Like most companies, you probably have a well developed workplace safety policy to protect your workers. But does that policy cover contractors, visitors and temporary workers (which, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll refer to collectively as “visitors”) who come to your facilities? Failure to account for visitors is a huge blind spot that can lead not only to injuries but liability. And even if you do have a visitors’ safety policy, you need to ensure that it’s effective.
Here’s a look at the visitors’ safety problem and how to deal with it.
3 Reasons You Need a Visitors’ Safety Policy
Implementing a policy to protect visitors seems like the kind of common sense measure that all companies would adopt. Apparently, however, that’s not the case. We’ve heard from a number of safety directors who say that company executives don’t want to put a visitors’ safety policy in place because it’s “unmanageable.” If you encounter such resistance, here are three good arguments you can use to overcome it:
1. Visitors Are at Risk
The people who work at your site every day can be trained to recognize dangers and take appropriate precautions. This isn’t true of visitors who are at your workplace for only a short time. As a result, visitors are especially vulnerable to injuries and need to be carefully protected.
2. Visitors May Endanger Others
Visitors can also put the health and safety of others in the workplace at risk. For example, visitors may tinker with machines or safety systems, light up cigarettes around combustible fumes or distract workers performing vital safety functions, such as traffic control. And, of course, visitors may pose security risks or threats of violence.
3. You Can Be Liable for Visitor Injuries and Illnesses
Perhaps the most effective way to overcome objections is to argue that a visitors’ safety policy is necessary to protect the company against liability. Stated simply, employers have certain legal responsibilities to protect the health and safety of visitors.
“If the visitors are workers for one of your contractors, those obligations might stem directly from the OSHA laws themselves,” explains Chicago lawyer Janine Landow Esser. “If visitors are outsiders, you might have a duty to protect them under the torts law,” Esser explains. So, for example, visitors who sustain injuries in a trip and fall incident can sue your company for negligence.
The Wrong Way to Implement a Visitors’ Safety Policy
Some companies try to disclaim liability and make visitors responsible for their own safety. For example, they’ll make all visitors sign a waiver like the following:
Visitors to the ABC Company workplace must agree to abide by all ABC safety policies and to accept responsibility for their own safety. ABC Company assumes no responsibility for the visitor’s health and safety and shall in no way be liable for any injuries or accidents that occur.
Visitor’s Name: _____________________________
Although it may sound impressive, lawyers say that a waiver or disclaimer like this isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. “Simply requiring a visitor to sign a piece of paper like this won’t absolve you of your legal duty to protect them against workplace hazards,” according to one lawyer. “Companies can’t unilaterally disclaim their liabilities under OSHA or tort laws,” adds another.
The Right Way to Implement a Visitors’ Safety Policy
Once you accept that visitors’ safety is your responsibility, you need to come up with a good way to protect it. As a legal obligation, visitors’ safety is just like worker safety. You’re not expected to be perfect. All you’re expected to do is show due diligence, that is, take all reasonable precautions to protect your visitors.
The specific steps you take will depend on the kind of industry you’re in, the design of your workplace, the frequency and kind of visitors you get and other variables. For example, in certain especially dangerous or sensitive industries, you might want to assign a company representative to escort the visitor through the workplace.
While there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all, our Model Policy is a good example of an approach you can adapt to fit your own circumstances. Like our model, your visitors’ safety policy should:
Although you can’t disclaim total responsibility for visitors’ safety, you should be able to disclaim responsibility for any injury visitors suffer as a result of failing to obey your safety policy.
Remember that creating a policy is just one piece of the visitors’ safety solution. You should also take other measures such as posting signs throughout the workplace to remind visitors of your safety policies and developing a system for logging visitors in and out.