Laws on workplace safety are responsible for establishing the rules and regulations, which are aimed at getting rid of personal injuries and sickness in the workplace. The laws of different countries constitute federal and state statutes. The federal laws may overlap or contradict. OSHA or Occupational and Safety Health Act is the main statute that protects the health and safety of employees in companies. The aim of this statute that was enacted by congress was regulation of commerce between states. States are only allowed to regulate areas that are under OSHA regulations. If such an intention occurs, then the state should present a plan so that it can be approved by the federal law.
Safety in the workplace is of utmost importance for the workers.
Workplace safety has been defined as the prevention of injury and illness at the place of work. It is protection of a company’s most valuable asset. Protection of the workers reduces expenses incurred in health insurance benefits and compensation. It also saves the company precious time and loss of workers or even the closure of some programs due to loss of workers. In order to make the workplace safe for the employees, it is importance that the company first identifies the potential risk areas and safety hazards there are and how injury is likely to happen.
Safety in the workplace
OSHA suggests that lack of compliance with the security measures put in place in a company is the root cause of accidents that would otherwise be avoided (Eckhardt, 1998). It provides example of the causes of accidents as follows:
- Inadequate maintenance
- Poorly designed equipment
- Employees who are not trained
- Lack of enforcement of policies
- Mechanical failure that would be associated with inappropriate equipment
- Health factors or even a physical incompatibility with the job on the side of the worker
- Mental disturbance and physical strain
- Poor management
- Poor implementation of work procedure
Hazards in the workplace include chemicals which can be toxic, flammable, explosive or corrosive, electricity, ergonomics, collapse in excavations, explosion, falls, fires, mechanical problems, noise, radiation, striking by objects or against the same, heat, visibility and weather occurrences (Eckhardt, 1998).
When a company decides to ignore the law of gravity, supplies are packed is such a way that the threat of falling is very live. Such supplies are likely to fall on the workers at the slightest provocation which might just be the mere opening of a cabinet door (Eckhardt, 1998). They might also be stacked so high that removal for use will also hazard disintegration and subsequently a tumble at the peril of the worker.
Cleaning materials have been known to be hazardous. It is normal to find that a company stores detergent, toner and other chemicals with such supplies as stationary. This poses a risk of poisoning, corrosion or fires.
Some work areas are also so chaotic that the safety of the person working around is questioned. Sharp equipment like letter openers hidden among a pile of papers and documents on a work table are likely to be the cause of cuts and bruises. In addition to this, trash cans can cause safety threats. Some rotten rubbish like food is likely to be the source of health problems while spilled fluids would result in fatal falls.
Equipment should be the responsibility of the management and therefore should be serviced regularly. This is often the cause of injuries that even result in death. Take the case of a faulty vehicle for instance. They have been known to cause accidents and even crash people to death, a situation that can be avoided if management did its work. In actual fact, the negligence of management has been the source of very many personnel deaths and incapacitation.
For a majority of management systems, the issue of safety is not apparent. They are not even concerned about the costs of accidents and injuries that are likely to occur at the place of work. It s upon the organization to provide clear data that identifies the costs. The management styles and beliefs contribute to safety hesitation. Most managers believe that accidents can only happen to other people and therefore remain ignorant to possible accidents. Others yet believe that since they have insurance, then other employees can take care of their like as well as themselves. It is necessary that managers know that while workers and volunteers can contribute to workplace safety, they need guidance and direction that can only be provided by management.
A workplace safety case had a Wilmington Delaware jury return a verdict of fourteen million dollars on the 16th of June 2008. This took place after a trial that lasted one week. The deliberations took not more than two hours. This was the largest verdict that ever took place in Delaware State. It was tried by Anapol partner whose name is Mark LeWinter. The case, Pablo Urena V. Mun Seok Lee t/a Rising Sun the allegation was that the protection regulations for OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) were not enforced. It was also supposed that there was no need for compliance. Mr. Urena slipped from the top of a roof and slipped. He had a bundle of shingles which slid before him and they broke through the slide guard protection which he was using at the time. He slid fell through the opening on the guard that had been made by the shingles. The problem was that the guard had not been commended by OSHA. The defendant would have necessitated that he use a safety harness. He had left the harness in a van at the site of work. The slide guard enabled him to work faster. While the defendant would have required that Urena use a harness approved by OSHA, Urena did not even know about OSHA and chose to use alternative safety. The harness hindered the speed with which the plaintiff worked and he therefore chose to leave it behind. The argument the defendant held was that OSHA safety regulations were meant to protect the workers from themselves. He was against Urena’s decision to use the harness only at will while their use is required by the supervisors (Workplace and employees relations law update).
Urena argued that Lee ignored safety and allowed work to proceed knowing and admitting it was a threat to safety and likely to cause injury and even death. Urena had suffered a fractured right leg, fractured dislocated wrist, a broken back and an injury to his spine. He lost function of his bowel and bladder not to mention sexual function. The injuries are permanent. Mr. Lee was however more responsible for the accident even though the injured man also held some responsibility. He played the part of negligence (Workplace and employees relations law update).
