October 2013 - Who's Responsible

It is always difficult to raise your hand and admit that you may have done something wrong. On the other hand, it can be devastating to your career if it is discovered that you did something wrong and failed to do something about it. If you are a foreman, a supervisor, a superintendent or any other member of the management team, you are an agent of the company. As such, you are responsible for what happens to those under your direction. If you fail to follow your company’s policies and procedures, you can be held liable for failing to perform. Depending on the circumstances, you may find yourself facing either criminal, civil or both types of legal action.

So now you are feeling smug and say you are just an employee and you don’t have responsibility for anyone. Unfortunately, this is wrong. A quick look at 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act says that management must provide a safe and healthy work environment (paraphrased). That is pretty straight-forward and doesn’t leave too much for the imagination. But we can’t stop there; we must also read 5(b) of the Act. It says that all employees must do those things that are in their best interest. So now we have verbiage that holds both the employer and the employee liable for their actions. This is very appropriate as we now have shared responsibility. It may be wrong for an employer to ask an employee to do something that is unsafe, but it is also wrong for the employee to act on those instructions when they know it could be dangerous or result in personal harm.

The bottom line is that we are all responsible for safety, but management has an added responsibility to hold employees accountable for their safety performance. With that being said, employees must exercise their right to say “NO” when directed to perform activities in an unsafe manner. When employees are threatened with retaliation for refusal to work or for filing a complaint, OSHA upholds the whistleblower laws to protect employees from these actions. A good employer will educate their employees concerning these laws and will exercise good judgment when dangerous work assignments are made.

For more information on worker’s rights (and employers right’s), contact your nearest SCATS office and ask to speak with a consultant. SCATS is here to assist both employers and employees about safety in the workplace.