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Injury prevention program key to employee safety

Every year, there are hundreds of work-related fatalities reported in California and several hundred thousand disabling non-fatal work injuries and illnesses reported. To help reduce these startling numbers, California requires employers to implement and maintain an Injury Prevention Program (IPP).

Following are some of the various components of an Injury Prevention Program.

Person in charge of implementation: The program must identify the person or persons with authority and responsibility for implementing the program.

System of ensuring employee compliance: The program must include a system of rewarding or disciplining employees with regard to the goal of safe and healthful work practices. Good safety rewards range from valuable gifts and prizes to pizza parties. Either approach, or something in between, is acceptable. When it comes to discipline for safety violations, the punishment must be meaningful and fit the crime. A slap on the wrist for a serious safety rule violation won't cut it with an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspector evaluating your IPP compliance.

Communicating with employees regarding safety: The program must include a system for communicating with employees and must encourage the reporting of hazards without fear of reprisal. Such methods as a safety newsletter and weekly mandatory safety meetings are recommended. The meetings, topics covered, and the employees attending should be documented.

Labor/management safety and health committee: Employers should establish a labor/management safety and health committee to comply with the communication requirement.

Regularly scheduled inspections: The program must include a system for identifying and evaluating workplace hazards including periodic inspections. Further, inspections should be made whenever new substances, processes, procedures or equipment are introduced. Again, these inspections should be documented.

Additional inspections: The program must include a procedure for well-documented investigation of occupational injuries and/or illnesses.

Procedures for correcting unsafe or unhealthy work practices: The program must include procedures for correcting unsafe or unhealthy conditions, work practices or conditions in a timely manner based on the severity of the hazard.

Providing safety training and instruction: Employee training must be given to all new employees, and to existing employees upon the introduction of new substances, processes, procedures or equipment, or whenever a new hazard is discovered, and finally, to familiarize supervisors with safety hazards that their employees face. The training should include tests or other methods documenting that the training was effective.

Record-keeping requirements: Employers must keep detailed records of all inspections, of safety and health training given to each employee, and of other acts of compliance under the program.

It is critically important that employers comply with the requirements for an Injury Prevention Program, as Cal-OSHA will evaluate an employer's program as part of its inspection. Typically, Cal-OSHA will also interview a sampling of employees, meet with members of the employer-employee safety committee, and review the employer's records when conducting a workplace inspection. It is important for employers to not only present an adequately written IPP, but to provide the documentation to show that the program is actively and effectively administered. If this information is not provided, an employer will receive a citation from OSHA.

Failure to comply with any one of the requirements of an Injury Prevention Program may also foreclose the possibility of receiving so-called "good faith" reductions to penalties imposed for other OSHA safety violations.

There is one additional, important incentive to complying with the Injury Prevention Program requirement. A well-drafted and administered IPP will go a long way in insulating employers from potential liability under laws that may result in criminal penalties, including substantial fines and jail terms if employers or managers fail to correct, report and/or warn employees about the existence of hazardous conditions.

When it comes to employee safety, the stakes are high. If you have already adopted an Injury Prevention Program, apply it in earnest. If you have yet to adopt one, begin the process immediately. It's simply good business.

Floyd is a senior partner in the Riverside office of Best Best & Krieger LLP's Labor and Employment practice group. Prater is a partner in the San Diego office of Best Best & Krieger LLP's Labor and Employment practice group.

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