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Workplace Safety and Health Law Blog

Posts in safety leadership.

Allen Smith, J.D., the manager of workplace law content for SHRM. ( @SHRMlegaleditor) recently asked three attorneys, including me, to set out our wishes and cautions for OSHA in 2014, and then wrote a good (and short!) article. My responses are below, along with some comments from some construction safety experts, but please read Allen’s complete article. Allen generates good content.

In our competitive environment, every manufacturer struggles to do more with less and to find capital for “nonproduction” areas, such as maintenance, safety, training, housekeeping and HR. If done in a shortsighted fashion, the employer learns through painful experience the sacred law of “unintended consequences.” Plant Engineering magazine (yes, a lawyer can read such stuff) ran a brief instructive story on harm to production and profits resulting from gradually shifting almost all maintenance functions to production employees. You’re probably thinking that “I wouldn’t do that,” but many employers have eliminated certain housekeeping workers and relied upon production employees to clean up their area or machine. One of the contributing factors to the deadly Imperial Sugar combustible dust explosion was accumulation of material in work areas … in part because operators were supposed to clean up after their shift, and did not do so.

Yesterday I shared a link to a post discouraging managers and employees from drinking at parties and in fact use the conversations where you are the sober one. Today, I am linking to a "kind-of" contrarian view from another wonderful writer, who argues that one should use drinking at company parties as a way to build a better reputation and relationships within the company. Enjoy!

I recently read an article stating that over one-half of 250 HR respondents thought that the traditional employee survey is dead. Most respondents felt that the future of employer research was “qualitative” rather than “quantitative,” and 80% believe that mobile technology will become the most common way for employees to voice their opinions.

I have been sharing materials from the EHS Today "America's Safest Companies" conference which we co-sponsored the last week. I experienced one of those epiphany experiences while listening to Dr John Howard and representatives of GE and Georgia Pacific explain that surprisingly, safety professionals have been left out of corporate efforts to champion sustainability. We have left the environmental folks to lead the way, and that makes no sense. It is sensible that the safety professionals work hand-in-hand with the environmental proponents in making the myriad of small to large decisions to improve corporate sustainability

I am writing this post as I sit on a bench in front of a Homewood Suites. As I sat working on documents, I struck up a conversation with an employee who was emptying the trash and straightening up outside. I’ll call him “Nate.” One could and should use Nate’s example to train professionals, including members of my benighted species, lawyers. His customer service attitude translates to professionalism and engagement in countless areas of "legal" responsibilities.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Hazard Communication Standard has been changed to now align with the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling Chemicals (GHS). Since the Hazard Communication Standard became effective almost 30 years ago, employers have had to provide “right to know” information to their employees about the chemical hazards in their workplace. The key difference in the revised standard, however, is that it provides a single set of harmonized criteria for classifying chemicals according to their health and physical safety hazards as opposed to the previous standard that allowed chemical manufacturers and importers to convey information on the labels in whatever format they chose. This revised standard, like the original one, requires chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate chemicals they produce or import and provide hazard information to employers and employees. However, the old standard’s “Material Safety Data Sheets” (MSDS) are now replaced by more detailed Safety Data Sheets (SDS’s) as well as new labeling requirements. Under the new standard, OSHA is requiring that all employees be trained on the new rule and how to understand the new SDS’s and new labels by December 1, 2013.

EHS Today has named 16 companies – Advanced Technologies and Laboratories International, Alberici Constructors, American & Efird LLC, Dresser-Rand, Great Lakes Construction Co., Honda of South Carolina, LP Building Products, Morton Salt, The Mundy Companies, Northern Improvement Company, Odebrecht, Raytheon, Rogers Corp. Advanced Circuit Materials Division, The Brock Group, Safariland LLC and Valdes Engineering – to the list of 2013 America’s Safest Companies.

Safety Professionals do a fine job of determining the “root causes” or “contributing factors” of incidents in order to prevent the next accident. Executives might apply this analysis to employee performance issues.

Of necessity, employers often analyze performance and attitude problems from the standpoint of ensuring that a termination is legally defensible. Let’s shift our focus and try to determine the contributing factors to employee performance or judgment issues, and start with an often-overlooked contributing factor … employee fatigue.

I recently wrote an expanded article on “Why Employees Choose To Get Hurt” for Occupational Health and Safety Magazine, and while reviewing materials, came across a fascinating little gem in the The Auto Club Group’s “Going Places” Magazine. In addition to being my client for 30 years and the preferred travel agent of our Firm, I long ago discovered that AAA also leads the way on many auto safety issues.

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