All Parties Involved

New OSHA rules focus on employee involvement in safety.

By Lana Straub

After 20 years of input, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is issuing new management rules for business.

The good news is most of these rules are the same— they’re just a revamping for the 21st century. This time around OSHA wants to get your employees involved in your safety culture, and that could be the best news of all.

OSHA Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines

These new OSHA rules cover safety and health program management guidelines, which provide underlying guidance on how to help businesses achieve a strong safety culture. In the draft document, OSHA states:

These guidelines provide employers, workers, and worker representatives with a sound, flexible framework for addressing safety and health issues in diverse workplaces. They are intended for use in any workplace, but will be particularly helpful in small and medium-sized workplaces.

The guidelines encourage management to be proactive in addressing safety hazards before they arise. A key element to achieving a safer work environment is active employee participation in all aspects of the program—from planning through implementation.

The new guidelines are made up of seven core elements. OSHA shows each of them as a different slice of the successful safety management pie.

  1. Management leadership
  2. Worker participation
  3. Hazard identification and assessment
  4. Hazard prevention and control
  5. Education and training
  6. Program evaluation and improvement
  7. Coordination and communication on multi-employer worksites

To help employers implement these core tenets, the OSHA Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines have suggested action items for each element.

(1) Management leadership

Providing management leadership means management fully embraces the changes in safety culture with both their time and their money. In the action items under this section, OSHA emphasizes employers should have clear written policies, define the goals they wish to attain through the program, and give the program the money and time it needs to be successful, and expect performance.

Allocating proper resources is key to the success of any endeavor, and the OSHA Guidelines stresses management leadership in safety is no different.

Resource needs may include capital equipment and supplies, staff time, training, access to information and tools (e.g., vendor information, Safety Data Sheets, injury/illness data, checklists, online databases), and access to safety and health experts.

(2) Worker participation

Participation of workers in the program is so high on the list of importance for a successful program that it ranks second under management leadership. Giving the workers ownership in the program and keeping an open door policy is key. Workers need to feel like management will support them when they participate in the program, not they will be retaliated against for helping solve problems.

OSHA stresses workers should be involved in all aspects of the program, from the development stage through implementation and evaluation. This includes giving workers access to safety and health information, including Safety Data Sheets, injury and illness data, workplace inspection and incident investigation reports. The Guidelines say:

To participate meaningfully in the program, workers must feel that their input is welcome and their voices will be heard. Participation will be suppressed if there is fear of retaliation.

(3) Hazard identification and assessment It is written in the Guidelines:

A proactive, ongoing process to identify and assess hazards in order to fix them is a core element of any effective safety and health program. Failure to identify or recognize hazards is frequently one of the “root causes” of workplace injuries, illnesses, and incidents.

Any employer, regardless of business size, has an ongoing obligation to control serious recognized hazards and mitigate them to ensure employee health and safety.

In order to fix the hazards, they have to be identified by collecting information. This is usually done by inspecting the workplace and determining equipment that may need maintenance or be replaced. Inspections can also uncover general housekeeping issues that may pose potential problems.

Incident investigation is key to hazard identification and assessment. By investigating all incidents, including near-misses, and conducting a root cause analysis to determine what was the very first factor in the incident, valuable lessons can be learned to prevent accidents and injuries in the future. OSHA also emphasizes often nonroutine or emergency situations create hazards that might not exist otherwise. These should be addressed as well.

(4) Hazard prevention and control

Once hazards have been identified through the assessment, the next step is to control hazards as much as possible and prevent the hazards from happening. This process includes studying manufacturers’ literature to find out if processes are being done according to recommended specifications. The Guidelines say:

Select controls according to a hierarchy that emphasizes engineering solutions (including elimination or substitution) first, followed by safe work practices, administrative controls, and finally PPE.

It’s also important to develop a hazard plan and update it as conditions improve and as the work environment changes. Controls should also be in place to deal with non-routine tasks and emergency situations.

Plan to protect workers during non-routine operations and foreseeable emergencies, such as fires and explosions, chemical releases, hazardous material spills, unplanned equipment shutdowns, natural disasters, and weather and medical emergencies.

You are also urged to conduct drills to make sure your employees know how to react in emergency and non-routine situations. This will help reduce panic and instill confidence in their ability to handle out-of-the-ordinary situations. Conducting an annual or semiannual audit of these controls will see to it controls are up-to-date at all times.

