Synopsis of Seyfarth: Safety and health management systems (SHMS) can demonstrate a commitment to improving safety and health outcomes and reducing legal liabilities.
Federal OSHA standards mandate a series of written safety and health programs, based on workplace hazards, such as a lockout and tagout program (machine re-energizing hazards) , a hazard communication program (chemical risks) and a respiratory protection program (for airborne health risks).
While OSHA often asks for a company’s “safety program” during its on-site inspections, this is a misnomer because there is no federal requirement for an all-encompassing “safety program.” to govern all hazards and safety and health programs. No federal OSHA regulations currently require an 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 an SHMS
OSHA guidance recommends that each employer develops a safety and health management system overseeing all safety and health programmes.
The main elements include:
- management department. OSHA wants employers to describe management oversight of the program, program resources, safety and health goal setting, and auditing.
- Worker involvement. OSHA advises employers to include employees in many more areas of safety and health programs than the industry average. This includes policies requiring the reporting of safety issues, prompt investigation and response to such issues, access to programs and documents, conducting workplace inspections, incident investigation and review. / improving training programs.
- Hazard identification and assessment. This means a thorough review of potential safety information such as past incidents, OSHA standards, equipment safety information, and feedback from team members. Employers then inspect the workplace, including after incidents, and identify hazards and prioritize reduction.
- Employee education and training. Training covers programs, controls and hazard identification. A key part of any program, supervisors should be trained on responsibilities under the OHS Act with respect to supervision and enforcement of safety rules.
- Risk prevention and control. For risk management to identify or anticipate, management will gather and evaluate information on 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 should monitor program performance and track progress, including metrics on the number of inspections that have taken place, the number of hazards reported, the number of OSHA-recordable injuries and illnesses, and the rates injuries and illnesses compared to the industry.
- Communication and coordination for host employers, contractors and placement agencies. In temporary worker, placement agency, and multi-employer situations, OSHA believes that safety is improved if employers establish mechanisms to coordinate their efforts and communicate effectively to provide all workers with protection from the hazards. These efforts include site-specific training on reasonably anticipated hazards.
2. Benefits of an SHMS
OSHA values SHMS and will likely interpret the good faith implementation of an SHMS by an employer as an effort to ensure the safety and health of employees in a positive manner. Federal OSHA maintains its own SHMS for OSHA employees, an indication of its importance to the agency. If the employer has a 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 dealing with Willful OSHA citations overturned these citations when the employer “did nothing” to address the danger. A SHMS would provide evidence that the employer recognized a hazard and attempted to remedy it in good faith, and that any violation of OSH law was not Deliberate. Finally, OSHA often requires the institution of such a program as an “enhancement” to settling citations, which means that an SHMS can be a useful tool for settling pending citations.
A common argument in favor 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 because they address a specific hazard (e.g. lockout-tagout, machine guarding, noise, etc.) – and therefore overlook or ignore hazards for which there are no regulations — an SHMS has a broad and “horizontal” approach, i.e. it identifies all the hazards that may exist in the workplace, not only those for which there can be regulation and that it develops proactive measures. OSHA quotes statistical studies in support of the effectiveness of SHMS programs in addressing workplace injuries and illnesses.
- Similarities to a California IIPP
For decades, California OSHA has required every employer to maintain an IIPP, a comprehensive program with significant overlap with an SHMS. The main difference we see in the Federal OSHA SHMS guidelines are items (B), (F) and (G) above – higher levels of employee access, not just document access of the program, but the active participation of employees in several aspects of the implementation. In addition, SHMS recommendations relate to broader industry assessment and monitoring, as well as specific communication with contractors, a major source of workplace injuries and OSHA citations. Employers who use a California-compliant IIPP nationwide may benefit from some additional OSHA-recommended items for an SHMS.
- Action plan to be developed and SHMS
Safety professionals tell us that employers can reduce their rates of workplace injuries and illnesses by examining the hazards in their workplace and developing strategies to reduce them. An SHMS is recommended as an effective means of formalizing these efforts and ensuring security. Seyfarth Shaw LLP helps employers develop SHMSs and revise a range of safety policies to meet or exceed OSHA regulations and industry best practices.
Readers may also consult these background details from OSHA on SMHS, as well as a Source from the Bureau of Labor Statistics which provides details on how to conduct a credible “root cause” analysis.