The Important Role of HR Compliance in Safety

Written By YellowBird
February 17, 2022

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Today, behind the scenes of every successful company there is an experienced and dedicated HR compliance team. In short, HR compliance ensures all individuals within a company adhere to the most current laws and regulations by establishing guidelines that align with external agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). At the same time, HR compliance professionals assist a company with hiring new employees, setting up payroll, and verifying that all compliance standards are met.

When a company makes HR compliance a top priority, the number of workplace incidents it experiences will likely decline while overall worker safety improves. In addition, closely following the direction of HR compliance will minimize the number of penalties or fines issued by government agencies, resulting in fewer liabilities and project interruptions that can slow down production.

While HR and safety might fall into separate departments, the collaboration between the two is critical to ensure work processes are in place that complies with the law. Often, safety departments, which focus solely and specifically on workplace safety practices and conditions, are born out of HR departments. This happens as an organization expands and demands more technical expertise to prepare its workforce for the risks and dangers associated with job duties. However, whether your place of business has two independent departments or HR handling all safety and personnel matters, it is important that the right amount of investment is put into compliance. This may translate to hiring more HR specialists or internal EHS professionals to help meet regulatory requirements for your specific industry.

Outside safety concerns, additional aspects of HR compliance that must be paid attention to include following equal employment opportunity mandates and handling various disputes that may arise between an employee and the company. Some of the most common fines associated with business compliance errors include the following:

Employment Discrimination

Treating an employee differently due to religion, sex, age, ethnicity, or gender is considered employment discrimination. Companies that violate employment discrimination laws can face hefty fines ranging between $50,000 and $300,000. During the 2019 fiscal year alone, more than 72,000 charges of discrimination were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Failure to Pay Wages

Even if a worker is undocumented, an employer must provide payment for every hour clocked on the job at a rate agreed upon on the date they were hired. Also known as wage theft, failing to pay workers can result in penalties that vary widely from state to state. In Oklahoma, employers could face fines of up to 2 percent in liquidated damages per day until wages are paid in full, whereas Illinois charges employers 2 percent a month, including any associated administrative fees. During 2019, the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor collected more than $322 million in unpaid wages from employers throughout the U.S.

Workers’ Compensation

All businesses in the U.S. must offer some form of workers’ compensation to employees who become injured or ill as a direct result of their labor. Individuals eligible for workers’ compensation are reimbursed for lost wages, medical treatment, and any retraining the employee may need. In the event of a death on the job, workers’ compensation also helps ensure that surviving family members receive financial support. In 2019, nearly three out of every 100 full-time employees reported a work-related injury.

If an organization does not have a dedicated safety department, then the compliance responsibilities fall to the HR department for providing the education and resources needed to keep workers safe. When an incident does arise, it may result in a safety violation. The most commonly cited OSHA safety violations include:

  • Inadequate fall protection
  • Poor hazard communication standards
  • Unsafe ladders
  • Lack of proper safety training
  • Inadequate personal protective equipment, such as eye and face protection

At the end of the day, it's up to a company's HR department to ensure all workers comply with safety regulations. Aside from educating employees on workplace best practices and protocols, HR compliance should also monitor job sites regularly to verify adherence to current standards.

HR Compliance and Its Role in Workplace Safety

It’s incumbent upon the HR department to establish consistent standards for everyone to follow concerning industry rules and regulations. Whether done by themselves or delegated to the internal safety department and EHS professionals, communication of expectations is paramount.

With safety compliance being a main area of attention for HR departments, their broader scope of management falls to several other business matters that must be taken care of. This point highlights the importance of a healthy working relationship between HR compliance and a safety department – or at the least an EHS professional within the HR department.

Businesses experience greater productivity and day-to-day safety by making sure HR compliance adequately plans for, implements, and executes the measures needed to comply with local and federal guidelines. Here are the main responsibilities of experienced HR compliance professionals:


1. Setting the Tone

Those who work in HR compliance serve as champions of safety and compliance by clearly defining the benefits of safety to both employees and stakeholders. Following workplace compliance regulations should become part of the company culture, from new hires to upper management. Successful HR compliance professionals know how to convey the value of safety to everyone in the company, effectively mitigating risks and potential liabilities long before they arise.


2. Knowing When You’re In Over Your Head

The best HR compliance experts can recognize their limitations and are not afraid to ask for support from more qualified personnel when needed. Finding the right assistance may include hiring environmental health and safety professionals or other experienced individuals who know how to navigate more complex challenges as they appear. For example, HR compliance veterans will rely on the advice of fire safety professionals when drafting building egress routes or calculating occupancy limits.


3. Developing Comprehensive Training

Another primary objective of a company’s HR department should be regularly scheduling all relevant training needed for workers to perform their jobs safely. Every year, employees should attend classes related to their work environment and skill sets, ranging from CPR training to the basic OSHA 10-hour refresher courses. Those working in HR compliance must also closely monitor the expiration dates of training certificates, scheduling new classes for employees annually as defined by state and federal regulations.


4. Scheduling Audits and Policy Updates

Safety is an ongoing process that requires consistent audits and reviews of potential vulnerabilities in workplace safety. The audit results should then be reflected in future training, employee handbooks, and on-site safety materials to establish the most up-to-date regulatory guidance across all job sites. As laws and regulations change, safety training literature must reflect the appropriate refresh, giving workers easy access to the newest workplace safety information.


5. Maintaining Up-to-Date Knowledge

Compliance requirements change constantly, on a local, state, and federal level. Therefore, it’s critical to make sure employees are relayed the message. HR departments need to stay ahead of any upcoming adjustments to guidance put forward by governing agencies. Modifications to existing education materials should reflect the latest data, statistics, and case studies, and requirements at all times. It is the responsibility of HR departments to ensure that they are current with guidance and regulations as they evolve over time so that the behaviors and practices of employees match the appropriate compliance standards.


6. Being a Dependable Resource

The HR department should be an invaluable point of contact for all employees who have concerns, questions, or comments related to safety and occupational health. Individuals working in human resources must strive to create an inclusive, comfortable environment for workers to express their ideas without fear of reprisal. Given time, those working in HR compliance can establish themselves as reputable and reliable resources for every employee – ultimately striving to achieve an approachable and safe working environment.


HR Compliance and Your Business’s Workplace Safety

As HR compliance overlaps with workplace safety, it is critical for organizations to have the right professionals auditing and developing their internal processes. Sometimes, hiring an experienced outside EHS or OSHA professional is the single best way to ensure compliance at your place of business. If your HR department needs expert compliance support, YellowBird can help you connect with top-level experts today.

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