Statistics for workplace accidents
Failure by management is often the cause of most fatalities at the workplace. Most could be prevented if senior directors at companies took measures to ensure the operations of the company are on safe systems and have strong cultures of safety. This means that the construction of history in companies might have been different and the lives of workers might have been saved if directors performed their duties concerning health and safety in their companies. Though most of workplace disasters attract the attention of the media, they still continue to happen (Safety in the workplace).
According to statistics by Health and Safety Commission in America in 2004, the following are the figures for work-related accidents:
- Workplace related accidents – 235 workers died
- 30666 workers got major injuries
- 129143 workers got minor injuries
- 371 members of the public injured
- 13575 got minor injuries
Occupational illness – 6000 people died from cancers and other illnesses got from their jobs.
In the same year, penalty for companies where death from workplace safety offences were fined only 43113 American dollars while individual managers got a fine of 3292.
American dollars for each offence (Safety in the workplace). Other workers have paid heavily either with their lives or their health as is shown by the case studies below.
Other Case studies
In the year 1998, a female worker got fatally burnt from electricity. She was standing on a platform doing maintenance work at a sub-station for electricity. She came into contact with electricity of 33000 voltage. The cause was the company’s negligence in its failure to carry out a formal assessment of risk. While danger zones are supposed to be marked, the company had not done so. In addition, none of the company managers had paid the site a visit and the there had no adequate training or supervision. The platform, on investigation was found to be unearthed and therefore unsafe. This constituted a company safety offence that resulted in a fine of 85000 dollars (Maguire).
Maguire records that in another incidence, in 2002, Legionnaires Disease caused the death of three pensioners in a company. The disease was caused by bacteria called legionella which was traced to a factory’s cooling tower that was just next to the garden which the pensioners had visited. It was found out that the management had received warning several times concerning the cooling tower. They had been informed that it contained traces of the bacteria but had not done anything towards the correction of the same. This was judged as unlawful killing and the company was fined 75000 dollars.
Such accidents can be prevented only by the help of management and not the involvement of outsiders alone (Hopwood and Thompson). The law has therefore become the solution to the determent of the crooked and protection of the susceptible since managements are not doing much. It has become their responsibility to bring safety at workplaces, ensure management becomes accountable and guarantee justice in court.
A plan for safety in the workplace
There are many millions of people who go to work every other day and never experience any instance of threat to their safety. Many companies are in the hands of responsible management. It is for this reason that provision for protection has been ensured. This does not however indicate that they are not at risk of accidents. OSHA requires that under its legislation, managements have policies and procedures that offer a working environment that is safe for its workers. This can only be achieved if a survey is carried out that identifies the high risk areas and potential risk conditions. A survey gives information that will enable identifying measures that will be suitable for a foundation for a work safety plan (Eckhardt, 1998).
Information that would guide management in creating a safety plan includes the size of the business, the type and location. In addition, the management has to put in consideration the external environment. The survey should especially give a view on the potential risk areas and look into existing practices which might have a deficiency in safety. Moreover, the staff is valuable in providing information and consultation even on the process on security review (Hopwood and Thompson).
Once this is done, the basic elements of the safety plan are drawn. These include internal controls and rules on safety that would minimize the rate of accidents in the company. The management also is obliged to devise emergency plans for such situations. Programmes that are educative and raise awareness among the staff are also an essential measure. The policies that have been laid down then need to be monitored. The new measures that have been introduced into the company require observing too. This will enable management to evaluate their effectiveness in ensuring safety for employees (Hopwood and Thompson).
On the side of customer service, there are workers who have to deal with a wide range of customers every single day. Customers are not predictable and some may not be satisfied with the services they are being offered. It is a possibility that some of these will become violent. Workers therefore need training on how to deal with violent and abusive customers. This will be a measure toward defusing risky situations (Choi, 2006).
On the other hand, if any customer needs to be served in an enclosed area, a distress buzzer is in order if the company does not take the option of a transparent window through which one can call for help (Choi, 2006). The best alternative though is to get rid of all enclosed spaces and deal with any customer in open space. In companies where customers are served from behind a counter, a high and wide counter that suitably has a screen is appropriate. These measures check on assaults from clients and shoplifters alike.
On restricted areas, there are times when a business receives visitors on its premises. This may pose a risk to the employees of that company. Security guards can take care of this (Hopwood and Thompson). However, where the policies that control access are not present, then employees should be familiar with the security procedures. Such procedures would include the control of visitors from restricted areas. Security information should also be treated like company secret and not let out to outsiders. Use of access cards, locking doors or high counters can keep off unauthorized people. This is besides performing security checks regularly (Eckhardt, 1998).
Personal safety is the most important in a company though. This can be attributed to criminal acts but mostly involves physical injury. Injury is caused by contact with machinery or other hazards. OSHA suggests that ignorance of safety measures is the main cause of accidents in workplaces.
Choi, Sang. (2006). A survey of the safety roles and costs of injuries in the roofing contracting industry. Journal of Safety, Health and Environmental Research (1), vol.3.
Eckhardt, Bob. 1998. What causes accidents? Hopwood, Dan and Thompson, Steve. Workplace safety: A guide for small and midsized companies. John Wiley and Sons Inc.
Maguire, Richard. Safety cases and safety reports: Meaning, motivation and management. Ashgate Publishing Limited.
“Safety in the workplace.” 2009. Web.
“Workplace and employee relations law update.” 2009. Web.