OSHA — Enforcer or Your Free Safety Coach?

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AdobeStock 79858068

The answer to the title question is — it can be either! It pretty much depends on the leadership of your company and their attitude toward workplace safety and the workforce.

A company whose leadership pays little attention to the safety and wellness of their workforce is sooner or later going to see the enforcer side when Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors visit your facility for an inspection, or after an accident has occurred. Then begins the legal wrangling, fines and maybe even jail time for a supervisor or manager, depending on how they have responded to the investigations and questions. OSHA even has a Severe Violator Enforcement Program for employers who have repeatedly failed to address workplace safety and disregarded regulations.

The image of OSHA as the enforcer is obviously well-known. What is less obvious to many companies is how OSHA can also act as a free safety coach, for companies that are willing to be open and work with them. If your company works in a hazardous industry, you should get to know your local OSHA area director and inspectors.

OSHA Likes to Work With Industry

Since 2014, OSHA has had an alliance with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the National Service, Transmission, Exploration & Production Safety Network, or STEPS.

STEPS is an oil and gas industry network comprised of volunteers from operating companies and contractors working together to reduce injuries and fatalities in the onshore industry. It has worked on a regional basis since 2003, with numerous local STEPS networks. NIOSH is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and is a U.S. agency that performs research and makes recommendations to prevent injuries and fatalities.

The alliance holds the OSHA Oil and Gas Safety and Health Conference every two years, which is one way best practices are shared to improve safety performance across the industry.

The OSHA conference and STEPS meetings are good ways to work with OSHA and increase your company’s understanding of regulatory requirements, as well as improve your safety performance.

This is especially true for small companies who have fewer resources to commit to safety than larger organizations. The value of OSHA as a free safety coach will be greater for these smaller companies. Learning from OSHA is a great starting point for a company without a safety program.

It has been shown numerous times that companies with good safety performance usually exhibit good business performance. Ultimately it is the corporate management of the company who must demonstrate leadership by embracing workplace safety and recognizing they need some assistance/coaching.

Support Available From OSHA

OSHA offers a wide variety of support methods. These include documentation, educational materials and cooperative programs.

Documentation: In October 2016, OSHA reissued a document that offers guidance for companies implementing a safety and health program. Titled “Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs,” it covers seven core elements, which are the basic building blocks of any successful management system. It provides excellent guidance, especially for a small company that has little or no existing safety program.

Education materials: OSHA has a variety of educational materials to help your company. These include web-based eTools, downloadable software systems called Expert Advisors, training (via the OSHA Training Institute or the Outreach Training Program) and OSHA videos.

Cooperative programs: The agency has several cooperative recognition programs, which include the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), Safety & Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) and a free on-site consultation program. The on-site consultation service is targeted at smaller businesses, helping them understand the hazards found in their industries. Successful participation can even make a company exempt from routine inspections for a year.

VPP provides recognition to employers and workers in industry and federal agencies that have implemented effective management systems and have injury and illness rates below industry-average levels. SHARP recognizes small-business employers who have participated in the on-site consultation program and have developed an outstanding industry safety and health program.

The Choice Is Yours

You can view OSHA as an enforcer or as a free safety coach. Fines, bad publicity, injured workers and possibly jail time for some versus helping your company keep your workforce safe (using free resources). It seems like an easy decision to make, but not one that some companies pay attention to.


About the author: Ian Threadgold, an Associate Consultant at Accumyn, serves as a Safety Management Systems Expert and Auditor in the capital project management and petroleum and chemicals practices. He is the founder and owner of Threadgold Safety Management LP, which is a specialized consultancy providing safety management services and advice to the geophysical sector and the broader oil and gas industry. His almost 40 years of technical, supervisory, managerial and operational experience in worldwide geophysical and exploration projects in the upstream oil and gas industry have provided him with exceptional project management and safety management insight. His deep knowledge of operating company safety, health and environmental management processes enables him to professionally address almost any facet of worker safety management in the petroleum industry today.


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