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NEWS & HIGHLIGHTS

  


Setting Safety & Health Programs Aside

Ronald J Lott Ph.D, CPE


Introduction


Safety & Human Resources Managers are reporting significant difficulty in maintaining their health and safety programs in these economic times. It seems that the first programs to be “cut” by management, or given less priority, are those which will it up costing the company the most in the near and long term. These cost relate to increasing workers’ compensation claims and enforcement activities by regulatory agencies.

Due to increasing social and occupational uncertainties with layoffs, etc. workers are making many more claims; many directly to the divisions of Workers’ Compensation at State levels. Once made to these agencies, this prompts involvement by the regulatory agencies, i.e. OSHA. Attorneys are advertising specific legal services to investigate potential workplace exposures and/or injuries. I recently spoke with a State Division of Workers’ Compensation at which the representative stated, “they were bombarded with claims.” Within a few days, the OSHA is onsite with multiple follow-up visits yielding numerous citations.

Uncertain workers, particularly those who fear layoff, begin to think of what might be wrong related to their health and feel that they must get it taken care of in case they are unemployed. It is the workers’ compensation system that not only insures that medical treatment is provided, but also monetary compensation for any impairments present.

Already in recent years employers expend nearly $170 billion dollars annually on workers’ compensation cost, the average cost of a death is $250,000.00, and a recordable case, $28,000.00. With an increase in claims it is anticipated that their will be increased workers’ compensation insurance premiums.

Regulatory Enforcement

Ignoring activities required by federal and state law in the area of health and safety is synonymous to deciding to ignore the tax laws by the IRS; penalties may ensue. This is particularly risky at the present time considering that the US Congress will likely pass the Protecting American Workers' Act, which provides for increased monetary penalties against employers for regulatory violations. Hilda Solis, the new Secretary of Labor, has pledged to "put enforcement back into the Department of Labor" - including more OSHA inspections. It is expected that under the new administration, employers must get ready for a shift away from the cooperative atmosphere of the recent past to a more aggressive, citation-based approach. This in fact has a direct correlation with the activities to change the Health Care System—injuries and illnesses cost much more than prevention.

Worker protection regulations are simply guidelines which essentially state, if you have these types of hazards and you follow these guidelines, you will protect your workers, increase the longevity of your workforce, limit workers’ compensation cost, and limit company or personal liabilities. At any rate, the guidelines are regulatory requirements and not optional activities; standards state, “the employer must or shall or will.” Just as most citizens do not elect to violate laws such as going through “red lights,” taking other’s things, tax fraud, murder, etc. it is ironic that some will choose to ignore worker protection laws. Often decisions by management to allay or delay health and safety compliance are made naively or because they do not realize the potential consequences (civil and criminal) and the cost of such decisions. In addition they may not understand the correlation between the enhancement of production and the maintenance of both the occupational and non-occupational health of their workforce.

Elimination or delay of health & safety programs will inevitably lead to increasing costs of workers’ comp and if the New OSHA does increase its activities to identify violators of standards, additional cost will occur.

What to Do?

Just as with any prudent managerial decision, an evaluation of the potential consequences of a decision, one way or another, should be conducted. In other words, if it is deemed necessary to decrease or abate a program one must consider what the economic, moral, and regulatory outcomes will be. In the case of health & safety, which programs have the most direct effect on a facility’s maintenance of the workforce’s health and safety and its regulatory compliance status.

There are multiple sources of epidemiological and statistical data from which inferences can be made in the conduction of such evaluations. These data can help managers make more specific and reliable decisions in determining what actions should be taken. If training sessions are to be stopped, which ones? If audits are to be decreased, which ones? If non-compliance with the facility’s or corporate written policies is to occur, which ones? If non-compliance with regulations is to occur, which ones?

By reviewing the potential hazards to which a workforce may be exposed; the correlation between the demographics of the workforce and these hazards; the epidemiology of disorders related to these hazards; regulatory agency activities pertinent to the particular type of industry; the policies set forth in the facility’s or corporate written policies and procedures; the applicable regulations pertinent to the facility; any advertisement activity by attorneys in the area, etc. are but a few that need to be evaluated.

Even if layoffs have already occurred, if they are planned, or even if programs have been “cut,” such aforementioned evaluations are in order. Our staff is experienced in the conduction of such assessments in order to validate decisions already made or being considered.  Please contact me directly at 931-624-4293.

Dr. Ronald J Lott


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