Workplace Safety Issues and OSHA Compliance

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Workplace Safety Issues and OSHA Compliance

“When the unthinkable happens.” You may have heard this phrase in ads for products and services that involve emergencies and accidents. In our opinion, there should be no such thing as “unthinkable.”

PROs should always be thinking about workplace safety. It’s much better to think and plan ahead about safety than be stuck in the horrible position of dealing with an accident and its aftermath without help. Now that can be a catastrophe!

Workplace safety planning should be both preventive and responsive. You should have plans and programs in place that prevent accidents, and you should have guidelines and support to quickly and properly respond if something does happen.

The reality is, accidents can and will happen despite your best efforts to prevent them. That’s why they’re called accidents! A single accident may not only cause someone harm. It can cost you your business.

Discussion of workplace safety in the United States isn’t complete without including OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

OSHA Sets the Standards

OSHA was established to ensure safe and healthful working conditions by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training and assistance. It is part of the United States Department of Labor.

You can create a solid foundation for workplace safety by becoming familiar with OSHA standards and by taking advantage of OSHA resources specifically designed for small businesses.

The starting point is OSHA’s general duty clause, which says that “Each employer 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.”

OSHA also lays out a number of key employer responsibilities on its website.

Key employer responsibilities include:

  • Make sure workplace conditions conform to applicable OSHA standards
  • Make sure employees have and use safe tools and equipment
  • Establish or update operating procedures and communicate them
  • Provide safety training
  • Provide medical examinations and training when required by OSHA standards
  • Post, at a prominent location within the workplace, the OSHA poster informing employees of their rights and responsibilities
  • OSHA encourages all employers to adopt a safety and health program

OSHA Resources

OSHA is not just about following rules and regulations. With the goal of establishing safe and healthy workplaces, OSHA also offers services and assistance to help small businesses. These include:

  • OSHA Consultation visit
  • Mentoring 
  • Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) 
  • Training and Education 
  • State Plans — Twenty-four states operate their own federally approved occupational safety and health programs. Many states offer additional programs of assistance to small businesses.

Of all OSHA resources, the easiest to access are online at www.osha.gov. Among them is another helpful summary of information, “Q&As for Small Business Employers”.

A more in-depth guide is the “Small Business Handbook”.

And for a helpful visual aid, check out JohnTalk’s infographic on OSHA signs.

Top Health and Safety Issues

Planning and prevention are the keys to establishing a safe and healthy work environment. But what exactly are you planning for?

  • Repetition injuries — Back, neck and shoulder injuries are some of the more common injuries. A rotator cuff injury is typical. These injuries can occur from the repetition of loading and unloading units as well as wrapping hoses and continual bending throughout the workday.
  • Injuries from being struck by objects — Workers can be hit by toppling units and hand washing stations, lift gates, etc., causing bruising or cuts.
  • Weather-related health hazards — Being outside in all conditions brings the potential for frostbite, sunstroke, bee stings, even lightning strikes.
  • Chemical handling — Some materials used to clean tanks and toilets are hazardous. Necessary precautions like using gloves and masks might be required depending on the product being used.
  • Waste management hazards — Human waste carries many varieties of viruses and bacteria.
  • Driving-related accidents — Drivers of septic trucks and flatbed delivery vehicles are at risk for accidents more so than the typical driver because they are on the road all the time, make frequent stops, often drive off-road and on worksites, and have larger vehicles with loads to maintain.

Your Safety Program

With potential health and safety issues at every step of the waste management process, it is crucial that safety training and accident prevention are taken into account when hiring and training new employees, creating safety manuals and providing accident prevention techniques and practices for day-to-day operations. The safety of your employees is your number one concern, but violations can result in hefty fines and even the revocation of a business license if proper safety procedures are not followed.

For questions throughout the process of creating your program, contact OSHA or your state if it has an OSHA-approved workplace safety and health program. There are currently 24 state plans. To see if your state has one, go to https://www.osha.gov/stateplans.

OSHA offers 10 simple steps to begin building your safety program:

  1. Establish safety and health as a core value.
  2. Lead by example. Practice safe behaviors yourself and make safety part of your daily conversations with workers.
  3. Implement a reporting system. Develop a simple procedure to report injuries, illnesses and incidents.
  4. Provide training.
  5. Conduct inspections. Inspect the workplace with workers and ask them to identify any activity, piece of equipment, or materials that concern them.
  6. Collect hazard control ideas. Ask workers for ideas on improvements.
  7. Implement hazard controls.
  8. Identify foreseeable emergencies and develop instructions on what to do.
  9. Seek input on workplace changes. Before making significant changes to the workplace, consult with workers to identify potential safety or health issues.
  10. Make improvements. Set aside a regular time to discuss safety and health issues, with the goal of identifying ways to improve the program.

