Operational health and safety may sound like a daunting topic but it’s actually quite simple.
It’s reducing the potential for serious employee illness or injury at work through upholding established federal standards and employer-driven policies for safety in all aspects of a company’s workflow. An employer may be subject to a combination of general and industry-specific standards, such as in construction or health care.
Here's what you need to know about OSHA and operational health and safety in the workplace.
The Role of OSHA
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency under the Department of Labor.
The agency may carry out announced or unannounced inspections on worksites to ensure that health and safety standards are being upheld by the employer. Some OSHA inspections are also the result of reported workplace illness or injury.
Based on the results of its inspectors’ reports, OSHA has the authority to assess fines and penalties to employers if appropriate. That’s one of the reasons why OSHA works so closely with employers to ensure health and safety standards are met at worksites.
How OSHA Helps Employers
The agency emphasizes education and training to empower employers in meeting standards compliance. OSHA publishes standards widely so that they’re accessible to all employers.
In addition to meeting standards, employers are also expected to fulfill recordkeeping and reporting obligations, as well as post mandated signs informing employees of their rights.
It also offers tools and resources for employers to learn about standards, how to meet them, and train employees about them. Compliance assistance is also offered by the agency.
When workplaces have effective operational safety procedures and policies in place, it can cut down on the likelihood of employee injury or illness, which can leave employers liable for medical and other expenses.
An employer’s commitment to safety can also reduce absenteeism, and in some cases, improve employee morale and strengthen its safety culture. Employees who feel like their employers do not care about them or their safety at work may be less engaged and more likely to seek new employment.
Common Operational Health and Safety Hazards
There are dozens of kinds of operational health and safety hazards. Some are quite obvious, like tripping hazards or toxic materials handling. Other potential hazards include loud noise, temperature extremes (hot or cold), sanitation, lighting, and air quality.
Some incidents require immediate reporting to OSHA; others are included on reports the agency requires be completed regularly. An OSHA investigation may be triggered based on the severity or intensity of a particular incident; however, OSHA also accepts whistleblower reports.
Workers can advocate on their own behalf if they are subject to unsafe working conditions.
Regardless of the industry, employers who are committed to operational health and safety have numerous resources available to them through OSHA.
By developing and implementing employee health and safety protocols, employers can minimize the chance of a costly workplace accident occurring that could interrupt workflow and productivity, which may lead to increased medical, insurance, and legal costs, as well as OSHA fines and penalties. Employers may also find lower turnover rates and incidences of absenteeism among workers.