Stop Work Authority Program: Empowering Employees to End Unsafe Situations

June 15, 2021 • MEM

Businesses are constantly challenged to do more with less. As many businesses look for new and improved ways to keep their employees safe, Stop Work Authority may present itself as an option. While the name may point to a tough stance, the results can have a bigger impact than employers expect.

On this episode of the WorkSAFE Podcast, we welcome Rhonda Kauffman. She works as a Safety and Risk Specialist for MEM. Kauffman has over 20 years of experience in occupational safety and industrial hygiene. She provides assistance and training for employers who want to bring health and safety programs to their workplaces.

First, Kauffman will share the basics of a Stop Work Authority program. Then, we’ll talk about why the program is worth bringing to your workplace. Finally, we’ll share next steps for employers who may be interested in it.

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

Stop Work Authority 101: The basics

Employers may shy away from any program that includes the words “stop work”. In today’s world, time is money. Any time spent not working means money isn’t being earned. However, stopping work has an important role in the workplace. If there’s a safety risk, would your employees feel they could speak up? Could they step in to prevent an incident? Or even to save a life?

A Stop Work Authority program is a safety-based process. It gives employees permission to stop work in situations that could result in an incident or injury. For instance, an employee could stop work if they see:

  • an unsafe condition
  • an unsafe act happening
  • a missing safety protocol
  • the wrong safety protocol being used
  • an overall lack of awareness about work conditions/environment

Is a Stop Work Authority program right for you?

Safety is the right choice for every business. But is a Stop Work Authority program right for yours? Many employers think these kinds of programs aren’t for them. They may assume they are for more hands-on industries, like manufacturing or construction. But that just isn’t the case. “This program can be applied in any industry,” Kauffman explained.

Every business must provide a safe and healthful workplace. In addition, employees must follow the safety rules and procedures set by their employers. However, management support is key to making the program successful. A Stop Work Authority program requires everyone to have a role in safety on the job. It also means anyone can speak up about safety risks without fear of getting in trouble.

Stop Work Authority: The essentials

A Stop Work Authority program can save time and resources, which results in saving money. It also can prevent the emotional impact of a workplace incident. Implementing the program is just one part of building a safety culture. It’s easy for some employers to say they have a culture of safety. But if employees don’t know or practice safety rules, or if they simply sit on a shelf unenforced, there’s some work to be done. Kauffman listed out the essentials needed to build a successful program – and safety culture:

  • Trust. Employees need to know they have the support of their supervisors. Any safety program must come from the top. Management should introduce the program. Then, they should talk about why it’s being introduced. Incoming new hires should be taught that safety is a priority.
  • Respect. Everyone must respect safety rules for them to work. This includes managers, employees, and supervisors. No one should fear backlash for stopping when there’s a safety risk – or working in a tense work environment if they do.
  • Train. Employees won’t know what to do unless you train them. Regular safety meetings help refresh the information throughout the year. Educate employees to report near-misses. They are important red flags, and warn that a more serious situation may soon come.

A return on investment

Stopping work can sound expensive. But Kauffamn is quick to point out that it may cost less than increased premium, an incident, or serious injury. She often hears the same excuses from employers: “It’s going to take time, and time is money.” But how much time will an incident or injury cost your business?

First, an injured worker needs to be directed to the right medical care. Then, the incident must be investigated. How long will it take to repair broken equipment? Will a production line or work flow be held up until it’s repaired? The worker’s time will also need to be covered. Will overtime be required, or does  a temp need to be hired?

Most importantly, Kauffman is quick to remind employers that while there are savings to be had, keeping employees safe is still the priority. Great employees are one of the biggest investments an employer can make. “Your people are your greatest resources,” she added. “Yes, there’s a lot of financial benefits to this process. But we can never forget the human factor as well, because that is what we’re all about here at MEM.”

Stopping safety risks before they start

Without a Stop Work Authority program, employees may simply react rather than proactively stop a safety risk they see. As a result, employees become incident witnesses. They may spot an unsafe behavior or situation, but feel they don’t have the power to step in and stop it.

The program transforms employees from potential incident witnesses to active safety advocates.  “They are the key to the safety process being effective or not effective,” Kauffman shared. “If they don’t buy into it, it’s literally ink on the paper.” It shouldn’t be embarrassing or awkward to stop an unsafe situation. Everyone should feel they can do it.

Stop Work Authority program: Get started

Does a Stop Work Authority program sound right for your business? Training is the first step to getting started. Go over your regular safety rules and regulations with employees. Then, talk about situations where employees might need to step in.

Choose some that relate to your industry: on the work floor, around the office, or at the job site. Real-world examples can help them identify when and how to stop work. Make it clear that anyone who stops work for a safety reason won’t be subject to punishment – and that a tough response from coworkers won’t be tolerated.

Kauffman recommends the following:

  • Review OSHA 300 logs and work comp insurance loss runs. These records reveal where safety risks in your business appear the most.
  • Train often. Plan regular training for employees. Encourage them to report near-misses, no matter how small.
  • Implement an incident form. Employees shouldn’t punished for stopping unsafe behavior. However, it’s important to recognize and document it when it clearly goes against safety rules.
  • Share your successes. If an employee stops work for an unsafe situation, then share it. These are learning opportunities. It helps employees understand the continued value of the program.

Employers and managers can’t always be present on the job. Further, watching for safety risks is every person’s responsibility. A Stop Work Authority empowers employees to work safer and watch out for one another.

For free safety posters, sample policies, and safety toolkits, visit our Resource Library. Then, learn more about building a workplace safety culture with leadership support in this WorkSAFE Podcast episode.

June 15, 2021
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