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Jonathan Jacobi


‘OSHA-Proofing’ Your Business

Protecting organizations by protecting people

Published: Monday, July 18, 2016 - 16:20

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 was that if I worked for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (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’s just the beginning. Furthermore, a failure in compliance is just one of many risks that health and safety programs help to manage. These include:
• Workers compensation costs and insurability
• Loss of productive employees and possible business interruption
• Reduction in morale and the inability to attract and 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 the ability to bid work with top companies

Although 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 without feeling pushed around by regulators.

With this in mind, here are a few important 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 on the front lines of where the work occurs, so they are the first to see emerging hazards, 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 if they are to produce desired results). Lastly, when in doubt, over-communicate about the 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. In addition, 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 toward 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 multilocation operation, remember to always benchmark best practices. Social media make external networking easier than ever. I subscribe to a number of LinkedIn groups that focus exclusively on environment, health, and safety issues, and I’m continually amazed by the information I see shared at these sites. Membership in groups like the American Society of Safety Engineers also makes networking an easier proposition.
OSHA is not the enemy. Although this brief article is about “OSHA-proofing” your business, don’t overlook resources available through OSHA itself. OSHA’s website allows access to regulations and letters of interpretation. At the site, 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 companies that need it.


About The Author

Jonathan Jacobi’s picture

Jonathan Jacobi

Jonathan Jacobi is a senior environment, health, and safety advisor with UL and has more than 20 years of health and safety leadership experience. Jacobi has played a leadership role in the creation and evolution of the UL workplace health and safety online training library. He helped establish and currently leads UL’s OSHA Outreach Training Program. His insight and experience managing safety systems is shared through consultation, national seminars, presentations, articles, and white papers.