Enforcement of Safety Programs


Do you have an “effective” safety program for your farm, huller or processor? Are you sure? You may have a complete written program, plenty of training records and documentation, but do you enforce your safety programs? Have you ever written an employee up for violation of one of your safety policies or programs?

Many times we find employers have great programs but do not enforce these programs. They have great track records of having all the necessary programs, conducting all of the necessary training and being accident free. Up until that one accident where an employee does something he knows he is not supposed to do, but does it anyway and ends up hurt. Or an employee continually takes short cuts like the forklift drivers who never wear their seatbelts. I don’t know how many places I’ve been in where the forklift driver drives right by us, and no one says anything, or if they do they just put it back on and go about their business, only to not put it back on the very next time they get off and back on the forklift. They do this because it doesn’t matter in their mind, as there is no disciplinary action. In most of those cases the employer had a written program and even had the required forklift operating rules poster on the wall that specifically states you must wear a seatbelt. If an employer doesn’t enforce a simple thing like a wearing a seatbelt while driving a forklift, how can they enforce other safety issues like lockout/tagout or making sure the guards are on operating equipment, or wearing the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

From a California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CalOSHA) perspective you do not have an effective program if you do not enforce it. In the appeals process there is a “defense” that is recognized, if you meet all of the criteria. It is known as the “Independent employee action defense.” In this case, this affirmative defense applies when an employee acts against the best safety efforts of the employer in causing a violation. The employer must prove each of the following elements by a preponderance of the evidence:

  • The employee was experienced in the job being performed;
  • The employer has a well-devised safety program which includes training employees in matters of safety respective to their particular job assignments;
  • The employer effectively enforces the safety program;
  • The employer has a policy of sanctions against employees who violate the safety program; and
  • The employee caused a safety infraction which he or she knew was contra to the employer’s safety requirements.

We have dealt with many cases where an employee clearly, and by his own admission, operated outside of the required safety practices and in clear violation of the company’s own safety policies and was injured, but we could not use the above defense because they did not meet the required elements, specifically elements 3 and 4. Without enforcement, there is no defense.
Consequences for not Following Safety Policies

The message must be sent that there are consequences for not following safety policies. I know of cases where family members violated safety policies, but were not written up. It does not matter who it is; if there is a violation they must be disciplined. This is meant to send a strong message that safety policies and programs are extremely important and must be followed. If not, there is a tendency to take short cuts, because nothing will happen if they get caught. They do not see the unforeseen accident.

So, to make your program effective, make it enforceable. Have a written disciplinary program, and follow it! Write employees up when you see an infraction. If you do, it will help you in more ways than one. And most importantly, your safety program will improve.