Your program and manuals may be easier to manage if you have separate sections covering areas such as:

  • Vehicles and driving
  • Storage, handling and transportation of products and equipment
  • Waste management processes
  • Incidents and accidents response
  • First aid
  • General employee behavior
  • Security (for your property)
  • Recordkeeping, forms, postings, etc.

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Safety Training and Practicing Safety

Safety training should be a basic part of job training, but it doesn’t stop there. Safety training should be practiced every day.

Ongoing safety measures and precautions can take many forms, from running through a checklist before a driver leaves each morning to regular training meetings. OSHA requires one meeting a month, but it’s better to meet once a week as a team. Safety huddles create camaraderie as well as a unified approach to safety and accident prevention.

Many portable restroom rental businesses find that daily reminders, safety huddles and pre-trip inspections for drivers work well in accident prevention and safety training. An example of a daily reminder might be a dispatcher who is checking in with a driver on the way to a delivery. A dispatcher will call the driver, ask what the road conditions are like, ask questions about safety and answer any questions or concerns the driver might have.

Incentive Programs

If you feel you need more buy-in on safety from employees, you may consider starting an incentive program. For example, employees earn a prize or bonus after a certain period without accidents or injuries. OSHA permits rate-based incentive programs as long as they are not implemented in a manner that discourages reporting, such as an employee not reporting an incident for fear of losing out on the prize. You can avoid this behavior by creating a workplace culture that emphasizes safety, not just rewards.

Vehicle Safety Tips

Since vehicles are a major cause of incidents, you’ll need to place special emphasis on all aspects of vehicle safety. It may be necessary to develop specific policies in your safety program on topics including truck inspections, how units and other equipment will be secured on the truck, and under what conditions a truck should be pulled from use.

Here are some starting pointers:

  • Check vehicles before and after a job. Beforehand, check brakes, headlights, and mirrors; remove dashboard and cab clutter. Before leaving a job, do a walkaround of the truck to make sure all is clear and nothing is out of place.
  • Company vehicles are for company business only.
  • Only employees should be allowed in vehicles.
  • Wear seat belts at all times while driving.
  • Follow all “rules of the road.”
  • Always use caution and keep your attention on the road.
  • No handheld mobile phone use; use windshield-mounted GPS or cell phone holders so your drivers can follow maps easily and not get distracted.
  • No drugs, alcohol or firearms while on routes (or on company property).
  • Service trucks and other equipment regularly. Never let them go over their service due date.
  • Consider installing rear-view cameras.

Hazardous Locations

Portable sanitation holds the potential for more safety incidents because it often involves traveling to and working in less common and even hazardous conditions and worksites. These include:

  • Disaster areas — May include downed power lines and blocked roadways. May require site-specific PPE such as coveralls, high-visibility safety vests and hard hats.
  • Construction sites — Potential safety issues due to the use of heavy equipment and overhead obstacles. May require type 1 or 2 hard hat and steel-toe boots.
  • Other sites with specific hazards such as mining facilities — Check with the client if extra safety gear is needed, such as respirators or face masks.
  • High-rise sites — Equipment safety should emphasize employee training, regular maintenance and equipment inspection, such as lift points, wheels, lifts and slings.
  • Inclement weather — Wind, storms, snow and ice can cause dangerous conditions. Go through your tie-down process, encourage your crew to stop if the situation isn’t safe or secure, and provide extra protection like ice cleats and insulated rubber gloves.
  • Narrow roads, unpaved surfaces or rough terrain — Review the site beforehand with your driver to discuss how to handle steering corrections for tire slippage and go over driving tips.

Insurance is a Must

While you are implementing your plan to create and maintain a safe and healthy environment, it’s also critical to implement your plan for the times when things go wrong. This means taking one absolutely critical action: getting insurance.

You must have business insurance for your portable sanitation company. Business insurance protects you from financial loss that may occur as a result of risks that occur during the normal operation of your business.

