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Proactive Measures for Employee Safety Excellence
The Importance of Workplace Safety
If you are a business owner, ensuring the safety of your employees isn’t just a moral obligation—it is a legal one. Between OSHA guidelines and state-specific laws, the labyrinth of regulations can often be complex and daunting. However, compliance is not optional; it is mandatory for every business, regardless of its size or industry. In this comprehensive guide, we will demystify the legal aspects of workplace safety and offer best practices to keep your employees safe and your business compliant.
Understanding Legal Obligations
OSHA and State Laws
At the federal level, workplace safety is governed primarily by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Beyond this, each state may have its own set of regulations. Understanding both sets of laws is crucial for any business owner. You can’t plead ignorance when it comes to the law, so be proactive in familiarizing yourself with applicable statutes and regulations.
General Duty to Act Reasonably
Apart from the formal laws, there exists a general legal duty to act as a “reasonable person” would, to prevent unreasonable injury or unsafe work conditions. Essentially, this means that if a particular situation is obviously hazardous, legal responsibility falls upon you, even in the absence of specific laws.
Types of Business and Specific Risks
High-Risk Industries: Heavy Machinery, Chemicals, and Construction
If your business involves heavy equipment, hazardous materials, or other high-risk conditions, expect more stringent safety rules. Due diligence in these areas is not just a good idea; it is legally required.
Standard Office Environments
Even if you are running a more “standard” office, your duty towards workplace safety still stands. For instance, while providing ergonomic chairs to everyone might not be legally required, once an employee complains about physical discomfort due to the existing office setup, best practice dictates that you make reasonable accommodations.
Identifying and Responding to Workplace Risks
Proactive Risk Assessment
Being reactive in workplace safety is a surefire way to land into legal issues. Proactive identification of risks is not just a good practice but is often legally advised.
Accommodating Employee Concerns
Once a risk is brought to your attention, there is a legal expectation to deal with it reasonably. This often translates to making some sort of accommodation for the employee, ranging from simple fixes to more elaborate solutions.
Understanding Workers’ Compensation
Liability and Compensation
In some states, businesses could be liable for any workplace injury, regardless of whether they acted reasonably or not. Workers’ compensation insurance, often mandated by state laws, is a safeguard against this kind of open-ended liability.
States like Minnesota have specialized workers’ compensation policies where companies pay into a fund. If an employee is injured, they can qualify for benefits from this fund, offering a layer of financial protection to both the employee and employer.
Understanding the legal landscape surrounding workplace safety is pivotal for any business owner. But remember, laws and regulations are just the baseline. A genuinely safe workplace is built on a culture of shared responsibility, open communication, and proactive risk management. By investing in safety, you are not only shielding your business from legal complications but also ensuring a healthier, happier, and more productive workspace.
What Is Workplace Safety?
If you have a business, you have an obligation to comply with all laws. Typically, that is going to be OSHA laws. You have state and federal obligations to preserve safety and compliance with all of those laws, whether passed by the legislature or regulations, which are laws established by government agencies authorized by the legislature to set up those laws.
So statutes and regulations, you have a duty to know all of them for your particular industry. In addition, you have a duty to act as a reasonable person to avoid unreasonable injury, unsafe work conditions, etc. That can be frustrating for business owners. Think about it, you are held to all these standards, which you don’t necessarily know.
And so that is why, as a business owner, one task is to figure out what are federal and state laws that regulate safety for your particular type of business. Now, if you have a business that has heavy equipment or machinery, construction, or some sort of physical risks, there are going to be a lot more safety issues there. Likewise, if you are dealing with chemicals or various materials that have harmful elements to them or hazardous waste, you are going to have very strict rules on workplace safety as it relates to those.
Responding to Employee Complaints
For general business though, the idea is, that you will take reasonable measures to make sure that your office is generally safe. Now, if you don’t provide an ergonomic chair to everybody and people start getting sore backs, is that unreasonable? Well, to figure out what is reasonable, we often look to, “What do other businesses do?” Not every business provides an ergonomic chair, but if you have somebody who comes to you and says, “Hey, this chair is really hurting me. It doesn’t fit me right.” You may have a workplace injury risk present, and it is a best practice once a risk has been brought to your attention, you act as a reasonable person would in dealing with that risk. And usually, that means providing some sort of reasonable accommodation to somebody.
Understanding Your Liability
Now, obviously, leaving wet floors around the office is unreasonable, even if nobody complains about it. If you are walking by and you see wet floors that somebody could slip on, that is going to be the type of unreasonable workplace environment, and you then would be liable for those injuries. Now, here is another important thing to know. Often in states, businesses have liability for any injury that happens in the workplace, even if the business didn’t act unreasonably. Often there is workers’ compensation insurance, which may be mandated by your state laws to cover the costs of that. States like Minnesota have set up a workers’ compensation policy where companies need to pay into the workers’ compensation fund. And then, when employees are injured on the job, they qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.
So that is, in a nutshell, workplace safety and what business owners need to know to avoid legal problems and legal trouble as you hire employees or have customers at your workplace.
If you would like more information about any of these topics today, if you are interested in a business owner and getting educated on common mistakes business owners make and how to avoid them yourself, you can go to aaronhall.com/free and sign up to get a number of videos and other resources to help equip you to prevent problems in your business.
This is for entrepreneurs, startups, business owners, and CEOs. Generally, I am thinking about companies with under 500 employees, even as few as one or two, because for you as a business owner or a future business owner, you can either prevent these problems or pay the much more expensive cost of having the problem and having to clean it up afterward.
The purpose of this YouTube channel is to help you avoid problems, grow your company, provide great value to your customers and clients, create a great environment for the people that you work with, and experience the success that comes from having a good company built on best practices.
I am Aaron Hall, an attorney for business owners and entrepreneurs. If you have questions about any of this, feel free to put them in the comment section below. Look forward to seeing you next time.