By Brie DeLisi
Prior to COVID-19, OSHA inspections were already on a decline, “the average number of OSHA inspections per year under this administration is more than 5,000 inspections less per year than the average number of inspections” under previous administrations, according to an NELP data brief. During COVID-19, employee complaints soared while OSHA inspections have nearly halted. Additionally, OSHA has only provided recommendations for COVID-19 employer response – with no enforceable guidelines.
Organizational response to this lack of enforcement and oversight is a clear indication of safety culture. Some organizations may look at this as a reason to relax safety measures and spend less resources on employee safety. However, the stronger safety cultures will look at this as a personal call to action – to step up when OSHA, an organization designed to protect workers, is failing them.
How does an organization with strong safety culture react to a weakened OSHA?
Organizations that have a strong safety culture do not regress despite changes in OSHA. They will continue to operate ‘business as usual’ when conducting self-inspections and audits – there are required daily, weekly, monthly and annual inspections that need to be conducted to ensure employee safety and continuity of business. Employees and management alike understand that, for example, if forklifts stop being inspected prior to operation, it can result in missing a safety risk which would potentially impact employee wellbeing, and if it were to break down, operations would be impacted.
These companies will also leverage internal communication opportunities and anonymous reporting. Employees originally could report to OSHA any employer negligence and have a fairly quick response, and without that employees may feel helpless. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, OSHA received over 5,000 employee complaints – and has only issued 1 citation. Organizations with strong safety cultures will offer internal anonymous reporting and respond accordingly to ensure employees still have that lifeline.
How about responding to COVID-19?
Strong safety cultures will take it upon themselves to identify and implement safety controls for avoiding employee exposure to COVID-19. Those OSHA recommendations become internal requirements and they will go above and beyond to ensure employee wellbeing. Management will bring in the resources and conducted the necessary research to create the safest work environment possible.
What happens to the organizations that relax safety compliance?
The organizations with a weak safety culture will end up paying the price, whether or not that includes an OSHA fine price tag. These companies will be impacted by have less motivated and engaged employees (due to the lack of value they are experiencing) which will impact production. There will be increased workers compensation from injuries, due to a lack of safety controls. Additionally, it is highly likely that there will be significant reductions in workforce due to illness – as is being experienced by many meat-packing factories in Minnesota, where thousands of employees have been infected. All of the above will ultimately impact their bottom line.
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