Whether your job is predominantly sedentary or involves outdoor or physical work, there is always a risk that you could be injured whilst you perform your job. In order to minimise this risk, every workplace should have a set of basic health and safety rules as well as task-specific instructions so that each worker understands the risks involved and the ways to avoid injuring themselves.
Core Occupational Health and Safety Principles
The first thing to note about occupational health and safety is the fact that since each job is different every workplace will require a specific set of guidelines tailored to that position. However, several standards are universal in their application.
All workers have rights and employers have a responsibility to make the work environment as safe and hazard-free as possible. This includes the removal of all recognised hazards and the prohibition of the consumption of alcohol and the use of narcotics by employees whilst working. Employers are expected to protect employees from chemicals and biological hazards as well as providing tools in a safe condition. Employers should also ensure that first-aid is available by providing trained personnel and the relevant materials.
Similarly, employees also have a responsibility to comply with all applicable health and safety rules. This includes reporting workplace hazards and notifying the employer of any potential issues as well as promptly reporting any occupational injuries or illnesses.
A large workplace must have a health and safety committee that meets to discuss work-related safety issues. Smaller workplaces should hold safety meetings and ensure that discussion is frank and open. Meetings should be the place to discuss inspection reports, accident investigations and accident and illness prevention measures. Meetings should be recorded.
Occupational Health and Safety and the Government
There are several Governmental bodies that oversee occupational health and safety.
OSHA: the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration created by Congress in 1971 to oversee the development and enforcement of OH&S rules throughout the country. Each state develops its own health and safety programmes with OSHA as a baseline. The Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act of 1973 (WISHA) allows Washington to develop and apply tighter restrictions than OSHA if necessary.
DOSH: part of the Department of Labor and Industries, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health is in charge of developing and enforcing health and safety rules. DOSH inspects sites for workplace safety compliance and works in an advisory capacity to help employers ensure that their workplaces are compliant. DOSH will also provide training programmes to help committees find and prevent hazards.
Workplace safety is a serious matter and hundreds of people lose their lives each year due to job-related incidents in Washington state alone. If a worker is injured due to the negligent behaviour of his or her employer, he or she may be eligible to claim compensation, which can be a lengthy process. The emergence of ‘no-win no-pay’ lawyers has assisted thousands of people to be able to make claims they might not have otherwise been able to afford.
Kahmen Lai is a freelance writer who occasionally writes for tri-cities railroad accident attorney Spencer Fielding, a specialist in personal injury claims.