It is important for workers to know and understand that they have as much responsibility, if not more, for their own safety at work!
Employers have duties and responsibilities placed on them by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (Act). In section 5(a)(1)of the Act, known as the General Duty Clause, it states that each employer “…shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;”. Though not considered part of the General Duty Clause, section 5(a)(2) continues to state the duties and responsibilities of the employer as “…shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this act.” This means that an employer must do what is required by the Act including complying with standards that are developed and to be enforced by OSHA based on the hazards of the tasks being performed by the employees.
While the duties and responsibilities of the employer our listed is section 5(a) of the Act, the duty and the responsibility of the employee are listed in the very next paragraph in section of 5(b) of the Act stating that “Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.” In this paragraph of Section 5 under Duties, the employee must comply with safety and health standards which are the same requirement for employers. The duty further includes employees must comply with rules, regulations, and orders which include safety procedures, programs, training, and requirements that the employer puts into place based on their duties as required by the Act.
Moving past compliance with safety regulations and safety procedures, workers need to take responsibility for their own safety and take it into their own hands (and thought process).
I am going to switch to speaking directly to the you, the worker…
It is important for you, the worker, to value yourself enough to work safely, to strive not to get injured in the most minor of ways. You must understand that you have the final say on what you do or are going to do, regardless of what your supervisor tells you to do or how the supervisor tells you to do it.
If you are injured on the job or if you are killed on the job, what would your family and friends do? How would they feel? How would your family have to pick up and move on without you? How hard would that be for your family and friends? Who would do the jobs or the tasks at home that you would do? Who would help raise the kids or take care of the animals or pets? Who would help your partner, spouse, or parent at home? What would they have to do if you got injured or killed at work – would they have to take you to doctor’s appointments or mow the yard or go without you to your kids sporting events, school events, or special occasions such as birthdays?
It is important for you to be able to understand how a fatality or a serious injury could affect you
and/or your family. A mental exercise to determine how a serious injury or fatality could affect your family is to think about, without giving any kind of a monetary value, what is your worth to your family? Would or could you, as a member of the family, be easily replaced and at what cost to your family?
To set a contrast, think about that same question in the work environment, could you be easily replaced at work? While employers really do not want to hurt their workers, they make decisions based on many factors besides though including worker safety. Workers can be easily replaced by another person hired and trained to do your job. This adds cost to employers yet it’s the way that employers replace employees. It is just not that easy to do in a family.
To be very clear, you are worth more to your family and friends than to your employer. Work safe for yourself, your family, and your friends.
Consider this if you are killed at work what would your gravestone read? I saw this on a poster at some point in my career though I do not remember where. Would your epitaph read “Here lies a worker who took one too many risks, one too many shortcuts, and accepted one too many risks?” Or would it read “Worked in a management system that encouraged, or did not discourage, taking risks, taking shortcuts.” If this is the case, you did not take responsibility for your safety.
Hopefully, at this point, you are now thinking “what do I need to do to work safely?” or “how do I exercise my responsibility to work safely?” The answer is you need to understand OSHA’s imminent danger or “Workers’ Right to Refuse Dangerous Work” guidance. Briefly, “…If you believe working conditions are unsafe or unhealthful…” you have the right to bring the conditions to your employer’s attention, if possible…You may file a complaint with OSHA concerning a hazardous working condition at any time. However, you should not leave the worksite merely because you have filed a complaint. If the condition clearly presents a risk of death or serious physical harm, there is not sufficient time for OSHA to inspect, and, where possible, you have brought the condition to the attention of your employer, you may have a legal right to refuse to work in a situation in which you would be exposed to the hazard.”
Even more protective is an unwritten program many industries use to varying degrees, is stop work authority or a similar program where, generally speaking, if you think the task or work environment is unsafe or could potentially cause you to be injured or killed, you have the authority to stop work, cooperate to correct the situation making it safe, then continue the task.
You must follow the safety procedures, standard operating procedures, or similar requirements as they should have been developed by your employer based on the tasks and potential hazards of the tasks as identified by your employer or the industry. You must follow the training that their company provides. You should understand hazard identification, risk assessment, and risk management. There are many other things that you can do to work safely besides those listed.
The thought process to working safely is to focus on the task at hand by constantly asking yourself “what am I doing right now”, “how could I get hurt right now”, and “what am I going to do right now so that I do not have the potential to get hurt”. While constantly answering these questions, you will be doing what is necessary to work safely. You need to understand that what your thoughts and actions in response to the question of “what do I need to do to get home without injury or without being killed at work?” will set the tone for your day and get you focused on your individual safety.
For more information and/or assistance, contact:
Wayne Vanderhoof CSP, CIT
RJR Safety Inc.