Seyfarth Synopsis: Safety and health management systems (SHMS) can demonstrate a commitment to improving safety and health outcomes and reduce legal liabilities.
Federal OSHA standards mandate a series of written safety and health programs depending on workplace hazards, such as a lockout and tagout program (machine re-energization hazards), a hazard communication program (chemical hazards), and a respiratory protection program (for health hazards in the air).
Although OSHA often requires a company’s “safety program” during its on-site inspections, this is a misnomer because there is no federal requirement for a comprehensive “safety program” to govern all hazards and safety and health programs. Currently, no federal OSHA regulations require SHMS. There has been talk for many years of federal OSHA developing a federal standard SHMS, or “Injury and Illness Prevention Plan,” but no regulations have materialized.
- Elements of SHMS
OSHA the guide recommends each employer to develop a safety and health management system to oversee all safety and health programs.
Key elements include:
- Management Leadership. OSHA wants employers to outline management oversight of the program, program resources, safety and health goal setting, and verification.
- Worker participation. OSHA advises employers to involve employees in many more areas of safety and health programs than is typical in the industry. This includes policies requiring reporting of safety concerns, prompt investigation and response to those concerns, providing access to programs and documents, conducting workplace inspections, investigating incidents, and reviewing/improving training programs.
- Hazard identification and assessment. This means a broad review of potential safety information, such as past incidents, OSHA standards, equipment safety information, and input from team members. Employers then inspect the workplace, including after accidents, and identify hazards and set priorities for reduction.
- Education and training of employees. Training deals with programs, controls and hazard identification. Key to any program, supervisors must be trained in the responsibilities under the OSH Act regarding the supervision and enforcement of safety rules.
- Hazard prevention and control. For hazards that management will identify or foresee, management will gather and evaluate information about appropriate controls, select appropriate controls, and ensure that they reduce safety and health risks to the lowest acceptable level.
- Program evaluation and improvement. The employer must monitor program implementation and track progress, including metrics on the number of inspections performed, the number of hazards reported, the number of OSHA-recorded injuries and illnesses, and injury and illness rates compared to the industry.
- Communication and coordination for host employers, contractors and staffing agencies. In temporary worker, staffing agency, and multi-employer situations, OSHA believes that safety is enhanced if employers establish mechanisms to coordinate their efforts and communicate effectively to ensure that all workers are protected against hazards. These efforts include job-specific training on reasonably anticipated hazards.
2. Benefits of SHMS
OSHA values SHMS and is likely to interpret an employer’s good faith implementation of SHMS as an effort to address employee safety and health in a positive manner. Federal OSHA maintains its own SHMS for OSHA employees, an indication of its importance to the agency. If an employer has an SHMS, OSHA may be less likely to initiate an on-site inspection, less likely to expand its inspection, more likely to limit an on-site inspection, and less likely to issue citations. Judges reviewing intentional OSHA citations have vacated those citations when the employer did “nothing” to address the hazard. The SHMS will provide evidence that the employer recognized a hazard and attempted to deal with it in good faith and that any breach of the OSH Act is no Intentionally. Finally, OSHA often requires the implementation of such a program as an “enhancement” to settle citations, which means that SHMS can be a useful tool in settling pending citations.
A common argument in support of an SHMS program is that it represents a more “holistic” approach to workplace safety and health. Rather than focusing on compliance with existing OSHA regulations, often described as “vertical” standards as they relate to a specific hazard (eg, blocking, machine protection, noise, etc.) – and thus either ignore , or ignore hazards for which there is no regulation — SHMS is a broad and “horizontal” approach, i.e. identify all hazards that may exist in the workplace, not just those for which there may be regulation and the development of proactive measures. OSHA cited statistical studies to support the effectiveness of SHMS programs in reviewing workplace injuries and illnesses.
- Similarities to California IIPP
For decades, California OSHA has required every employer to maintain an IIPP, a comprehensive program with significant overlap with SHMS. The main difference we see in OSHA’s federal SHMS guidance is elements (B), (F), and (G) above—higher levels of employee access, not just access to the program document, but active involvement of employees in several aspects of performance. In addition, the SHMS recommendations speak to broader industry assessment and tracking and to specific communications with contractors, a major source of workplace injuries and OSHA citations. Employers using a California-compliant IIPP nationally may benefit from supplementing with some additional elements that OSHA recommends for SHMS.
- Action Plan for Development and SHMS
Safety experts tell us that employers can reduce their rates of occupational accidents and illnesses by studying the hazards in their workplaces and developing strategies to reduce them. SHMS is recommended as an effective way to formalize these efforts and address safety. Seyfarth Shaw LLP helps employers develop SHMS and revise a set of safety policies to meet or exceed OSHA regulations and industry best practices.
Readers may also wish to see them essential details by OSHA to SMHSs, along with a Source Bureau of Labor Statistics which provides details on how to perform a reliable “root cause” analysis.