Enforcing Stop Work Authority Policy

The Problem

It’s easy to remember those middle school days, watching another student get bullied, knowing the right thing to do is to speak up but fearing the social repercussions of doing so. This same dilemma seems to follow us throughout our lives. We constantly weigh the pros and cons of using our voice to incite some sort of change. Unfortunately, though, many times, worry over how others will respond wins out over the desire to see progress.

This scenario is all too present when it comes to workplace safety.

Despite knowing that OSHA policy states that workers have the legal right to refuse to work under dangerous conditions, 60% of workers still say that it would be unlikely for them to speak up if they were asked to work in or saw others working in an unsafe environment. The reasons why boiled down to a few things: fear of employer retribution, pressure to complete a job quickly, worry that peers will disagree, the bystander effect (assuming someone else will take care of it), or the belief that the complaint will not be taken seriously.

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Though most workplaces have a Stop Work Authority policy, the majority struggle to effectively enforce it. Safety managers and coordinators train employees on workplace safety standards but fail to empower them to take action when they encounter unsafe conditions. As a result, dangerous workplace scenarios are perpetuated, and lost time potential remains high.

The Solution

The good news is there’s a solution. Take the following steps to see workplace safety and employee empowerment thrive in your warehouse or distribution center:

  • Create a process for stopping work

    The simplest process is stop all work, inform your supervisor, wait for unsafe conditions to be resolved, resume work. This can be modified to fit your operation.

  • Tell your employees your process

    Tell them at new hire training, and tell them at safety meetings. Tell them when you feel like it, and tell them when you don’t. The important thing is that they know. Instill it in them so they don’t have to hesitate to stop work when they face a dangerous situation.

  • Train your employees on best practices for reporting unsafe work

    Even with a solid understanding of the process, many workers will still feel hesitant to bring up unsafe conditions, especially ones that they see but are not engaging with. Remove this hesitancy by giving your workers tips for bringing up dangerous conditions. Teach them to show care and concern for their coworkers’ lives and health with phrases like, “I noticed that [explain dangerous condition]. I’d hate to see you get hurt from that. Do you think it’d be a good idea to stop work and get this resolved?” When alerting a supervisor, teach workers to use non-combative language such as, “I noticed [explain dangerous condition] in [tell where it is located]. I don’t want to see anyone get hurt by that. Do you mind coming to take a quick look?” By teaching workers how to address the situation, they are further empowered to make the workplace safer.

  • ALWAYS assess the dangerous situation

    The worst thing an employer can do in a stop work situation is to simply put a different employee on the task who will feel more comfortable. Not only does this put another worker at risk, it shows your employees that safety comes second to production, and it will deter anyone from bringing up dangerous conditions in the future. By taking the time to assess the unsafe conditions, you show your workers that their say matters and empower them to make workplace safety a priority.

  • Reward good behavior

    Take the time to reward or praise workers who stop work in dangerous conditions. This will reverse previous fears about speaking up and will encourage other workers to speak up in the future when they see an unsafe work environment.

  • Focus on improvement

    Don’t use stop work authority as a replacement for creating a safe work environment. The end goal needs to be steady improvement in workplace safety. Once immediate unsafe conditions are resolved, consider how to prevent it from happening again in the future and make the necessary adjustments.

The Benefits

By effectively implementing stop work authority, employers not only increase safety in the warehouse or distribution center, they also stand to save money in the long run. Consider the lost time effects. If an employee chooses to stop work due to dangerous conditions, he/she halts operation for only as long as it takes to assess and resolve the situation. However, if he/she chooses not to speak up and continues working in the unsafe environment (or allows others to continue to do so) and an employee ends up gaining an injury as a result, the lost time can add up to days, or weeks depending on the severity of the injury, not to mention the worker’s compensation dollars that must be paid out. It is always more beneficial to take the time to do things right on the front end than pay the price for negligence later.

At the end of the day, warehouse and distribution center workers have their fingers on the pulse of the workplace to a greater level than management does. That’s the natural result of working in an environment day in and day out. Rather than leaving safety in the hands of those who supervise operations, giving authority to those who actually carry out the operations provides a new perspective and a new depth to safety in the workplace.

When workers are given the authority to enforce safety and are encouraged by their supervisors to do so, improvement can begin to happen. By erasing the need to fear speaking up, a firm stop work authority policy empowers employees to make their environment safe for themselves and for their coworkers.

Now all that’s left is for someone to decide to speak up and make stop work authority a reality in your workplace!

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