All too often there are misconceptions when it comes to health and safety responsibilities in the work center. Is health and safety inherently the responsibility of the safety office because the title is in the name? Is it the responsibility of senior management and the supervisor or is it everyone’s responsibility, as we have so often heard over the years? Who is responsible and what are those responsibilities?
The answer to “Who is responsible?” is simple and yet at the same time complex. The simple aspect of the answer is that the foundation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration law Act and any successful safety program is solidified in the concept that safety is everyone’s responsibility, from senior management to workers and everyone in between.
This concept should be firmly rooted in every aspect of the organization’s business operations and hinges on the fact that all employees need to foster the culture of safety. To be successful, every employee must understand and embrace that the safety program is such that everyone has control over its daily, operational functions, rather than it being nothing more than an administrative function managed by a few people such as by a safety office.
The more complicated answer to the question details more of a breakdown of functions and individual responsibilities relevant to positions of authority and control. When the safety program is broken down, the roles and responsibilities of the various persons can be defined in more detail. So, who exactly is responsible for what?
Senior Managers obviously have a lot of responsibility when it comes to safety throughout the work centers under their control. First and foremost, they must acknowledge and accept the responsibility to take every reasonable precaution for the safety of work force. This requires a lot of due diligence on their part. This due diligence can be accomplished by:
- Creating smart policies and procedures that support the intent of applicable safety regulations
- Instituting local goals, objectives, and recognition programs designed to encourage employee participation and compliance
- Ensuring workers are receiving local training relevant to the specific job-related tasks, hazards, and safe operating procedures
- Leading by example and demonstrating a commitment to safety as fundamental part of the business model
- Looking for and speaking about unsafe acts or conditions in the work centers whenever possible
- Ensuring unsafe acts or conditions are responded to promptly and following up to ensure corrective actions are completed in a timely manner
- Supporting overall safety program initiatives and enforce policies and procedures
First Line Supervisors
Supervisors also have quite a bit of responsibility, including the same overall responsibility to ensure the safety of workers. A supervisor has added responsibilities because they are in charge of a job process and people, and they are often considered to be competent under the OSH Act. In fact, managers are charged with assigning supervisory roles to those who fit the legal definition of competence. Along with the responsibility for ensuring the safety of all workers, supervisors are responsible for the working actions of the safety program such as:
- Conducting local orientation and training of employees
- Enforcing safe work practices throughout all work centers and adherence to policies and procedures
- Reporting injuries, incidents, and near misses to ensure unsafe acts or conditions are corrected in a timely manner
- Preplanning jobs to include and integrate safety and health throughout the work process
- Ensuring Job Hazard Analysis (JHAs) are completed for every work process or specialized piece of equipment
The workforce is not expected to just blindly follow policies and procedures. They have responsibilities also. OSHA even acknowledged this when they wrote the General Duty Clause and 29 CFR 1910 which often refer to employees having an integral and active role in local safety program implementation in order to contribute to a safer workplace for everyone. Safety must start at the top, with support from management and strong leadership, but it is also a grassroots concept that can only be successful through direct worker participation. Worker responsibilities include, but are not limited to:
- Reporting unsafe acts or conditions as well as correcting them if possible
- Working safely and in compliance with policies, procedures, and applicable regulations
- Using tools and equipment properly wearing PPE properly
- Not removing or otherwise interfering with any protective devices or guards
- Contributing to the creation of local safe work procedures such as JHAs
- Be involved in the local work center safety program in any capacity possible
- Assist new employees with becoming acclimated and oriented to the work center and group
The safety program isn’t just built on the responsibilities of managers, supervisors, and employees. The program is comprised of many moving parts that also include supporting elements such as the Safety Office, Environmental Department, Industrial Hygiene, and the Fire Department.
These entities are charged with providing several supportive components such as:
- Providing program oversight and organizational level document management
- Acting as the subject matter experts with regards to hazard abatement & continued process improvement
- Investigating mishaps and recommending appropriate corrective actions
- Conducting compliance inspections & programmatic audits
- Providing specific training and resources to assist with employee understanding
Having several lines of responsibility within the overall safety program and how all of it comes together is what truly gives the safety and health program its success. Hopefully, this article has illustrated that the statement, “Everyone is responsible for workplace safety and health” is correct while also providing the understanding that each level has a critical role to play with specific tasks to perform.
(Commentary by Gregg Masnick, Installation Safety Officer)