Let's start with the basics. If you look up the word supervise in Webster's Dictionary, you'll see is derived from the Latin term, "super-videre," which means "over-to see". Before the common use of the term, "supervisor," the term used most commonly was "overseer." To supervise now commonly means:
So, why are supervisors so important? They can take immediate, direct action to make sure their work areas are safe and healthful for all employees.
In his text, Occupational Safety and Health Management, Thomas Anton relates that the supervisor bears the greatest responsibility and accountability for implementing the safety and health program because it is he or she who works most directly with the employee.
It is important supervisors understand and apply successful management and leadership principles to make sure their employees enjoy an injury- and illness-free work environment. But how does management and leadership differ? Management may be thought of as applying organizational skills, while leadership involves effective human relations skills.
It's extremely important for a supervisor to provide adequate oversight so he or she may uncover hazardous conditions (materials, tools, equipment, environment) and unsafe work practices before they injure or kill a worker.
It may be difficult to prove to OSHA that the employer has provided adequate supervision when an accident occurs because an accident implies failure on the part of the employer to proactively detect and correct hazardous conditions and unsafe behaviors before an accident occurs.
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As detailed in the Section 5 (The General Duty Clause) of the OSHA Act of 1970, the employer is assigned responsibility and held accountable to maintain a safe and healthful workplace. The following is an excerpt from Public Law 91-596, 91st Congress, S. 2193, December 29, 1970.
(a) Each Employer -
Employers can be cited by OSHA for violation of the General Duty Clause if a recognized serious hazard exists in their workplace and the employer does not take reasonable steps to prevent or abate the hazard. The General Duty Clause is used only where there is no standard that applies to the particular hazard.
A key concept to understand is that legally, supervisors are "agents of the employer," and assume the responsibilities of the employer to the degree they are given authority. This first module discusses some of the basic employer and supervisor obligations to employees under OSHA law. Fulfilling these obligations is a key requirement of effective safety supervision.
As you can see, employers have clearly defined responsibilities under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, and as the "agent of the employer" the supervisors have the same responsibilities for the employees they supervise. The following list are basic responsibilities stated throughout OSHA standards.
Under OSHA law, you are entitled to working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm. Workers have certain rights, under OSHA law, and employers have certain responsibilities.
Workers have the right to:
As a supervisor, you must be familiar with the conditions under which employees may file a complaint with OSHA. They may contact OSHA if they believe a violation of a safety or health standard or an imminent danger situation exists in their workplace. They may request that their name not be revealed to their employer. They can file a complaint on OSHA's website, in writing or by calling the nearest OSHA area office. They may also call the office and speak with an OSHA compliance officer about a hazard, violation, or the process for filing a complaint.
If the above conditions are met, they may take the following steps:
If they file a complaint, they have the right to find out OSHA's action on the complaint and request a review if an inspection is not made.
It's also important to know Section 11(c) of the OSHAct authorizes OSHA to investigate employee complaints of employer discrimination against those who are involved in protected activities. Protected activities generally fall into four broad categories:
Some examples of discrimination are firing, demotion, transfer, layoff, losing opportunity for overtime or promotion, exclusion from normal overtime work, assignment to an undesirable shift, denial of benefits such as sick leave or vacation time, blacklisting with other employers, taking away company housing, damaging credit at banks or credit unions and reducing pay or hours.
The employer is responsible for identifying hazards. It's useful to categorize them into five categories:
Let's review these five categories:
Materials: liquids, solids and gases that can be hazardous to employees.
Equipment: machinery and tools used to produce or process goods.
Environment: general area that employees are working in.
People: employees, managers, supervisors, in the workplace.
System: Ultimately, the root cause of most accidents is one or more weaknesses within the safety management system.
There are several effective tools supervisors can use to help them identify and correct hazards including, observations, inspections, job hazard analyses (JHA), and incident/accident investigations.
Observation is important because it can be a great tool to effectively identify behaviors that directly account for the greatest percentage of all workplace injuries. It's better than other tools that we will discuss because observation focuses on discovering unsafe behaviors rather than hazardous conditions. There are two types of observation:
Informal observation. An informal observation process is nothing more than being watchful for hazards and unsafe behaviors throughout the work shift. No special procedure is involved. All employees should be expected to look over their work areas once in a while.
Formal observation program. One of the most effective proactive methods to collect useful data about the hazards and unsafe behaviors in your workplace is the formal observation program because it includes a written plan and procedures.
For example, safety committee members or other employees may be assigned to complete a minimum number of observations of safe/unsafe behaviors during a given period of time. Here is what can be done with the data gathered:
Note: An important policy for successful formal observation procedures is that they are not, in any way, linked to discipline. Observers should not discipline or "snitch" on employees. Discipline should never be a consequence of an observation. To do so ensures any observation program will fail as an accurate fact-finding tool. Follow these best practices:
Another important activity to ensure a safe work area is to conduct an effective walkaround safety inspection. To be most effective, it makes sense that the safety inspection responsibility be delegated to the supervisor. Who is better positioned to effectively identify and correct workplace hazards? Remember, as an agent of the employer, the basic responsibility to inspect the work area should rest with supervisors.
