OSHA Compliance: How Safety Rules and Standards Work Together

June 3, 2024 • MEM

On this episode of the WorkSAFE Podcast, we sit down with return guest Sheila Schmidt, Safety and Risk Services Manager at MEM. She has been working with businesses for more than 20 years to keep employees safe.

Prior to 1911, little provision was made for injured workers. The state of Wisconsin would be the first to solidify an effort to protect them with a legal act. Another 37 years would pass before all states would agree on a formal effort to safeguard them.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), formed in 1972, serves as a way to ensure the safety of America’s workforce. Every state has its own unique work comp laws; OSHA provides a set of standards. Managing the requirements, and protecting employees, falls to employers.

First, we’ll talk about how laws and standards work together to keep employees safe. Then, we’ll discuss the responsibilities of an employer. Finally, we’ll share how work comp carriers can help business owners make the most of their safety efforts.

Listen to this episode on the WorkSAFE Podcast, or read the show notes below.

Teamwork: How laws and standards work together to keep employees safe

Prior to the first work comp initiative in 1911, there was no incentive to keep worker safe. Employees were unfortunately considered disposable; injured workers were simply fired and replaced. As human capital, or the knowledge and skills someone brings to the workplace, increased in value, people realized they simply didn’t want to work that way anymore. On the job, both employers and employees benefit from protection – and the obligation to create a safe workplace.

Safety standards, laws, and regulations all serve different purposes to help keep employees safe. “OSHA pushes workplace safety, and a lot of our work comp statutes and laws step in when there’s a failure in safety and someone is injured,” Schmidt explained.

“In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need OSHA or work comp, because in a perfect world, everybody works safely. Every employer has all these safety things in place and it’s a wonderful environment where nobody gets hurt,” Schmidt said. “But in the real world, we need both of those things. We do need some sort of oversight and regulation to keep people safe. And as a backup, we do need work comp to take care of the worker and their family should things not go that way.”

Work comp is a no-fault system

“Workers compensation is a no fault system,” Schmidt shared. “It’s also seen as the exclusive remedy when there is an injury at work.” Unlike general liability coverage, work comp coverage is very defined. It covers medical treatment and compensation for lost time. It isn’t necessary for the involved parties to go through whose fault it was to obtain either type of coverage. If you were injured at work or doing work-related tasks, a work comp claim could be opened. This makes it easier for both employees and employers to address workplace injuries.

OSHA compliance: Responsibilities of an employer

Employers have certain responsibilities when it comes to work comp. First, depending on their industry and total number of employees, carrying coverage. Second, reporting claims in a timely manner. States differ when it comes to further specifics. For example, directing medical care or how much compensation an employee is eligible for.

Even thought OSHA is a federal act, some states elect to create and adopt their own policies. There are even state OSHA programs. “The only requirement that OSHA had of them is that they meet OSHA federal standards, or are more strict than them,” Schmidt explained. This is especially important for employers working in multiple states. It’s essential to follow the requirements and regulations for each state where there are exposures.

The exceptions to the rule

“Even though OSHA is almost a household name – everybody knows it and what they do – we also have to remember that there are a lot of industries workplaces that are not covered by OSHA,” Schmidt highlighted. While these exceptions have their own industry regulations and guidelines, they don’t actually fall under OSHA jurisdiction. As a result, they can’t be issues fines or corrective action.

However, many of them take their lead from OSHA. Schmidt finds that they offer some of the most consistent and reasonable standards available. It’s a great place to start for new business owners or employers building their safety efforts from scratch. For example, OSHA addresses driving safety, but not seat belts. So while they provide a foundation, it’s up to employers to develop them to address the needs of their workplace.

Safety rules: An addition to OSHA compliance

Anyone who has seen OSHA compliance standards in print can attest to how many there are. Schmidt points out that they often take up multiple binders – and hundreds of pages. In addition, not all of them will apply to every workplace. Safety rules are a great practical application to help transform these guidelines into actionable instructions for employees. They are direct, specific, and compliment more complex standards.

We’d never want to see a rule that says follow all OSHA standards,” Schmidt said. “Oh my gosh, can anybody tell me all of the OSHA standards? I couldn’t, and I surely wouldn’t expect my worker to know all of those, so that’s where the safety rules come into play.”

3 ways a work comp carrier can help

Managing a workforce is often a balance between OSHA regulations, Human Resources policies, employment law, and other safety standards. Further, depending on the size of the business, juggling them may become the responsibility of the business owner. Work comp carriers can help clear muddy waters when it comes to rules and regulations.

“What you’ll find when you look at an OSHA standard or an OSHA regulation – it tells you the expectation, right? You must provide fall protection, but it doesn’t tell you how,” Schmidt explained. Carriers can help interpret standards and how they apply uniquely to businesses.

For Schmidt, workplace safety and OSHA have their place. They complement each other. “Don’t forget, while it might feel like both of these are burdensome, to the employer, I would be afraid of a world without either those,” she finished.

June 3, 2024
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