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Workplace Safety Law: What You Need to Know Here's what employers need to do to ensure that workers are operating in a safe environment.

By Chris Porteous Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Everyone is entitled to work in a safe and protected environment. As an employer, it's your duty and moral responsibility to ensure that your workplace's health and safety meet the legal requirements. To ensure that your business is compliant with the law, you may need to use a workplace safety attorney's services.

Vikramsinh Parmar, the founder of LawTally, explains that your lawyer must guide you through the updates made to legalities and inform you of your rights and responsibilities. An attorney will also foresee potential issues and prepare you for them in advance.

Yet, the question remains: "What does workplace law entail?"

Workplace safety law defined

The workplace safety law is made-up out of many state and federal regulations. These are enforced on businesses to ensure the health and safety of employees. Various standards are also in place to reduce the risk of work-related illnesses and accidents.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is the government agency responsible for administering the primary law governing workplace safety. They've got the authority to investigate violations and issue citations for noncompliance. Failure to adhere to this law is subject to monetary fines and, in the worst-case scenario, jail time or other criminal penalties.

While "whistle-blowing" is encouraged, workers that do so often need legal help when reporting violations. Workplace safety attorneys, however, mainly engage in representing businesses. These lawyers focus on helping employers develop policies to ensure legal compliance. They'll also defend them in administrative proceedings if necessary.

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New laws have to be sensitive to the needs and realities of the industry to which it applies. To ensure that this is the case, business clients also use these attorneys' services to assist lawmakers in drafting regulations.

What's workplace safety?

The term "workplace safety" refers to the working environment of a business. It covers all the individual factors that may impact employees' health, well-being, and safety. This may include:

  • Unsafe working processes or conditions

  • Environmental hazards

  • On-site violence

  • Drug and alcohol abuse

  • The appropriate use of tools

  • Making crisis exits easily accessible

  • The use of mechanical assistance

  • Reducing job-related stress

OSHA monitors workplace safety at the national level. This administration has three goals serving as the cornerstones of its regulations and policies:

  1. To improve the health and safety of all workers by reducing exposures, hazards, illnesses, injuries, and fatalities.

  2. To change workplace culture by increasing both worker and employer commitment to, awareness of, and involvement in health and safety.

  3. To secure the public's confidence through excellence in OSHA's services and programs' delivery and development.

OSHA's enforced federal guidelines are complemented by state regulations.

What do health and safety regulations are required from employers?

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) was passed in 1970. This law not only grants workers specific rights but also places certain obligations on employers.

The OSH Act provides that employees be:

  • Informed about the various hazards of the workplace.

  • Trained how to avoid risks.

  • Provided with information about the health and safety laws applicable to the company.

  • Given a means to file a confidential complaint with the relevant authorities if the company violates the law. This must be made available without the fear of retaliation from the employer.

The employers' responsibilities include:

  • Taking a proactive approach to dealing with health and safety concerns.

  • Identifying potential hazards.

  • Neutralizing risks or taking precautionary measures to prevent them from causing harm.

  • Ensuring that employees are aware of and issued with the appropriate safety gear for risks that can't be rendered safe.

The benefits of improving your company's workplace safety

Even though it's the right thing to do to ensure that your company's workplace is safe, there are also many benefits associated with this. Apart from helping you avoid legal issues, it improves employee productivity, morale, and retention. It often also has a considerable positive impact on your business' financial performance.

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Ventures with robust workplace safety procedures in place and the records associated with this often gain enormous benefits from their insurance. Every company's workers' compensation premium is typically based on:

  • The payroll

  • Employee classification by occupational type

  • The company's accident history

  • The experience modification (mod)

The mod represents how an individual company's accident rate compares to other ventures within the same industry. Should your business have a higher than average workers' compensation claim rate over three years, you'll pay higher premiums. On the other hand, if your claim rate is lower, you'll benefit by paying reduced rates.

Various safety programs cover a broad spectrum of potential hazards and areas of concern. Many risks are specific industry-related. Yet, in general, the following actions can be taken to improve the safety of the work environment:

  • Installing equipment controls

  • Making personal protection gear available

  • Creating and distributing operational manuals

  • Implementing an alcohol and drug testing program

  • Enforcing and establishing handling policies for hazardous materials

  • Initiating safety rating programs

  • Providing access to employee counseling services

Workplace safety claims: avoidance, investigation and defense

Avoiding Safety Claims

Safety claims can cause severe legal problems for your company. Thus, it's best to avoid these allegations. The most significant benefit of working with a workplace safety lawyer is that it'll help you create a working environment where your employees can perform their duties without the risk of bodily harm.

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Conducting regular compliance audits in conjunction with your attorney will help avoid legal problems before they arise. This process may:

  • Reveal the need for additional safety equipment (i.e., respirators, safety guards, etc.).

  • Identify potential problem areas where new practices should be utilized to minimize the risk of exposure (i.e., storing hazardous materials offsite).

  • Show the need for advanced training programs, taking into consideration the employee's languages and learning abilities.

  • Involve reviewing and updating record-keeping procedures.

  • Pick-up on and rectify various minor problems before it's brought to the attention of agency officials (i.e., replacing missing OSHA posters).

Safety claim investigation

Should a safety claim be filed, the need for legal assistance becomes a matter of urgency. To validate the employee's allegation, the company and its attorney have to conduct an internal investigation. If the petition is valid, your attorney will discuss with you the steps necessary to deal with the problem.

Safety Claim Defense

Situations in which OSHA has issued a citation can often be resolved through an informal process with the agency. Yet, if this isn't possible, the benefit of having a strong defense team will ensure that sanctions, fines, and publicity are kept to a minimum.

Workplace safety is a serious concern

It's your responsibility as an employer to ensure that your workers are free to operate in an environment that doesn't endanger their well-being. It's vital to understand the workplace safety law and work with a lawyer specializing in this field. This'll ensure that your company is compliant with the law and keep you out of trouble.

There are many advantages to keeping your venture's work environment safe, including financial gains. If you suspect that your company isn't complying with the law, now is the time to take action.

Chris Porteous

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

High Performance Growth Marketer

Chris Porteous is CEO of SearchEye, which offers unbundled digital marketing projects for clients and agencies across the globe.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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