(5) Education and training

Someone who has worked as a driller’s helper for most of their career probably knows their job well. However, when the driller retires and they must assume the step, will they know what to do? Education and job training are essential to keeping workers safe. The transition time between jobs is often the most critical time as learning new job tasks requires a new awareness of safety issues.

Workers must be trained in their specific roles and the identification of the specific hazards and controls that accompany their job tasks.

Providing workers with a basic understanding of hazard recognition and control and actively involving them in the process can help you eliminate hazards before an incident occurs.

(6) Program evaluation and improvement

Once a safety program has been put in place, the work isn’t finished. The program should be reevaluated on a regular basis to ensure it’s up-to-date and meets current safety needs.

Evaluate the program initially to verify it has been implemented as intended and on a regular basis once it is established. Whenever you identify opportunities to improve the program, make adjustments and monitor how well it performs.

This can be on an annual or semiannual basis, or even monthly depending on the equipment or the issue. If a nearmiss or an incident has occurred, that portion of the program should be evaluated immediately to find where the breakdown in the system occurred.

When new equipment is purchased, new programs should be implemented. New hires should have training that meets their job task and be paired with an experienced employee to ensure safety understanding and implementation.

(7) Coordination and communication on multi-employer worksites

Working on sites where workers of more than one employer are present can be confusing for employees. Oftentimes, safety cultures vary from business to business, large to small. Expectations differ as well.

Communication is key in helping employees understand what is expected of them.

The work environment at multi-employer worksites creates a need for additional measures to ensure hazards are identified and assessed and that injuries, illnesses, and incidents involving temporary and contract workers are reported and investigated.

Multi-employer worksites create a special opportunity for management and employees to reexamine their policies and procedures, going through each of the core values to ensure they are understood and applied.

Reaction to the New OSHA Rules

A comment period of several months ended in February 2016. It allowed employers and interested stakeholders in the safety community to comment on the revamping of the 1989 management guidelines into these new guidelines. In the Tooling Up section you’ll find a transcript featuring the comments as well as the testimony presented for and against the rules.

Tooling Up
Draft Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines Document

OSHA On-Site Consultation

OSHA Safety & Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP)

Safety and Health Program Management Public Meeting Transcript!documentDetail;D=OSHA-2015-0018-0109

“These rules are a re-jiggered version of rules that have been out a long time and have served as a template for new companies or those in crisis,” says Gary Winn, a professor of industrial and management systems engineering in the safety management program at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Once a safety program has been put in place, the work isn’t finished. The program should be reevaluated on a regular basis to ensure it’s up-to-date and meets current safety needs.

“On the other hand, OSHA seems a bit less concerned about enforcement and more about employee involvement in the last decade. As a stellar example, look at what OSHA is doing for fall protection awareness. It’s an effort to communicate supervisor to worker and to take some time to think about the seriousness of falls, especially in construction. Nothing disciplinary, nothing pro-labor, or anti big government—just a frank discussion about how not to get killed.”

Your Business and the New OSHA Rules

OSHA stresses in the Guidelines the action items in the document are not prescriptions to be followed to the letter; they are merely guidelines to help businesses provide a safer work environment for employees that will help the business in the long run by reducing costs and reducing worker injury.

In small business, employer-employee relationships turn more familial, and no one wants to see a family member get hurt. OSHA understands this and writes on it.

“Small employers may find that they can best accomplish the actions outlined in these guidelines using informal communications and procedures,” it states in the Guidelines. The implementation process will vary from business to business and rely heavily on worker participation because some action items “rely on expertise and input that can come only from workers and worker representatives.”

In addition to using the Guidelines, small business employers have the option of requesting help directly from OSHA through its on-site consultation program, where representatives from OSHA come to the small business and help management recognize issues that need to be addressed.

This is done outside of the inspection process and participation gives the business a one-year exemption from inspection. Also, once this business has gone through the voluntary on-site consultation program, they are eligible to participate in the Safety & Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP), which “singles you out among your business peers as a model for worksite safety and health.” The new OSHA guidelines were developed in part after studying the achievements of several SHARP participants.

Even though the rules have not been fully adopted yet, most companies already have many of these new core principles in place. This is especially true if you’ve worked with larger companies in the oil and gas or municipal sector, where safety is a priority. If you are just getting started, OSHA’s voluntary on-site program is ready with offices all over the country to guide you through the safety management process.

No matter how big or small your company is, these new rules reinforce it’s always smart to think safety first.

Lana Straub, with a background in the legal and financial aspects of small business, is the office manager of Straub Corp., Stanton, Texas, an environmental and water well drilling firm owned and operated by her family for more than 50 years. She can be reached at