You Can't Socialize Safety

Senator Harrison Williams (D) of New Jersey and Representative William Albert “Bill” Steiger (R) of Wisconsin demonstrated profound wisdom when they articulated the original doctrine introduced as S.2193 Public Law-596 to the 91st Congress for a vote. They recognized that the free citizens of the United States, regardless of their individual education and/or comprehension skills, might commit an unsafe act with complete disregard for their employer’s directives and more importantly the very Law they were introducing to Congress.

For that reason, what is known as part “(b)” of the Rule was carefully crafted to outline the responsibilities of each citizen subject to the laws passed by Congress. In short, it clearly states that each employee shall comply with the safety polices and orders pursuant to the act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct. You could better describe this as their recognition of “personal accountability”.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970; 29 USC 654; SEC. 5. Duties, clearly defines the responsibilities of each employer and each employee.

29 USC 654

(a) Each employer —

  1. shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;
  2. shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.

(b) Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.

The best illustration of their intent is routinely demonstrated in the enforcement of motor vehicle statutes. If you drive a company owned vehicle into a neighboring state, for this example we’ll use California, and you violate a motor vehicle Statute, they will likely pull you over for a road side interview. After the officer explains what Statute you have violated, you will opine that you are visiting from Arizona and were not aware of that particular expectation. At this point the officer will say welcome to California I need your license and proof of insurance. The citation you are about to receive will be issued to you the operator of the vehicle, not the company it is registered to. He will advise you that it is your responsibility to know the law of the State you’re driving in.

As for accountability in the work place, the Rules of Construction provide detailed instructions so contractors understand they are not exempt from any portion of the standard regardless of tier and establish that written contracts do not provide indemnification from compliance.

1926.16(a)

The prime contractor and any subcontractors may make their own arrangements with respect to obligations which might be more appropriately treated on a jobsite basis rather than individually. Thus, for example, the prime contractor and his subcontractors may wish to make an express agreement that the prime contractor or one of the subcontractors will provide all required first-aid or toilet facilities, thus relieving the subcontractors from the actual, but not any legal, responsibility (or, as the case may be, relieving the other subcontractors from this responsibility). In no case shall the prime contractor be relieved of overall responsibility for compliance with the requirements of this part for all work to be performed under the contract.

1926.16(b)

By contracting for full performance of a contract subject to section 107 of the Act, the prime contractor assumes all obligations prescribed as employer obligations under the standards contained in this part, whether or not he subcontracts any part of the work.

1926.16(c)

To the extent that a subcontractor of any tier agrees to perform any part of the contract, he also assumes responsibility for complying with the standards in this part with respect to that part. Thus, the prime contractor assumes the entire responsibility under the contract and the subcontractor assumes responsibility with respect to his portion of the work. With respect to subcontracted work, the prime contractor and any subcontractor or subcontractors shall be deemed to have joint responsibility.

1926.16(d)

Where joint responsibility exists, both the prime contractor and his subcontractor or subcontractors, regardless of tier, shall be considered subject to the enforcement provisions of the Act.

Although the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 clearly define’ the responsibilities of each employer and each employee, employers should not focus on compliance with a regulatory law simply for the purpose of meeting a well-defined minimum expectation. They should provide the best safety systems that are applicable to their work environment, train their teams to use them correctly and enforce their expectations through documented corrective action that enhances the employee’s ability to meet established expectations. Remember that the average person will rise to the lowest acceptable form of behavior; when you encounter that individual who refuses to accept responsibility for their conduct, take swift action to remove them from the work environment so they don’t corrupt benefits already achieved through proactive efforts.

If you’re company receives Citations from a regulatory enforcement agency and you can demonstrate that you have met the obligations articulated in the law, don’t be afraid to stand your ground. Laws are not intended to be interpreted by individuals with good intentions based on how they feel; they are intended to be articulated unambiguously by professionals with integrity that understand employers have rights. The law clearly requires individual accountability for our own actions and when you can establish your company’s compliance with comprehensive records that support your good faith efforts; enforcement agencies must recognize those facts as compliance with the law. That said, if you are one of those employers who refuses to accept your obligations articulated in the Act, you deserve every bit of scrutiny headed your direction and it’s not if, it’s when.

Remember, every year the largest insurance organizations in the world study losses and come to the same conclusion: 95% of all losses are the direct result of an unsafe act committed by an individual. As a Nation we are never going to successfully address the negative impact of injuries and illnesses in the workplace until we acknowledge the importance of personal accountability. You can’t socialize safety!

David M. Howard, Founder