Charles John Palenik, MS, PhD
In January 1989, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued voluntary safety and health program-management guidelines designed to prevent occupational injuries and illnesses. These guidelines are not mandatory; rather, they are designed to help businesses move toward "an ideal workplace environment."
OSHA determined that effective employee safety and health programs could reduce the number and severity of workplace injuries and illnesses, improve employee morale and productivity, and reduce compensation costs. OSHA also found that the best programs strive to involve all levels of an organization, as well as instill an overall "culture of safety."
According to OSHA, effective safety and health programs have four elements: 1) Management commitment and employee involvement, 2) worksite analysis, 3) hazard prevention and control, and 4) safety and health training.
Workplace safety and health policies must be clearly stated and should always be in writing. Clear goals and objectives must be established and communicated well. The active participation of all employees should be expected and encouraged. Employees should know their specific responsibilities and should be held accountable for their performance. Safety and health programs should be reviewed annually, at least.
Effective management includes actively analyzing both the types of work performed and the worksite itself. The ultimate goal is to anticipate and prevent employee injuries and illnesses. Employers should perform routine safety and health inspections and identify hazards within the practice. Employers also should establish a system through which employees can report potentially hazardous conditions without fear of reprisal. Reporting employees should receive timely and appropriate responses. All employee injuries and illnesses as well as "near misses" should be promptly investigated.
Existing or potential hazards in the workplace must be addressed. Engineering, work practice, and administrative controls can help prevent injuries and/or illnesses. If controls can't improve a situation, then the use of personal protective equipment may be required. Safety can also be improved through better employee training, positive reinforcement, and compliance monitoring. Routine equipment maintenance also positively affects safety.
Planning and preparing for emergencies is also necessary. For example, safety and health programs should describe in detail the actions that must be taken after accidental exposure to patient body fluids or a hazardous chemical occurs.
The level and nature of training should reflect the responsibilities of all employees. Proper training helps ensure that employees understand the hazards connected with their work and are aware of processes and equipment that can help protect them from harm. Training reinforces the concept that employers and employees both have rights and responsibilities. Employers should create and maintain the safest work environment possible, while employees should comply with properly designed and maintained programs.
In 2001, OSHA developed an eCAT(electronic Compliance Assistance Tool) that provides guidance and information for developing comprehensive safety and health programs. eCAT can be found at www.osha.gov/SLTC/safetyhealth_ecat/index.html.
The Organization for Safety and Asepsis Procedures (OSAP) offers a wealth of compliance information. Visit the OSAP Web site at www.osap.org for links to more than 50 OSHA-related topics.
Dr. Charles John Palenik is an assistant director of Infection Control Research and Services at the Indiana University School of Dentistry. Dr. Palenik has authored numerous articles, book chapters and monographs, and is the co-author of the popular Infection Control and Management of Hazardous Materials for the Dental Team. He serves on the Executive Board of OSAP, dentistry's resource for infection control and safety.Questions about this article or any infection control issue may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.