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Supervisor Safety Liability: 4 Common Exposures

supervisor safety liability 4 common exposures

The responsibilities and expectations placed on supervisors are enormous at times—production, workforce management, quality control, budgets, and of course safety. These “deliverables” communicated to them by management require the supervisor to work within the employers system to effectively perform their duties. Does he/she bend the rules from time to time to get the job done on time and on budget? If safety takes a back seat for these other priorities, what liability does the supervisor create for their employer or themselves?

Federal law requires that the employer indemnify or “hold-harmless” its employees from their actions as long as the employee’s conduct were not grossly negligent and they were acting within the scope of the duties/responsibilities. Given these conditions, an employer cannot sue their employees. Likewise if an employee is sued by another party for a work-related activity the employer must defend the sued employee.

Civil citations delivered by OSHA are always issued to the employer, not an employee. Unfortunately citations are issued even if an employee has a severe lapse of judgment, admitting that he/she caused their injury because they did something stupid. OSHA commonly views the cause for this type of incident as not enough training by the employer or too lax of an accountability/disciplinary program to discourage such behavior.

Some of the more common liability exposures a supervisor incurs include:

  • Workers’ Compensation

Injuries and/or failure to file a timely First Report of Injury (FROI) could result in a delay in payment for medical expenses due to a lag in claim processing. This can result in high reserves against the employer.

  • OSHA

Failure to take an employee safety complaint, correct a hazardous condition, discipline an employee, or interfering with an OSHA inspection. Any of these actions by the supervisor exposes their employer to more severe penalties including those categorized by OSHA as “willful” or “repeat”. Where willful or repeat violations can be demonstrated the employer may be placed into OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program. While in this program these companies are subject to enhanced enforcement inspections at all of their facilities performing similar operations. Enhanced monetary penalties also apply.

  • Disability Discrimination

Following a workplace or non-workplace injury, the employer (supervisor) must make reasonable accommodations (limited duty) for the injured worker. If this is not done, it may place the injured worker at risk of further injury. The employee is within their right to file a complaint with the state worker-compensation program. Fines against the employer could be the result.

  • Defensible Record-Keeping

The most critical piece of a defense to any civil action is documentation. Detailed notes of conversations, emails, and letters or correspondence create hard proof (evidence) rather than a “he said she said” situation. In every case the obligation is placed on the employer to disprove an alleged violation. Without concise documentation this becomes difficult. For the supervisor, the responsibility of documenting performance discussions, disciplinary actions, and training, is very important.

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