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OSHA Helps Cities Keep Workers Safe

Safety programs are a critical feature of well-run cities and towns. The fatality data collected by South Carolina's Occupational Safety and Health Administration recorded 12 governmental employees who died on the job in the state during 2017. As municipalities look for resources and methods to keep employees safe and healthy, there are some easy steps to take and easily accessible sources of assistance, including SC OSHA.

Get started with planning
Planning and coordination are a starting point for boosting safety, and many options for cities and towns are free. City staff should first designate an employee in a position of authority as a safety coordinator. This is a position that needs support from management for the establishment of effective safety and risk management programs. Next, a safety committee should be established to help manage hazards and safety procedures. It should have representatives from all departments and have supervisors conduct regularly scheduled safety meetings with employees.

If an employee injury occurs, supervisors should investigate its causes so they can establish measures to keep it from happening again. Supervisors are responsible for creating conditions, work procedures and housekeeping practices that help keep employees safe, as well as stopping or controlling existing hazards.

Each year, the Municipal Association's workers' compensation program, the South Carolina Municipal Insurance Trust, reviews trends for the cities participating in the program. In 2018, most claims were caused by employees with less than three years on the job or by employees ages 18 to 34. Vehicle accidents continued to be the leading cause of injuries, with strains and sprains as the leading types. Police officers continued to lead in claims frequency and claims cost, which is a common national trend.

The new hire onboarding process is the best time to educate employees on the city's safety program. New employees are often trained by a co-worker who works the fastest. This can cause the new employee to get off on the wrong start and result in injuries.

Take advantage of OSHA
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration can be a beneficial asset to cities. The SC Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which operates SC OSHA, makes even more resources available. These can be found or requested at www.scosha.llronline.com, and include free safety training and confidential on-site consulting services to reduce worker injury rates.

Determining what personal protective equipment and other equipment appropriate for the job can be challenging. Sample plans written by SC OSHA, designed to help identify hazards and educate employees, can guide cities through the development of safety plans. SC OSHA offers free training on many topics — OSHA inspections, bloodborne pathogens, trenching and excavation, personal protective equipment and industrial trucks, among others. Local governments may request the training on-site as long as they will have the participation of at least 12 employees.

The updated OSHA general industry checklist can also help identify safety concerns. It asks for hazard assessment procedures and abatement, appropriate protective equipment, emergency action plans and involvement from management and employees both, among other items.

Be willing to ask for help
SC OSHA also has a free consultation service that can guide employers on how to improve safety and health programs, and can help identify and fix existing workplace hazards.

"The SC OSHA safety and health consultation program is completely separate from inspection and enforcement," said Venyke Harley, loss control manager for the Municipal Association's Risk Management Services. "Information about the workplace, plus any unsafe or unhealthy working conditions the consultant uncovers, are typically not reported to the OSHA inspection staff."

Employers are expected to address any serious hazards that are uncovered in a timely manner, and are expected to commit to this before the consultation visit.

"The more knowledge a city has on the safety and health protocols of its operations, the better it can reduce injuries and, most importantly, provide a safe and healthy environment for employees," Harley said.

For more information about SC OSHA, visit www.scosha.llronline.com or call 803.896.7665.