How to keep employees safe amid changing warehouse safety regulations

Changing workplace-safety laws require communication and collaboration, HR leaders say.
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Photo Illustration: Dianna “Mick” McDougall, Sources: Getty Images

· 4 min read

Heat standards, packing quotas, and weight limits, oh my! No, this isn’t The Wizard of Oz, but warehouse safety regulations are as terrifying as any lions, tigers, and bears you might encounter on the Yellow Brick Road. There’s a lot riding on the shoulders of HR pros already, and monitoring local, state, and federal safety rules, checks, and more may only add to their stress levels.

There were approximately 3.3 serious warehouse worker injuries for every 100 workers in 2021, according to a report from the Strategic Organizing Center, and work injuries cost US employers an estimated $163.9 billion in 2020, per the National Safety Council. With changing regulations across municipalities, new heat standards in states like Oregon, and New York’s recently passed law limiting warehouse productivity quotas, if an HR leader drops the ball, an employee could get hurt, and the company could incur legal ramifications.

HR Brew spoke with two safety-compliance experts to understand how HR leaders can ensure they’re adhering to the latest safety standards.

The more you know. Just as changes to benefits, performance reviews, or office closures require constant, clear communication, so do changes to safety regulations. Though large companies likely have safety committees consisting of an HR rep, safety managers, workers “representative of the employee base,” and a union representative, as applicable, “HR has to draft all the policies and make the changes and ensure that the operations manager [and] the company knows what those policies and changes are,” explained Julie Cirillo, a lawyer and chief risk officer at HR services company Engage PEO. “Oftentimes, they work jointly to figure out how they’re going to implement the new changes or the new regulations.”

Cirillo has also signed up for multiple newsletters, including OSHA QuickTakes, to stay up-to-speed on new and changing laws. “I probably get at least five to 10 emails every morning that give me press releases from around the country,” she said. Joe Reuter, EVP and chief people officer at Stericycle, a healthcare compliance company with 16,000 employees globally, agreed with Cirillo’s approach and emphasized the importance of communicating and complying with new laws before they go into effect.

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Reuter said that disseminating information about a new regulation from district operations managers on down requires establishing an internal communication protocol so that every affected team member is aware. “Then we would follow that up with periodic internal communications that would be available to all of our team members,” he explained to HR Brew.

Collaboration. HR leaders don’t have to face safety issues alone. Even without the resources or safety teams of large employers, Cirillo recommends turning to external partners—such as lawyers, safety management companies, or professional employer organizations—for guidance.

For companies with safety managers or teams, Cirillo said internal collaboration is key. “Even if the HR manager may not know the [safety] standards, the HR manager should know there’s a rule out there and they may need assistance to understand and comply with the standards, and work with their operations team to comply with the standards.”

Reuter said that HR leaders should meet with their safety committee on a regular basis to examine how safety standards are being met. “Set up your internal focus group meeting. Set up part of your communication so that you can get feedback instantly from your team members. And understand where those disconnects are coming from” so the company can address the issues, he suggested.

Calling OSHA. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—the government organization that regulates the safety of working environments—isn’t just called in when there’s a problem. “OSHA provides so many resources,” Cirillo said. “They have a checklist right on their website that any HR manager can pull down and review and walk through it at any point in time.”

Cirillo and Reuter recommended that HR leaders reach out to their local OSHA offices if questions about regional regulations arise. With fines for violations starting at $14,500, Cirillo said, it’s important, from a business perspective, to adhere to safety requirements.

“It’s a critical part of what I do on a daily basis.”—KP

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @Kris10Parisi on Twitter. For completely confidential conversations, ask Kristen for her number on Signal.

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