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Who Is Responsible for Health and Safety in the Workplace?

Margaret Rimmler May 25, 2022 12:00:00 AM
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Health and safety in the workplace have multiple dimensions. Physical security systems, like access control and COVID-19 monitoring programs, play a role in helping employees feel physically safe from injury and illness. Programs such as structured hybrid work norms, flexible sick-leave policies, and robust employee benefits packages help employees feel mentally well.

Frequent sentiment checks, a great company culture, and flexible remote work options also help with emotional health and safety, as employees can feel more productive, more confident, and like they're a team they enjoy being part of. According to an analysis by TinyPulse, everything from supporting remote work to creating high engagement levels can have a significant effect on reducing turnover (with 25% lower turnover and an 87% decreased likelihood of leaving, respectively). They note:

“Whether you're a C-level executive, HR department professional, or middle manager, be committed to creating a better employee experience. By doing everything you can to create a happy workplace, you can convince your team to stick around for the long haul. In return, your business becomes more profitable, more effective, and more desirable to work at. What's not to like?”

It can be easy to say that the buck stops with HR when it comes to workplace health and safety. But it's just as easy to say supervisors are responsible for ensuring compliance or it's up to the leadership team to create a culture of wellness. Ultimately, the stream of responsibility may look something like this:

  • One of HR’s main responsibilities is creating and maintaining systems and processes that lead to a safe, healthy workplace 
  • With systems in place, HR delegates downstream to management and leadership teams
  • From there, managers are responsible for ensuring their own teams follow health and safety protocols
  • Finally, individual employees must adhere to systems and processes in place to maintain a healthy workplace

In the end, no one person or group of people is solely responsible for health and safety in the workplace. Rather, it’s a collective effort that must run throughout your organization. See how you can successfully organize responsibilities in your organization so everyone benefits from increased health and safety.

What Does OSHA Say?

When organizations are striving to create safe workplaces, one of the key foundations in those efforts should be OSHA compliance. OSHA, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is a federal organization that establishes standards for safe workplaces, enforces those standards, and provides ongoing training and education.

Different workplaces are subject to different standards; the safety protocols of an automotive machining shop, for example, will have different areas of focus than a corporate office or a hospital. However, one core principle remains clear across all OSHA requirements: it is up to the employer to create a safe workplace. Whether it's safety from workplace injuries, unsafe building conditions, or COVID-19 and variant waves or other endemic viruses, employers have an obligation to prioritize health and safety. According to the ​​OSH Act of 1970:

“Each employer shall furnish to each of [its] employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to [its] employees.”

Some of the obligations employers are required to manage include:

  • Eliminating potential hazards at their source: For example, employers need to reduce hazards rather than simply requiring employees to wear masks or other personal protective equipment (PPE). It's better to eliminate or reduce the source of the danger rather than guard against it during each potential interaction.
  • Provide education and information: Employers must display the OSHA Job Safety and Health poster prominently, provide training in understandable vocabulary, and provide information through systems such as alarms, chemical information sheets, clear labels, and ongoing training. OSHA also requires employers to report injury- and illness-related data and OSHA citations in a clearly visible and accessible location for workers.
  • Notify OSHA about injuries and fatalities within established timeframes.
  • Manage testing and inspection obligations: Different OSHA standards establish the responsibility to conduct workplace safety inspections at regular intervals. Employers are responsible for ensuring those inspections are completed on time and that any concerning findings are appropriately resolved.
  • Provide applicable medical tests, such as hearing exams, as needed.

Employers must proactively review OSHA publications and changing standards to ensure their facilities remain compliant and safe for their employees.

What About Employees?

While the bulk of the responsibility for a safe workplace falls to employers, employees also have a role in ensuring they and their co-workers remain safe at work. Employers should create a culture that incentivizes employees to:

  • Follow Safety Initiatives: Compliance with safety rules and regulations, including OSHA-established rules, industry regulations, and employer-specific rules, is essential. Employees should be aware of and follow the rules, and employers should provide training and enforce them.
  • Meet Compliance Obligations: Organizations establish compliance requirements regarding equipment, environment norms, personal behavior, and more. Complying with these obligations keeps both the individual employers and the entire organization from direct harm and penalties.
  • Communicating Problems: Employees should speak up when they notice equipment, building features, or other elements that are becoming unsafe or operating outside of compliance requirements. In order to facilitate this, however, employers need to create the right systems. These include clear and easy processes for communicating health and safety concerns, a company culture that invites employees to speak up, and responses that don't penalize the employee or make them regret bringing up the hazard.

Creating a Health and Safety Program

Health and safety programs do more than keep your team safe — they make it possible to work towards a future of work that encourages hybrid work, increases employee engagement, and improves overall productivity.

With ReturnSafe, you can establish a program that accomplishes all of that. Our solutions are built to help HR professionals and leadership teams create the right knowledge-based infrastructure for creating healthy, thriving work environments. Our suite of solutions includes:

  • Case Management Automated Workflows: Through our portal, your team can easily manage and monitor cases of COVID-19 and communicate with employees so you can provide the appropriate response, minimize the risk of an outbreak at your facility, and ensure employees feel safe.
  • Building Access Control: Traditional access control systems ensure personnel only access building areas required by their role. ReturnSafe's integrations allow you to blend health policies into this security.
  • Data Monitoring: Through ReturnSafe, you can track the vaccination and testing status of employees, create five-second surveys about individual employee health, and more.
  • Hybrid Work Programs: Design an entire program devoted to the success of your hybrid work environment by allowing employees to share sentiments about work structure, select their hybrid preferences, and constantly iterate to improve the program.

Partner With ReturnSafe to Prioritize Health and Safety in the Workplace

Using the right tools to track health, communicate with employees, and gain insight into overall organizational health and safety are crucial for creating a safe workplace in any industry. Reach out to learn more about our solutions and dashboard features to see how we can help you thrive.


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