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Going to work every day is a lot of things. It can be exciting, engaging, frustrating, even boring. But it’s never supposed to be unnecessarily dangerous. That’s the goal of health and safety in an organization, to prevent workplace illness and injury by minimizing risk. It can be daunting but there are resources and strategies that can help.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency charged with establishing minimum standards of workplace safety and helping employers and employees understand and enact those standards. OSHA publishes and updates its guidance regularly. It also sends inspectors into the field to do on-site investigations and inspections. OSHA’s guidance can be highly specific, such as directing the maximum allowed level of a chemical in air or water, and broadly applicable, such as making sure walkways are free from things like power cords, boxes, and other obstructions.
OSHA also lays out a course of action for what happens when there’s a health and safety incident at work. Part of that is carrying out an investigation, identifying the cause of the workplace accident, and determining what changes could be made to prevent a similar accident in the future. OSHA also offers guidance directly to employers and employees who seek it out; while it does have investigative and enforcement authority, OSHA’s goal is to protect employers and workers from harm.
In addition to the federal agency, some states have established their own version of an OSHA office. These state guidelines and regulations can be more strict and more wide-ranging than the federal agency’s; however, they will never be less stringent–the federal protections and guidelines are considered the minimum.
States have taken on these responsibilities in many cases because their residents face industry-specific concerns that may not be adequately addressed for their needs by the federal agency. For example, in states where agriculture is a large part of the economy, additional farmworker safeguards may be in place. It’s worth reaching out to your state agency to determine whether there are additional regulations that apply to your industry.
It’s easy to overlook the expertise and insight of your organization’s team. Employees may be the most knowledgeable about potential hazards. A critical element of planning for health and safety in an organization includes carrying out hazard assessments.
As you consider the potential hazards in your company, it’s a great idea to turn to the people who carry out the work and solicit their input. They know very well the routines, the machines, and the common problems they face that may be related to health and safety. Their suggestions are rooted in experience, which gives them an especially strong stake in resolving potential hazards. Involve your front-line workers in the process for a clearer and more effective evaluation of potential workplace health and safety hazards.
Even though planning for health and safety in an organization may feel like a big job, there is help available. Whether you turn to OSHA, your state OSHA agency or your employees first, enlisting in the resources, knowledge, and guidance from all of them will help. You can build an effective health and safety program that’s effective in reducing the instances of sick or injured employees at work.
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