To be effective, any safety and health program needs the meaningful participation of workers and their representatives. Workers have much to gain from a successful program and the most to lose if the program fails. They also often know the most about potential hazards associated with their jobs. Successful programs tap into this knowledge base.
Worker participation means that workers are involved in establishing, operating, evaluating, and improving the safety and health program. All workers at a worksite should participate, including those employed by contractors, subcontractors, and temporary staffing agencies (see "Communication and Coordination for Host Employers, Contractors, and Staffing Agencies").
In an effective safety and health program, all workers:
- Are encouraged to participate in the program and feel comfortable providing input and reporting safety or health concerns.
- Have access to information they need to participate effectively in the program.
- Have opportunities to participate in all phases of program design and implementation.
- Do not experience retaliation when they raise safety and health concerns; report injuries, illnesses, and hazards; participate in the program; or exercise safety and health rights.
Note: Worker participation is vital to the success of safety and health programs. Where workers are represented by a union, it is important that worker representatives also participate in the program, consistent with the rights provided to worker representatives under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and the National Labor Relations Act.
Action item 1: Encourage workers to participate in the program
By encouraging workers to participate in the program, management signals that it values their input into safety and health decisions.
How to accomplish it
- Give workers the necessary time and resources to participate in the program.
- Acknowledge and provide positive reinforcement to those who participate in the program.
- Maintain an open door policy that invites workers to talk to managers about safety and health and to make suggestions.
Action item 2: Encourage workers to report safety and health concerns
Workers are often best positioned to identify safety and health concerns and program shortcomings, such as emerging workplace hazards, unsafe conditions, close calls/near misses, and actual incidents. By encouraging reporting and following up promptly on all reports, employers can address issues before someone gets hurt or becomes ill.
How to accomplish it
- Establish a process for workers to report injuries, illnesses, close calls/near misses, hazards, and other safety and health concerns, and respond to reports promptly. Include an option for anonymous reporting to reduce fear of reprisal.1
- Report back to workers routinely and frequently about action taken in response to their concerns and suggestions.
- Emphasize that management will use reported information only to improve workplace safety and health and that no worker will experience retaliation for bringing such information to management's attention (see Action Item 5).
- Empower all workers to initiate or request a temporary suspension or shut down of any work activity or operation they believe to be unsafe.
- Involve workers in finding solutions to reported issues.
Action item 3: Give workers access to safety and health information
Sharing relevant safety and health information with workers fosters trust and helps organizations make more informed safety and health decisions.
How to accomplish it
- Give workers the information they need to understand safety and health hazards and control measures in the workplace. Some OSHA standards require employers to make specific types of information available to workers, such as:
- Safety Data Sheets (SDS)
- Injury and illness data (may need to be redacted and aggregated to eliminate personal identifiers)
- Results of environmental exposure monitoring conducted in the workplace (prevent disclosure of sensitive and personal information as required)
- Other useful information for workers to review can include:
- Chemical and equipment manufacturer safety recommendations
- Workplace inspection reports
- Incident investigation reports (prevent disclosure of sensitive and personal information as required)
- Workplace job hazard analyses
Action item 4: Involve workers in all aspects of the program
Including worker input at every step of program design and implementation improves your ability to identify the presence and causes of workplace hazards, creates a sense of program ownership among workers, enhances their understanding of how the program works, and helps sustain the program over time.
How to accomplish it
- Provide opportunities for workers to participate in all aspects of the program, including, but not limited to helping:
- Develop the program and set goals.
- Report hazards and develop solutions that improve safety and health.
- Analyze hazards in each step of routine and nonroutine jobs, tasks, and processes.
- Define and document safe work practices.
- Conduct site inspections.
- Develop and revise safety procedures.
- Participate in incident and close call/near miss investigations.
- Train current coworkers and new hires.
- Develop, implement, and evaluate training programs.
- Evaluate program performance and identify ways to improve it.
- Take part in exposure monitoring and medical surveillance associated with health hazards.
Action item 5: Remove barriers to participation
To participate meaningfully in the program, workers must feel that their input is welcome, their voices will be heard, and they can access reporting mechanisms. Participation will be suppressed if language, education, or skill levels in the workplace are not considered, or if workers fear retaliation or discrimination for speaking up (for example, if investigations focus on blaming individuals rather than the underlying conditions that led to the incident or if reporting an incident or concern could jeopardize the award of incentive-based prizes, rewards, or bonuses).
How to accomplish it
- Ensure that workers from all levels of the organization can participate regardless of their skill level, education, or language.
- Provide frequent and regular feedback to show employees that their safety and health concerns are being heard and addressed.
- Authorize sufficient time and resources to facilitate worker participation; for example, hold safety and health meetings during regular working hours.
- Ensure that the program protects workers from being retaliated against for reporting injuries, illnesses, and hazards; participating in the program; or exercising their safety and health rights. Ensure that other policies and programs do not discourage worker participation.
- Post the 11(c) Fact Sheet (found at www.whistleblowers.gov) in the workplace or otherwise make it available for easy access by workers.
Note: Incentive programs (such as point systems, awards, and prizes) should be designed in a manner that does not discourage injury and illness reporting; otherwise, hazards may remain undetected. Although sometimes required by law or insurance providers, mandatory drug testing following injuries can also suppress reporting. Effective safety and health programs recognize positive safety and health activities, such as reporting hazardous conditions or suggesting safer work procedures. (See OSHA's "Employer Safety Incentive and Disincentive Policies and Practices" memorandum, dated March 12, 2012, at www.osha.gov/as/opa/whistleblowermemo.html.)
1 Under OSHA's injury and illness recordkeeping rule (29 CFR 1904), employers are required to establish a "reasonable" procedure for employees to report work-related injuries and illnesses promptly and accurately. A reasonable procedure is defined as one that would not deter or discourage a reasonable employee from accurately reporting a workplace injury or illness.
RETALIATION AGAINST WORKERS IS ILLEGAL
Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising a variety of rights guaranteed under the OSH Act, such as filing a safety and health complaint with OSHA, raising a health and safety concern with their employers, participating in an OSHA inspection, or reporting a work-related injury or illness. OSHA vigorously enforces the anti-retaliation protections provided under 11(c) of the OSHAct and other federal statutes. For more information, see http://www.whistleblowers.gov.