General Business

Maintaining a Safe Working Environment

OSHA, NJDOL and others are Working together to enhance workplace safety.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is partnering with New Jersey officials on a vital goal: Fostering safer and healthier workplaces in the Garden State.

“Here at OSHA, we believe that good jobs are safe jobs, and at workplaces where there are excellent safety and health programs, employee morale is considerably improved and employee turnover rates are greatly reduced,” says Mike Levy, OSHA Region 2 assistant regional administrator.

Last August, OSHA reaffirmed a 2018 agreement with the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDOL) and the state Industrial Safety Committee to continue collaborating on improving workplace safety and health by sharing training and education initiatives.

The alliance also includes promotion of safe workplace recognition efforts that highlight Garden State employers that demonstrate “outstanding commitment” to preventing injuries and illness in the workplace.

According to OSHA data, there were 82 workplace fatalities in New Jersey in 2020, a number that jumped to 110 such deaths in 2021 – a 34% increase. More than half of these fatalities occurred in just three areas: construction, transportation and warehousing, and the waste industry.

Nationwide in 2021, the rate of workplace injuries and illnesses was 2.7 per 100 full-time workers, with a rate of 2.9 in New Jersey – a level 7.4% higher than the US, according to OSHA.

“OSHA believes in a safety and health program in the workplace as a proactive way to manage hazards that basically prevent injuries and illnesses for workers,’’ Levy explains.

Steve Barnett, a partner with the law firm Connell Foley who specializes in environmental law, concurs.

“Connell Foley helps companies document compliance by a safety and health policy, written safety and health programs, OSHA-required recordkeeping, and the employee handbook,’’ explains Barnett.

“Effective safety and health programs require management commitment, trained in-house and consulting safety and health managers, and management-employee communications,” he adds.

Barnett says the employee handbook is the foundation by which the employer will set forth work rules and responsibilities, and to address personnel issues in a fair and consistent manner. While workplace safety applies to every business, there is no one-size-fits-all employee handbook. The employee handbook must be tailored to the employer’s business practices, industry and workforce.”

Connell Foley’s work includes representing companies contesting OSHA citations, as well as assisting employers seeking OSHA Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) status.

In New Jersey, the federal government enforces OSHA regulations with private employers, while the NJDOL is responsible for compliance with OSHA guidelines in the public sector. But OSHA and NJDOL work closely together.

Via an OSHA grant, for example, NJDOL – through its Division of Public Safety and Occupational Safety and Health – provides free onsite consulting at the request of public and private employers to help them meet OSHA regulations. If violations are found, there are no penalties, and the employers agree to correct the issues.

In 2022, NJDOL field staff conducted 225 public-sector and 375 private-sector consultations, according to the agency.

Safety training courses, including industry-specific programs and a library of safety videos, also are provided to businesses by NJDOL.

“Our emphasis is prevention – we aim to keep workers safe, help employers comply with OSHA regulations and ensure workers receive the protections they have been granted by federal and state laws,” says Angela Della Santi, an NJDOL spokeswoman.

Della Santi notes, “Employers are responsible for familiarizing themselves with the regulations for their particular industry and adhering to the industry standards detailed in the regulations.”

Jill Schiff, executive director of the Associated Construction Contractors of America’s New Jersey (ACCNJ) chapter, praises the combined proactive efforts of OSHA and NJDOL to work with companies to help address safety concerns and protect workers.

Many of her chapter’s members, she says, have a company safety professional and often a team to enhance workplace protocols.

“They also believe safety is everyone’s responsibility – from the apprentice to the company owner; all play a part in keeping coworkers safe,’’ Schiff explains.

“Health and safety programs, job hazard analysis, daily inspections, weekly meetings, industry events and continuing education … these are just a few examples of ways in which ACCNJ members meet or exceed OSHA guidelines,” she adds.

OSHA also distributes guidance documents to assist employers on specialized subjects involving specific industries, ranging from agriculture to healthcare to construction trades.

However, Levy stresses that while partnerships are preferable, his agency will take a far tougher tact when needed.

“For those employers that don’t get the message that they can improve their safety and health program and make a difference in the lives of workers, we do enforcement,” he explains.

Seeking to reduce workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses in New Jersey, Levy says OSHA plans to continue its partnership with the NJDOL and others to push companies and industries with poor records to make improvements.

ACCNJ’s Schiff expresses her appreciation to OSHA for sending compliance assistance specialists to her group’s quarterly safety meetings and at job sites – upon request – to help members stay in compliance.

“Our members will reach out directly to them. They’re not afraid to call and ask them a question,’’ Schiff says. “They’re just extremely accessible and proactive in making sure they’re not being reactive.’’

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