What risks does a portable sanitation company run? Driving large vehicles over all types of roads in all weather conditions. Working outdoors all year. Handling heavy, bulky equipment. Working on construction sites, industrial sites, agricultural sites, high-rise sites, municipal and federal property and private property. Servicing large amounts of people. Working in emergency situations and in disaster areas. Working with chemicals. Cleaning, transporting and dumping human waste. As a comedian might ask, what could possibly go wrong? Plenty!

Perhaps the main reason a business owner may go without insurance is that he thinks he will save money. However, compared to other business costs, insurance is relatively inexpensive. And if you ever need it, it can easily pay for itself with one incident, and even save your business from economic disaster.

There are other important reasons to have insurance:

  • Having insurance may help you keep employees — Employees want to feel safe and secure where they work. Insurance shows your employees that you take their well-being seriously. Your loyalty to them is likely to be returned with loyalty.
  • Customers may not hire you if you don’t have insurance — Insurance is an important factor in building business credibility, especially when it comes to B2B (business to business) relationships. Construction companies and not-for-profits, for example, know the importance of having insurance, so they will want to see eye-to-eye with you on the subject. Even for many private events, such as birthday parties, smart customers will be asking if you are insured.
  • It may be required for the job — Municipal and federal contracts will likely stipulate that you must have insurance.
  • Your bank wants you to have insurance — Financial institutions will check that you have insurance before approving loans.
  • Taking your time may cost you — If you decide at a later date to get insurance, the insurance company will see that you were trying to “cut corners.” You may get the policy, but the premiums will be much more expensive because the company will consider you a risky client.
  • Peace of mind — It’s one advantage of having insurance that’s hard to measure, but great to have.

Getting Insurance

Finding the right insurance agent is important and worth taking the time to do right.

It’s not likely that you can just call your agent for home and auto insurance. First, many agencies don’t even offer commercial insurance. Second, insurance for portable sanitation carries risks that a regular insurance agent might not be familiar with. You might not even realize some of your own insurance needs. Your best choice is an insurance company or agent who knows and insures portable sanitation companies.

Online research can get you started. It’s also helpful to ask other portable sanitation owners and product manufacturers. If you are a member of PSAI (Portable Sanitation Association International), you can benefit from their resources as well as network with other members of PSAI.

The two most important types of insurance you should consider for your business are general liability insurance and commercial auto insurance. A general liability policy covers legal problems due to accidents, bodily injuries, property damage, medical expenses, libel, slander, negligence, etc.

Commercial auto insurance covers your company vehicles for the financial costs of accidents, including property damage, personal injury, medical bills and the like. According to one portable insurance expert, insuring your vehicles is the most important insurance need because that’s where most of the claims originate. You will want to discuss the different types of insurance with your agent. Also, talk to your agent about how much insurance you will need.

What to Do in Case of an Accident

Finally, as we have said, nothing should be “unthinkable” when it comes to safety. So, think and plan for accidents.

Your commercial insurance agent is a good source of information when establishing policies and procedures your team will follow in case of an accident. Online research will also give you some helpful resources.

OSHA has two requirements:

  • Report to the nearest OSHA office all work-related fatalities within 8 hours, and all work-related inpatient hospitalizations, all amputations and all losses of an eye within 24 hours.
  • Keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses. Employers with 10 or fewer employees are exempt.

Many of the steps to take following an accident are common sense, but they should be spelled out to reduce confusion or panic about what to do.

Actions would include remaining at the scene, checking on the condition of others involved and exchanging information. You should always contact the police in order to have an official accident report on record. You should set up guidelines for documenting the accident scene with cellphone photos and video.

Drivers should have contact information, accident forms and checklists, emergency markers and a fire extinguisher onboard.

There are also important things NOT to do. Don’t get angry. Don’t sign anything. Don’t try to determine who was at fault. Don’t go on social media and discuss the incident.

The most important action you can take after an accident is to have a thorough review. You want to make sure there isn’t an ongoing problem. For example, unsafe practices by a customer at a worksite or a recent route change resulting in a driver being pressed for time.

It also may be necessary to discipline a worker for negligence in causing an accident, so have clear policies on the subject, and make sure you follow any applicable state and federal laws.

Consider all factors in order to prevent a similar incident in the future.

Looking to Take Your Portable Restroom Business to the NEXT LEVEL? Download our FREE Guide: “Your Guide to Operating A Portable Restroom Business.”

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