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VII. Safety and Health Programs and Employee Involvement

1. General Observations

The Fact Finding Report (pp. 22-23 and 121-23) reported that America"s occupational safety and health record has not improved (save for fatalities) with the result that work injuries and illness are producing rising costs to workers, enterprises and the economy. At the same time joint safety and health committees are the most common form of employee participation program aimed at employee concerns about conditions of work. A 1993 National Safety Council Report found that such joint committees exist in 75 percent of establishments with 50 or more employees, and in 31 percent with less than 50 employees. Moreover, ten or so states now require by law such a committee, or other forms of employee involvement in this area. The Report observed that in many of these states the joint committees were legislated with trade-offs involving other workers" compensation and disability provisions.

Additional legislation and further studies have come to the attention of the Commission. At least three states ~California, Massachusetts and Florida ~ have authorized parties under collective bargaining agreements in the construction industry to provide for a jointly agreed upon panel of doctors and to provide for alternative dispute resolution (arbitration) of disputes over the application of workers" compensation benefits administered by state agencies.<Footnote: Among studies, see Wayne Lewchuk, A. Leslie Robb, and Vivienne Walters, The Effectiveness of Joint safety and health Committees in Reducing Injuries and Illness in the Workplace: The Case of Ontario, July 1944, (McMaster University, Canada).

There is a wide consensus that the safety and health performance of the American workplace can be substantially improved with more management commitment and more worker involvement. But there has been little consensus as to how best to achieve this common objective. Further, there is uncertainty in the business community, in nonunion establishments, as well as in regulatory agencies, whether safety and health committees or other forms of employee involvement in such establishments are legal under Section 8(a)(2) of the National Labor Relations Act. (See Section II of this Report.)

The Commission suggests that the following approach to safety and health programs be implemented in appropriate regulatory or legislative language.

Employee participation and management commitment are essential ingredients of a successful workplace safety and health program intended to identify, prevent and control recognized hazards. Every workplace should be required to have a program for preventing accidents and illness. The nature of the program may be expected to vary by size and type of workplace, the nature of the hazards and other factors.

Experience has shown that there are certain basic requirements that are present in any good safety and health program regardless of size or type of workplace or nature of the hazards. The program should be stated in written form, except that the smallest enterprises outside of those in designated hazardous sectors, may be excused from the written requirement.

The basic elements of a safety and health program are set forth in 2 and 3 below:

2. Program Elements

  1. Designation of responsibility

    The personnel responsible for each aspect of the program need to be clearly designated.

  2. Identification of hazards

    The hazards currently or potentially existing in the workplace can be identified from an examination of past accidents or occupational illnesses, the accident history at other similar facilities, employee suggestions or complaints, the measurement of various exposure levels, and from other sources. A plan should be included to remedy existing hazards that violate OSHA standards.

  3. Setting priorities

    Once hazards are identified, priorities need to be established so that resources can be assigned to the areas of greatest need. Nonconformance with federal and state standards should be corrected.

  4. Safety rules and procedures

    Based on hazards that have been identified and the controls that are deemed to be necessary, specific rules should be developed governing the conduct of all personnel in the workplace.

  5. Periodic internal inspection

    A plan of periodic facility inspections should be developed. The purposes of such periodic self-inspection should be made clear ~ such as, assuring safety rules are followed, checking that preventive measures and devices are working properly, or identifying new hazards.

  6. Accident investigation

    All lost-time accidents and "near misses" need to be thoroughly investigated. The primary purpose of the investigation is to assure that reasonable measures are taken to help prevent recurrence.

  7. Safety and health training and communications

    Safety and health training should be provided to all personnel, including supervisors and managers, at the time of hire and at least annually thereafter. It is vital that a procedure be established for regular communication of safety-related information to all personnel.

  8. Accident record keeping

    A process for recordkeeping that conforms with state and federal requirements should be in place. All accidents and occupational illnesses should be recorded. Periodic statistical analysis should determine the most prevalent sources of accidents and illness; this information should be made available to all personnel.

  9. First aid and medical care

    Procedures should be developed for assuring that proper medical care is provided to any injured or ill employee.

  10. Emergency preparedness care

    Plans are required to protect personnel in the event of emergencies such as fire, earthquake, leakage of toxic material, etc. Plans include provisions for employee personal protection, life safety, orderly evacuation, etc.

3. Employee Involvement

Experience has shown that a further basic requirement of any good safety and health program regardless of size or type of workplace is to ensure employee participation in the design and operation of the program. The plan may involve a number of different structures for achieving employee participation~for instance, a safety committee, designation of key employees for various functions, ad hoc working groups, or assignments within teams.

Employee participation means that employees are encouraged to participate fully in the program, including the review and investigation of injuries and illnesses; periodic workplace inspections and regular safety and health meetings; and recommendations to the employer with respect to the administration of the program elements.

Effective employee involvement includes the right of employees to seek outside opinion and information on safety and health questions related to the workplace. In accordance with the statute, workers are assured that they are not to be penalized for exercising their rights under workplace safety and health programs.

  1. In the workplaces governed by collective bargaining agreements, the safety and health program and forms of employee participation are to be worked out by the parties to the agreement or their designees at the workplace.

  2. In workplaces without collective bargaining, the safety and health program, including the Program Elements identified in section 2 above and the form of worker selection in the design and administration of the program, should be developed by management in full consultation with the employees.

The Commission is advised that OSHA is in the process of developing a workplace safety and health program standard, not unlike the basic elements of the safety and health program outlined in section 2 above. The Commission is supportive of this effort and urges OSHA to seek the broadest possible consensus from employer and employee organizations.

The Commission suggests that OSHA explore, in consultation with employer and employee organizations, the use of appropriate third party organizations such as some casualty insurance companies, professional organizations of safety engineers, industrial hygienists, or other groups with special expertise and capabilities in safety and health. These bodies could advise and verify as to an appropriate degree of employee involvement in the program design and administration of the safety and health program at a workplace.

In situations in which OSHA is satisfied, with the assistance of such outside expert judgment, that there is substantial worker participation in the design and administration of the safety and health program, and that it has a good record of performance, we encourage the agency to provide appropriate forms of preferential status in the inspections and administration of standards as it has done in some programs, such as by a secondary inspection list, penalty reduction, and limited inspection except with regard to principal hazards in the type of workplace.

The Commission believes that such incentives and encouragement of effective employee involvement in safety and health programs with a record of effective performance would significantly promote an internal responsibility system for safety and health in the workplace, reduce costs and promote productivity.<Footnote: With respect to the status of safety and health employee involvement plans under the National Labor Relations Act, the recommendations set forth in Section II of this Report provide the applicable principles. The Commission has sought to clarify in Section V(6) the responsibility for safety and health in cases involving client-contractor relationships.

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