Stop Work Authority clauses in workplace safety policies can be difficult to manage due to the nature of events in which the clauses are put into operation. A 2-way communications solution with logging capabilities can help overcome any policy management issues and contribute towards a safer workplace environment.
In 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) introduced minimum standards for workplace safety. It also introduced a number of workers' rights - including the right to refuse to work without fear of retribution if a situation had the potential to result in death or serious injury (1977.12(b)(2)).
The law was tested in 1974 when two Whirlpool employees refused to crawl out onto a screen from which an employee had suffered a fatal fall nine days previously. After an Ohio appeals court upheld the workers' rights, the court's verdict was confirmed by the United States Supreme Court in 1980.
The term “Stop Work Authority” arrived from Europe in the 1990s and was predominantly used in the construction industry until 1999, when the Department of Energy published an Accidents Investigations Workbook in which one of the questions accident investigators were prompted to ask was “Were the workers empowered to stop work if unanticipated or unsafe conditions arose?”
The term has since been adopted by health and safety professionals across all industries, and Stop Work Authority clauses are often written into business workplace safety policies - the benefits being that, by giving a worker the authority to stop unsafe work, businesses can prevent loss, minimize business disruption, and promote a culture of workplace safety.
Issues with Managing Stop Work Authority Clauses
Despite it being nearly fifty years since the passage of OSHA, many Stop Work Authority clauses are still based on the conditions laid down by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. These stipulate a worker has the right to refuse to work when:
- A risk to health and safety has been identified and brought to the employer´s attention, but the employer has failed to address the risk.
- The worker genuinely believes “in good faith” that an imminent risk of danger exists (which can either be a danger to themselves or to work colleagues).
- A reasonable person would agree there is a real danger of death or serious injury to the worker or a work colleague.
- Insufficient time exists to address the risk via enforcement channels (i.e. by reporting the risk to a union representative or the Occupational Health and Safety Administration).
Although it is usually the case all four conditions have to apply before a worker has the authority to stop work, the process is open to abuse due to how the conditions can be interpreted. For example a worker could claim a risk exists to avoid working at a particular time; while an employer might claim a risk has been addressed, although the way in which it has been addressed still leaves a risk of danger.
Even when there is no ulterior motive for claiming a risk exists/has been addressed, the failure to accurately document evidence of a risk existing or being addressed can lead to problems - especially if an avoidable accident subsequently occurs. For this reason, it is recommended businesses take advantage of 2-way communication solutions with logging capabilities.
How 2-Way Communication Solutions with Logging Capabilities Work
2-way communication solutions with logging capabilities work via mobile phone apps. Every conversation, image, and instruction sent through via app is recorded for review on an incident management and response dashboard. The recorded data can be used to identify frequently-occurring risks, employees most likely to report risks, and incomplete maintenance or repairs.
One of the advantages of having a mobile phone app dedicated to recording risks to safety is that workers are more likely to remember to use it during stressful circumstances. Furthermore, there are times when a risk may only be temporary (i.e. due to severe weather); and, by reporting the risk of danger “at the time and in the circumstances”, workers are not exposed to their claims being disputed.
Similarly, employers can document the measures taken to address frequently-occurring risks, record the times they have provided training to workers likely to perform risky tasks, and follow-up on incomplete maintenance and repairs. Subject to other business policies, the data can be shared among other departments (i.e. HR) to gain a better understanding of workplace dynamics.
Further Advantages of 2-Way Communication Solutions
2-way communication solutions that work via mobile phone apps can also be used as emergency notification solutions to alert the workforce to a fire, chemical spill, or other emergency; and as mobile panic buttons to simultaneously alert internal security and external emergency services to an incident - providing both the location and the nature of the incident in order to accelerate emergency response.
In addition, the apps can be used to enhance internal communication in non-emergency scenarios, solicit worker availability for additional shifts, and act as a dedicated social media channel to share corporate news, details of job vacancies, and social events. They can even be configured to be used for anonymous tip texting in order to reduce workplace bullying, inappropriate behavior, and insider theft.
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