By April Hirsch / Published August 2019
The day begins as it ends. Employees are in good health when they arrive at their workplace and when they leave their workplace. That’s the goal of work safety.
Abundant guidance for employers on how to maintain a safe workplace comes not only from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration but also from state and regional OSHA offices. Work safety guidelines differ by industry, but they all contribute to the same goal.
As readers know well, OSHA does not simply provide lists of standards. It also works to ease the compliance with regulations through cooperative interaction with the businesses it regulates. Some of the interaction results in streamlining of regulations, such as reduction of overlapping or duplicative rules. More about the assistances from OSHA is in the last section.
But let’s step back for a few paragraphs and remind ourselves that while OSHA has the regulatory authority for worker safety, it is far from the only interested party. Safe workplaces are important to job applicants. They are important to communities (who want their citizens to thrive). They are also important to insurers.
“Insurers have the right to do job inspections and do loss control surveys,” says Tom Svrcek, president of CSC Insurance Options and Joseph D. Walters Insurance in Belle Vernon, PA. “Both the inspections and surveys are to determine if a company is operating safely.
“Most carriers have the right to ask for loss runs,” continues Svrcek. “This report tells an insurer a business’s claim history.”
In short, insurers want to know that the companies they insure are doing all they can to reduce risk. A fundamental element in reducing risk is to follow the regulations that apply to maintaining a safe workplace.
Not only can employers turn to OSHA for assistance, they can also often turn to their insurer. “At our company, we will soon have the ability to have a toll-free service to help our clients in their safety program,” explains Svrcek.
As businesses consider and evaluate their safety guidelines, they should be sure the guidelines are sufficiently comprehensive. “Safety on the jobsite” is one facet, explains Svrcek.
Safety guidelines for employees should encompass all their work-related activities. The evaluation of road safety habits of employees who drive vehicles for the company and information on all cleaning chemicals and products—two examples Svrcek gives—are among the activities.
When developing work safety guidelines, the magnitude and layering sometimes makes it seem as though we have moved to n-dimensional hyperspace. Or at least it can feel as overwhelming as we imagine functioning in more than three dimensions might be.
Slow down. Take advantage of assistance. Think. Plan.
“OSHA has some great resources you can download,” says Dr. Marlo Dean, senior support services manager with Kärcher North America in Camas, WA. He explains that OSHA will do a free assessment of a workplace to help a business owner identify problems.
The OSHA focus in such an assessment is assistance. “If they find problems, you will not be fined,” explains Dean.
Beyond the day-to-day settings in which pressure washers and ancillaries are used—or the settings where OSHA designates the business owner as responsible for training employees in and following work safety guidelines, there is the safety of the equipment itself.
An advocate for safety standards in pressure washers and ancillaries, Dean has worked tirelessly to both contribute to the development of standards and make the standards as well-known as they should be in our industry. Many readers have attended one of his presentations to industry members. And he shared with us a recent a copy of a recent presentation entitled “What is Safety Certification? Topic: Certification for the Pressure Washer Industry.”
In text from the presentation, Dean reminds businesses that “a certification marking is evidence to your customers that your product conforms to applicable safety standards and that there is a program of ongoing factory inspections”—the “your” referring to a manufacturer. Certified equipment must undergo a re-evaluation by a nationally recognized testing laboratory (NRTL) if it changes in components or design. There are other requirements for retaining certification.
By using certified equipment, contractors and others who use pressure washers take a huge step forward in ensuring a safe work environment. Certified equipment and components of equipment go through testing so rigorous that many end users are unaware of the scope. (Plastic burn tests are one example Dean gives.)
Safety guidelines are not always easy to interpret. For instance, e-CFR 1910.399, which requires the testing of electrical equipment used by workers, is not always fully appreciated. Entries at the OSHA.gov website, such as www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1910/1910.399, offer explanations of the regulation as it applies in different settings.
Dean includes in his presentation the reminder 1910.399 states “that all electrical and other types of equipment used in the workplace must be ‘listed’ by an ‘approved’ testing agency.” Thus, certification brings pressure washers into legal compliance with the OSHA regulation.
Certification first and foremost enhances worker safety. When end users rely on certified—and that includes properly maintained—machines, they can focus on adherence to safety guidelines and be confident they have a safe tool in hand.
Adherence is the operative word. Work safety begins with using a tool as directed.
An OSHA document we have cited before in these pages, the 56-page Small Business Handbook, which can be found at www.osha.gov/Publications/smallbusiness/small-business.html, provides an excellent overview of work safety guidelines. The document also gives some hard figures to emphasize the importance of following guidelines.
Occupational injuries extract an economic toll in the range of $200 billion annually. They take individuals out of the workforce, which leads to a cascade of negative effects in homes and communities. They may harm a business to the point that it must close. If a business remains open after a serious incident involving a worker, morale may be so low that it does not thrive.
OSHA suggests a work safety program have four elements. The first is commitment by management in setting policy and assigning responsibility for various checks and training. Employees are involved in the process, and management always leads by example.
A second element is a worksite analysis. For contractors that go to a different site on every job, that’s a new analysis in each place.
The third element, hazard prevention and control, is a structured approach to making sure all required procedures dictated by the type of worksite are followed. The fourth element is training for employers, supervisors, and employees.
The document also offers checklists that can be copied and used as a good starting point for many industry concerns. Among the lists are those for PPE, portable ladders, hand tools and equipment, and lockout/tagout procedures.
Another good template for developing safety guidelines is the Quick Start tool OSHA offers at www.osha.gov/dcsp/compliance_assistance/quickstarts. By entering an industry (broadly defined), a Quick Start user can get a list of the guidelines that apply.
The OSHA.gov eTools, eMatrix, Expert Advisors, and v-Tools’ page located at www.osha.gov/dts/osta/oshasoft offers some clever interactive introductions on topics ranging from hazard identification and scaffolding to eye and face protection to respiratory protection. It also provides expert advice on many topics.
A particularly interesting expert advice topic is “Safety Pays”—a program that gives employers insight into the cost injuries and illnesses have on profitability. A user can pick a type of injury or choose one from a drop-down menu to get workers’ compensation costs. By completing the analysis (input required by user includes profit margin for business), an employer can calculate the sales needed to cover the costs of injuries.
Most veteran business owners will have a good overall idea of what an injury costs and sales needed for recovery. But for those new to the industry, the OSHA tool offers monetary reinforcement regarding the need to have and follow safety guidelines.
For all the apprehension that the mention of OSHA may elicit, the entity has an acute understanding of the business owner. In the handbook we have cited, OSHA applauds the fact small business owners are by nature risk takers. It’s a good thing for the vitality of industry and innovation and the strength of economic activity.
Risk of discretionary capital is an entirely different matter, however, than the sort of risk that poses a threat to the health and safety of people. Unwarranted (e.g., careless) risk cannot be tolerated on jobsites. From the use of ground-fault circuit interrupters to the verification that hoses have no hint of a breach, workplace safety guidelines maximize that likelihood that nothing will go wrong during the workday.
Yes, meteorites will still fall here and there, and natural disasters will hit without warning. But those rare events should never be compounded by incidents that could have been prevented.
A long-haul trucker once summed up (to this writer) his approach to safety across four decades: “Slow down, slow down, slow down.” He did not mean to drive under the speed limit. He meant to proceed at a pace where situational awareness prevails. Haste—in any setting—is the enemy of safety.