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Taking Safety Seriously

Baker Donelson – The Federal government is engaging tough measures to ensure corporations take safety seriously. First, OSHA is in the process of implementing changes to its penalty calculation system, which includes increasing penalty amounts as much as 82%, and extending the time period for consideration of repeat violators and penalty reductions based on history from three to five years.

The result: employers must remain violation free for five years instead of three to receive a 10 percent penalty reduction for history, and an additional two-year time frame is included in the determination of whether repeat violator penalties apply.

Second, the judicial system is prosecuting, and punishing, individuals responsible for making corporate decisions affecting safety. Two former managers of a Georgia peanut plant linked to a deadly salmonella outbreak were jailed due to their involvement in the safety violations, and, on September 21, 2015, the company’s owner was sentenced to 28 years in prison.

In another example, closing arguments began Tuesday, November 17, 2015, in the criminal case against Donald L. Blankenship, the former coal executive accused of conspiring to violate federal safety standards that allegedly led to the death of 29 coal miners killed during a 2010 mine explosion in the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia. The government’s case against Mr. Blankenship primarily rests on his alleged involvement in numerous safety violations.

Safety of customers, employees and the general public should always be paramount for employers.

Now, with increased fines and possible criminal sanctions, including jail time, there is added incentive to be compliant. Although each industry and company is unique, below is a list of best safety practices employers should consider.

  1. Designate an employee charged with safety compliance. If your industry warrants (such as those where severe injury or death are more likely to occur, such as mining, construction or factory work), hire a Chief Safety Officer.
  2. Require appropriate safety training for all employees.
  3. Integrate safety into the business management system of the company.
  4. Give equal consideration to injury prevention as to quality or productivity.
  5. Implement management systems using current scientific and technological knowledge that prevent accidents and injuries.
  6. Review equipment, machinery, etc., routinely to ensure it is working properly. (Faulty ventilation systems were found to have led to the gas build-up and explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine).
  7. Review the relevant OSHA regulations governing your business and industry once a year to check for any updates.
  8. Incorporate safety into the hiring process. Hire only the safest employees by engaging in the following: conduct background checks as permitted under other applicable laws, include questions about safety during the interview process and have hiring determinations include a factor rating the applicant’s commitment to safety.
  9. Solicit employee involvement in the safety process. Encourage safety through incentives and organize an employee safety committee – anything to make employees part of the employer’s commitment to safety.
  10. Review industry standards relating to your business to ensure that you are consistent with the majority of similar companies.
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