During the inspection, look for hazards in the five MEEPS categories. In some instances, using an inspection checklist may be a good idea to make sure a systematic procedure is used. The only downside from using a checklist regards the "tunnel vision" syndrome: hazards not addressed on the checklist may be overlooked. Another problem is that inspectors may be looking only for "conditions" and ignoring "behaviors." Check for both when inspecting.
Make everyone an inspector. Supervisors should not be the only persons inspecting for safety in the work area. Everyone should be an inspector. But how does the supervisor get employees to willingly inspect for safety every day? Simple, supervisors set the example by inspecting regularly, they insist that everyone inspects, and they recognize (thank) their workers for inspecting and reporting hazards.
Another effective activity to ensure a safe and healthful workplace is the Job Hazard Analysis (JHA). This process is also called a Job Safety Analysis (JSA) In the JHA process, supervisors and employees together analyze each step of a particular task and come up with ways to make it safer.
The Problem: Unfortunately, the walkaround inspection is usually just an assessment. It merely attempts to determine if a hazard is present or not. It's conducted by one or two persons who walk around looking high and low to uncover hazardous conditions (We call this the "rolling eyeball syndrome"). If properly trained, they may effectively uncover hazards. If properly trained they may know how to effectively question employees during the inspection (they ask questions other than "any safety complaints?"). The most serious weakness inherent in the safety inspection process is that very little time is devoted to analyzing any one particular work area. For more information on conducting a JHA, see course 706 Job Hazard Analysis.
Another important responsibility of the supervisor is to investigate near-miss incidents and injury accidents. Although incident/accident investigations are "reactive" because they occur after the near-miss or injury event, they may still be quite effective by identifying hazards and preventing future injuries. Check out the video to the right to learn more about the "Action Steps" in the incident/accident investigation process.
Make sure employees report near-misses. It's a proven fact investigating near-miss incidents is effective for a number of reasons.
Investigating incidents is always less expensive than investigating accidents because an injury or illness has not occurred.
Accident investigation - Safety triage Accident investigations that occur after someone is injured are still very important if the primary purpose is to uncover root causes.
Fix the system: not the blame. It is never appropriate to conduct accident investigations to place blame: to do so is basically a waste of time and will harm the safety management system in the long term. Discipline should be administered only after it can be shown that no safety management system components somehow contributed to the accident.
Investigate all accidents. Although OSHA requires the employer to investigate only serious-injury accidents, it's important to investigate even minor accidents because, what might be today's cut finger, might be tomorrow's amputated hand. It's that simple.
Accident investigation is a seven-step process with the ultimate of conducting accident investigations.
Whenever hazardous conditions and unsafe behaviors are discovered through observations, inspections, JHAs, or investigations, it's important to determine their root causes.
A hazard, unsafe behavior, near-miss, or injury may be the result of many factors that have interacted in some dynamic way. When conducting hazard analyses or incident/accident investigations, be sure to include each of the following levels of analysis to make sure you uncover the root causes:
Injury analysis - How did the injury occur? At this level of analysis, we focus on trying to determine the direct cause of the injury that may or did occur. Examples of the direct causes of injury include:
Surface Cause Analysis - Why did the accident occur? Here you determine the unique hazardous conditions and unsafe behaviors that interacted to produce the accident. Each of the hazardous conditions and unsafe behaviors uncovered are the surface causes for the accident. They give clues that point to possible root causes/system weaknesses. Examples of surface causes include:
Root cause analysis - Why did the surface causes occur? At this level, you're analyzing the weaknesses in the safety management system that contributed to the accident. These weaknesses are inadequate/missing safety components such as policies, programs, plans, processes, procedures, or practices. Examples of root causes include:
Controlling hazards and behaviors are the two basic strategies for protecting workers. Controlling hazards are more effective than controlling behaviors, and for good reason. If you can eliminate the hazard, you don't have to worry about exposure due to human behavior. Traditionally, a "Hierarchy of Controls" has been used as a template for implementing feasible and effective controls.
ANSI/ASSP Z10-2012, Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems, encourages employers to use the following hierarchy of hazard controls:
As you can see, the preferred control strategies first try to control hazards through elimination, substitution, or engineering. If the hazards can't be eliminated, replaced, or engineered, the hierarchy next attempts to control exposure to hazards through warnings, administrative methods and personal protective equipment. It's important to understand that:
The "big idea" behind this hierarchy is that the control methods at the top of the list are potentially more effective and protective than those at the bottom. Following the hierarchy of controls leads to the implementation of inherently safer workplace environments, where the risk of illness or injury has been substantially reduced.
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