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Department of Labor Indiana, INSafe Safety and Health Consultation

Beyond Compliance Key to Worker Safety and Health
Perspectives from the Indiana On-site Consultation Project Manager

By Michelle Ellison, Indiana Assistant Commissioner of Labor

Much like warning labels on purchased goods, standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are often a reflection and correction of unsafe conditions that have lead to worker injury in the past. OSHA standards are important as they provide employers and employees the minimum safety guidelines they are required to follow.

While OSHA standards are the benchmark, simply meeting the minimum regulations is often not enough to ensure your workplace is a safe and healthy place for your employees. Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration (IOSHA) compliance safety and health officers have investigated serious incidents and fatalities where no citations were issued because the company was in compliance with the applicable OSHA standards. However, the lack of a citation or fine after an investigation will not revive a deceased worker or otherwise negate the seriousness of a workplace incident or employee injury.

Providing a safe and healthy workplace requires more. There are two key components of a well-developed workplace safety and health system that are not addressed by any OSHA standards: management commitment and employee involvement. These elements are essential in any workplace safety and health system. Top-performing workplace safety and health programs start with developing and fostering communication between management and employees. These workplaces always strive to improve. They share information about best safety and health practices, integrate new or innovative solutions to an otherwise unsafe task and benchmark with other employers in their respective industries.

Management commitment and employee involvement are the crux of an effective workplace safety and health management system. These two elements are complementary and work hand-in-hand because one element is not as effective without the other.

Top-level management demonstrates leadership by providing the resources, motivation and accountability necessary to ensure the safety and health of all employees. Systems, procedures and policies are established to continuously promote workplace safety and health while also attending to production concerns. For the system to be successful, managers must understand the value in creating and championing a strong safety culture within their organization.

Management must also "walk the walk" Management serves as role models for safety and health. To be effective, the entire chain-including top-level leadership-must be held accountable to work safely. Management must follow the same safety and health rules, wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and participate in workplace safety and health training and activities. If management disregards its own safety and health rules, employees will also become lax in adhering to policies.

The second pillar is fostering employee involvement in their own well-being. When employees become involved in a variety of safety-related activities, they have a better understanding of the potential workplace hazards and will avoid engaging in unsafe behaviors or taking hazardous risks. Employee participation can take on many forms including identifying and correcting safety and health hazards, reporting close-call incidents, delivering company safety and health training and selecting appropriate PPE.

Engaging and empowering employees helps strengthen the overall safety culture of the company. Without the involvement and cooperation of employees, accidents are very difficult to prevent. PPE does little good if it is not worn, and hazards are rarely corrected if no one reports them.

Providing a safe and healthy workplace is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense. Experts estimate that companies spend $170 billion each year on the direct and indirect costs associated with workplace injuries and illnesses. These expenditures come straight out of a company's profits and can impact sustainability.

Generally speaking, workplaces that establish an effective safety and health management system can reduce their workplace injury and illness costs by 20 to 40 percent. In addition, safe and healthy workplaces are generally more productive, have a better grasp on product quality, show evidence of higher employee morale and retention and have lower Worker's Compensation insurance premiums. In the business arena today, these savings can mean the difference between operating in the black and running in the red.

Achieving workplace safety and health excellence can seem challenging. It's not something that can be accomplished overnight. However, ensuring workers go home whole and healthy each day is certainly worth the effort. A safe workplace will pay for itself many times over.

It is never too late to start. Rise up to the challenge today and get involved. If you are an employer, talk with your employees and ask them how you can positively influence the direction of the workplace safety and health program. Reinforce good practices and behaviors already existing in your workplace. If you're an employee, speak with a member of management and ask how you can become involved with the company's workplace safety and health program.

Employers that have developed and implemented workplace safety and health systems based on the five critical components, may be eligible for participation in one of the Indiana Department of Labor's exemplary programs. The Indiana Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (INSHARP) and Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) are both federally recognized programs. Companies that are successful in achieving certification status in either program represent model worksites for workplace safety and health excellence.

INSHARP provides recognition, rewards and ongoing support to small Hoosier employers that operate exemplary safety and health management systems. Collectively, INSHARP sites have an incident rate 70 percent below the national average. Additional information about INSHARP may be found online at www.in.gov/dol/2382.htm.

With more than 70 active sites in the state, Indiana's VPP is another exemplary program avenue for employers and employees to explore. More information about VPP is available online at www.in.gov/dol/vpp.htm.

Workplace safety and health compliance assistance is available by contacting the Indiana Department of Labor's workplace safety and health consultation division, INSafe. Employers interested in a free and confidential workplace safety and health consultation may initiate a request by completing and submitting the form online at www.in.gov/dol/insafeconsultation. To learn more about INSafe, visit www.in.gov/dol/insafe, email insafe@dol.in.gov or call (317) 232-2688.  To learn more about OSHA's On-site Consultation Program visit www.osha.gov/consultation, or call 202-693-2220.

**This article was originally published in IN Review: Indiana Occupational Safety and Health 2015, a publication of the Indiana Department of Labor's INSafe Division. (http://www.in.gov/dol/files/IN_Review_2015.pdf). 

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