News Feature | May 7, 2014

OSHA And FSMA Join Forces To Advance Food Safety

By Laurel Maloy, contributing writer, Food Online

OSHA And FSMA Food Safety

Whistleblowers and employers are offered protection under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's final rules

In February of this year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued its Interim Final Rule to Section 402 of FSMA. This section is further codified as section 1012 of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C). The final rule has not yet been issued, though the deadline for comment was April 14, 2014. However, it is not expected there will be significant changes to the Interim Final Rule.

This new rule provides both the employee and the employer with protections. Employees are protected from retaliatory actions when they see the need to raise food safety concerns, either with their employer or with a governmental agency. Employers, though, also are not powerless. Good recordkeeping in regard to employee performance may allow an employer to take disciplinary action against an employee without being accused or prosecuted for retaliatory behavior. The employer must be able to prove the action against the employee would have taken place, regardless of the employee's claim.

The more prudent course of action is to promote a workplace culture that encourages internal reporting. Just as a business's external customers' perception is enhanced by transparency and communication, the same is true of the workplace. Studies show that employers who promote a philosophy of compliance will receive far fewer external complaints. It is also true that an employee who feels valued and respected will respond in kind.

The Three Rs To Making An Employee Feel Valued

Respect — respect means not automatically discounting employee opinions. This may mean taking the good with the bad, but developing a habit of listening is a good habit to adopt. This will enable an employer to identify the most valuable employees, with invaluable ideas, while respectfully discounting those employees prone to complaining "just because."

Recognize — employers should recognize the value of each and every position, from the janitor to the manager. Every single job is important to the function and success of any given operation. If this is not the case, then the job should be eliminated. Simply put, just as there is no such thing as a "dumb" question, there is no such thing as an "expendable" employee. Employees, regardless of their position within a company, equate their value with their job and will perform according to the how they perceive their position is valued.

Reward employees should be rewarded. Even if it is just a simple pat on the back, rewards and encouragement are sure-fire ways to increase production, improve performance, and decrease disgruntlement. Rewards, conversely, will hold little value if the employee does not feel the praise or the reward is genuinely given.

Whistleblowing serves a purpose and is often the direct result of employees who do not feel valued at their place of employment. The truth is that offending facilities and managers often treat their employees with the same regard as they do the rules for food safety. Creating an "inclusive workplace" engenders a "can do" attitude, which effectively equates to getting it done…and getting it done right. The results can be measured and the successes evaluated.

However, change does not come easily, which is why governmental guidelines, such as those issued by OSHA, are necessary. OSHA is not the enemy. OSHA's regulations are a means to an end. In this instance, the new rules are one more way to ensure food safety throughout the supply chain — for the employer, the employee, and ultimately, for the consumer.