Employee safety is an issue that demands attention. Here, we take a look at Verbal Safety Warnings.

How valid are Verbal Safety Warnings?

A verbal safety warning is not necessarily sufficient as a disciplinary action if an employee is known to have violated a safety policy or practice.  Look at how OSHA cited and the court ruled in a case involving the death of a New York bridge worker.

When a New York bridge worker took a fall that resulted in his death, OSHA cited the employer with a serious-violation fine.  The company appealed, saying it provided the correct harness, but the employee failed to use it.  He even ignored supervisors who yelled at him about it.  The court upheld the fine, however, arguing that oral warnings alone aren’t sufficient for enforcing important safety rules.  The company had a progressive discipline plan for safety violations yet the supervisors didn’t follow it.  According to the court, the company certainly should have.

(Secretary of Labor v. Skanska Koch Inc.)

This is certainly reason to pause when employees fail to follow safety rules. As with any employment related disciplinary action, whether it be, safety, attendance, sexual harrassment, performance, etc. documentation is king. Having a standard practice of documenting things effectively is simply smart business. The best path is to keep in mind the words of a process guru I once worked with. He said, “If it’s not documented, it didn’t happen”. The courts often take the same approach, so protect yourself, and document things.

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