“OSHA-proofing” Your Business

When I first entered the safety profession, older, more experienced professionals recommended that I consider OSHA as a potential employer.

The innuendo I sensed in this advice: If I worked for OSHA, got to know influential people and learned how to work the system, I would be in a better position to protect companies from citations and associated penalties. This bothered me: I chose to be in safety because I wanted to protect people.

Decades later, I now appreciate the wisdom of this advice. Staying out of the press for compliance issues is a really good idea. And whether directly stated or not, OSHA-proofing has been a part of every job I’ve held.

Companies I’ve worked for have also understood that minimum OSHA compliance is not enough. It is just the beginning. And, compliance-risk is just one of many risks health and safety programs help to manage.

Also at stake or to-gain:

  • Workers compensation costs and insurability
  • Loss of productive employees and possible business interruption
  • Morale and the ability to attract/retain top talent
  • Civil liability and other litigation
  • Medical expenses and reduced employee capability
  • Exposure to risks not directly/completely addressed by Federal standards
  • Company reputation, shareholder confidence and ability to bid work with top companies

While minimum regulatory compliance is not always enough, most companies still want to be “OSHA-proofed” or at least they want to be able to determine their own health and safety goals and execute against these goals without feeling pushed around by regulators.
Tips for “OSHA-proofing” your business:

  • Involve employees. If your employees have a voice in your health and safety programs, they will be less likely to “find their voice” through the OSHA complaint process. Remember your employees are where the work occurs, they know about emerging hazards first and they know which precautions are likely to work. Employees are more likely to adopt and use precautions that they helped develop (and precautions must be accepted to produce desired results). Lastly, when in doubt, over-communicate about status of corrective actions. If there’s no talk about corrective actions, people may begin to think that you forgot about their concerns.
  • Keep good records. Unless you can prove you did something, in the eyes of a regulator or jury, you probably didn’t. Records should be well-organized and easily available when needed. If you have to search for files, you risk looking unprepared and extensive searching will open your records to discovery; which can expand the scope of an inspection. Also – Good records of health and safety activities will go a long way towards establishing good faith and this can help when it comes to contesting citations.
  • Don’t go it alone. Invest in the services of a safety professional. Network with successful companies and if you are part of a multi-location operation – Do not forget to benchmark best practices. Social media makes external networking easier than ever. I subscribe to a number of LinkedIn groups that focus exclusively on environment, health and safety issues and I am continually amazed by the information I am seeing shared at these sites. Membership in groups like American Society of Safety Engineers also makes networking an easier proposition.
  • OSHA is not the enemy. While this brief article is about “OSHA-Proofing” your business, don’t overlook resources available through OSHA. OSHA’s website allows access to regulations and letters of interpretation. At the website, you can sign up for biweekly newsletters that will keep you informed about new and changing regulations, compliance activities and other emerging health and safety issues. OSHA also offers outreach and compliance assistance options to those that need it.