OSHA UPDATE

When on January 1 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) issued its final rule, “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses,” it addressed injury-based incentive programs as part of safety program management. It also affirmed the statutory prohibition on retaliating against employees for reporting work-related injuries.

An employer’s procedure for reporting work-related injuries and illnesses must be reasonable and not deter or discourage employees from reporting an event. What’s more, an employer may not retaliate against an employee for doing so.

Following are key guidelines regarding OSHA-compliant safety program management for contractors and construction companies:

Incentive programs based solely on recordable injuries violate OSHA’s statute, as it believes such programs discourage workers from reporting injuries. This prohibition includes prizes, financial rewards and celebratory events for going a specified length of time without a recordable injury.

Incentive programs based on recordable injuries violate the statute because potential forfeiture of incentives could serve to discourage workers from reporting injuries. Companies are even discouraged from celebrating a string of injury free days on posters or billboards, as workers could be discouraged from reporting an injury since it will break the string.

Also in violation of the statute are incentive programs based solely on lost-time injuries, as they could potentially deter employees from reporting injuries. The prohibition again extends to prizes, financial rewards and celebratory events for going a specified length of time without a lost time injury. And, once again, potential forfeiture of incentives due to lost-time injuries could serve to discourage workers from reporting these injuries.

OSHA encourages all companies to develop programs resulting in increased workplace safety. There is vast room for improvement, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has recorded an average number of 4,500 annual workplace fatalities during the past several years. These deaths and a far greater number of injuries exert ruinous personal and financial losses on affected workers, their families and businesses. In addition, they affect a firm’s workers’ compensation insurance costs.

Workers’ compensation insurance provides for medical care, lost wages and rehabilitation costs for injured workers, as well as lost wages and financial benefits for the dependents of persons killed in work-related accidents. If a worker’s family decides to sue the company, it can also help cover related legal fees.

Workplace safety extends to all shifts during all days, and contractors and construction companies are encouraged to devise safety incentives that motivate employees to keep safety top of mind during the entire workday, every day. Incentives must incorporate key triggers to “lead safety” rather than to “measure failure.” Companies are further challenged to integrate on the job safe behavior in job performance reviews.

While incentive programs based on not having accidents could discourage employees from reporting accidents, OSHA-compliant safety program management will measure and recognize workers for their safe work habits. Firms will be OSHA compliant while increasing workplace safety by encouraging good work habits among employees:

Participate in stretching exercises
Lift heavy objects properly
Do not look at personal devices while on the job
Complete training programs
Wear protective equipment
Practice and adhere to safe work procedures

Increased workplace safety can also result in decreased injury costs for the company, which can lead to increased profit.

Bob Dietzel is co-founder and Principal of KMRD Partners, Inc., a risk and human capital management consulting and insurance brokerage firm located in the Philadelphia region serving clients worldwide. Bob can be contacted at bdietzel@kmrdpartners.com.

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