are documenting all disciplinary actions taken, even verbal violations.
Documentation is the key to all of these elements. In OSHA’s mind, if it’s not documented, it didn’t happen!