Easing Chore of Workplace Safety

David Coots, foundry manager for Valley Brass Inc. in El Monte, was so proud of his new safety equipment for workers who pour molten lead that he welcomed health and safety inspectors into the plant.

But dealing with a strict new state program requiring all but the smallest businesses to have a written injury and illness prevention plan is taxing Coots’ time and patience.

“You have to be an environmentalist, hygienist or lawyer to understand what they want,” Coots laments.

Passed by legislators in 1989 and due to take effect July 1, SB 198 heavily emphasizes worker training and requires companies to set up health and safety committees and a system of internal safety inspections.


Companies employing more than 10 people must document these efforts in writing and have the programs ready for review by visiting health and safety inspectors.

Because California is considered a bellwether state when it comes to tough environmental regulations, business owners and state and federal health and safety officials across the country will keep an eye on the success or failure of SB 198.

So far, the measure has been a bonanza for health and safety consultants who are offering to prepare the detailed injury prevention plans and teach business owners how to implement them.

State and local chambers of commerce, state employer advisory councils, trade associations and workers’ compensation insurance companies are hosting seminars, preparing booklets and providing experts to answer questions.

California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is responsible for enforcing the provisions of SB 198, is offering free information booklets and counseling through its consultation service (See tip box).

Marjorie Drucker, founder of Drucker Health & Safety Management Inc. in Manhattan Beach, says she expects other states to follow California’s lead.

“The public does not want to put up with any unnecessary hazards in any aspect of their lives and especially not at work,” says Drucker, who formerly worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

She believes that business owners who tackle their health and safety problems head-on will see bottom line results.

“Businesses can reap substantial benefits, including reduced insurance claims and premiums, improved productivity among workers and ultimately higher profits,” says Drucker, who works with Valley Brass as well as many larger firms.

Although SB 198’s intentions are good, managers such as Coots say they are frustrated by the amount of paper work required. One of his concerns is that many of the Spanish-speaking workers at the foundry do not read or write English or Spanish.

“We need to produce the materials in two languages,” Coots says. “But many people can’t read it even if it is in their own language.”

Long before the state stepped in, Coots said he decided to make safety a top priority at the foundry, which makes brass castings for the sprinkler industry.

To reward safe work habits, he set up a cash incentive program that works this way: Foundry employees are divided into teams. Once a month, members of the teams with no accidents place their names into a hat for a drawing. The winner receives a $100 gift certificate for merchandise.

“I am very open to my workers telling me if they feel something is unsafe,” says Coots, who also conducts monthly safety committee meetings. “I have a good rapport with them.”

Dealing With SB 198

Instead of panicking about the new regulations, get help. For free information and counseling contact California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration consultation offices.

Southern California: (213) 861-9993

San Francisco Bay Area: (415) 573-3862

San Bernardino: (714) 383-4257

San Diego: (619) 279-3771.

Krames Communications, a San Bruno-based publishing company, offers free samples of a variety of health and safety booklets. These employee education materials can be incorporated into your customized safety program. For information call (800) 333-3032 or write to Krames Communications, 1100 Grundy Lane, San Bruno, CA 94066-3030.