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It’s National Safety Month—Does Your Safety Manual Measure Up?

June is National Safety Month, so it’s a good time for operators to step back and take a hard look at their respective safety policies.  Not only is this important for employee safety, it can also have a significant impact on a company’s reputation, economic success, and the mark it leaves on a community.  Workplace safety issues can also open the door to other problems, including increased government regulation, workers’ compensation costs, regulatory fines, and bidding hurdles.  Finally, civil litigation almost always follows a workplace accident, where the opposing side will place everything you have done—good, bad or otherwise—under a microscope and with the benefit of hindsight.   

With these realities in mind, it is clearly in your best interests to continually review and update your safety policies to ensure that best practices are being followed.  Although any safety manual or related document should be tailored to the unique aspects of each particular company, most safety manuals should contain the following, in some form or another: 

1. Fall Protection Program. Working at heights is a reality for many operators, and despite increased emphasis on fall protection, fall related accidents remain pervasive in the construction and other industries.  In 2016 alone some 384 out of 991 deaths were due to falls.  Thus, this remains a significant area of concern, and operators should therefore include fall protection procedures in their written safety manual. 

Most of OSHA’s fall protection regulations can be found at 29 CFR § 1926, Subpart M.  These regulations cover everything from guardrails, safety nets, personal fall arrest systems, positioning device systems, warning lines, monitoring systems, training, and much more.   Employers can and should look to these regulations when implementing their fall protection program.  

2. Personal Protective Equipment.  OSHA places the responsibility on the employer to ensure that its employees wear the appropriate personal protective equipment or “PPE” for any required task.  Thus, safety manuals should identify all required PPE and further state that such PPE is mandatory for specified tasks.  Finally, the employer should take reasonable steps to ensure that its employees are complying with PPE requirements.  

3. Job Hazard Analyses.  Every safety program should have a requirement to complete job hazard analyses where appropriate.  Forms for these Job Hazard Analyses can be purchased or downloaded through various safety companies.  Utilizing these forms will assist in identifying hazards and determining the appropriate steps to minimize the potential risk of harm.  

4. Confined Space.  OSHA regulations provide that before work begins at a worksite, the employer must have a competent person identify all confined spaces in which an employee may work, and further identify whether it is a “permit required” confined space.  If the employer determines that it will allow employees to enter the permit required confined space, then OSHA provides for specific, detailed requirements setting forth an employer’s obligations. These regulations can be found at 29 CFR § 1926, Subpart AA, and should be referenced when implementing confined space policies.  

5. Orientation and Training.  This is an essential element of a successful safety and health program, and safety manuals should therefore provide for mandatory orientation and training.   Notably, such programs help prevent what is perhaps the single greatest cause of workplace accidents—complacency.  Regardless of your profession or level of experience, everyone is susceptible to complacency in some form or another, and one way to avoid complacency in the workplace is to implement adequate orientation and training programs that keep safety at the forefront of the minds of employees.  Proper orientation and training programs can also prevent costly regulatory fines and other liabilities.  

Operators conduct business in an array of differing conditions, and certainly when it comes to safety programs, one size does not fit all.  But no matter your size, experience, or area of focus, it is unquestionably in your best interest to implement a written safety program that promotes best practices and eliminates workplace hazards.  

© Steptoe & Johnson PLLC. All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume VIII, Number 172


About this Author

Ben McFarland, Steptoe Johnson Law Firm, Wheeling, Construction and Energy Litigation Attorney

Ben McFarland concentrates his practice in litigation. He represents energy, construction, and general industry companies before federal, state, and appellate courts. He also represents attorneys involved in legal malpractice actions and in matters before the West Virginia Office of Disciplinary Counsel.  Finally, he routinely handles accident investigations, often counseling clients from the onset of a workplace accident and throughout the entirety of the subsequent government agency investigation.  Prior to his legal career, Mr. McFarland gained first-hand experience...

Nelva Smith, Workers Compensation Attorney, Steptoe Johnson Law Firm

Nelva Smith practices in the area of labor and employment law.  Prior to receiving her Juris Doctorate, she was a legal assistant with Scott, Scriven & Wahoff LLP, and was a third party workers’ compensation claims adjuster.  Ms. Smith is experienced representing and defending employers against workers’ compensation claims and defending employers in OSHA matters throughout the United States, as well as charges filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.