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What Is A Violation Of A Specific Safety Requirement (VSSR)?

What Is A Violation Of A Specific Safety Requirement (VSSR)?

Workplace safety oversights can be expensive mistakes for employers. When an injury occurs, and a claim is made, the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) will come down hard on an offending business if they determine it’s at fault. Depending on the situation, employers may also find themselves dealing with a Violation of a Specific Safety Requirement (VSSR), another violation that can lead to additional penalties.

As a business owner, you know the importance of the safety of your workers. By understanding the implications of a VSSR, you can ensure a safe workplace for your employees and prevent costly violation fees. The following information pertains specifically to Ohio’s BWC, and you should refer to your state’s regulations when handling a VSSR claim.

What Exactly Is A VSSR? 

A VSSR is the most serious violation that can be issued by the BWC. It’s issued when an employer has been cited for disobeying one or more specific safety requirements defined by the Ohio Administrative Code (OAC) that led to a workplace accident. The list of safety requirements is outlined in the OAC and helps determine the validity of the claim. Neglected safety specifications could include the failure to:

  • Replace damaged or outdated equipment 
  • Update workplace fixtures
  • Provide the appropriate safety gear
  • Implement standard protective barriers such as rails or guarding 

According to the BWC, “the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) states it is the responsibility of every employer in Ohio to provide a safe workplace and adhere to all safety rules.” If you fail to adhere to one of the listed safety requirements and an employee is seriously or fatally injured, you could be hit with a VSSR. The existence of this VSSR could mean that the injured employee would be eligible for additional compensation through their BWC claim.

How Does The BWC Determine If A VSSR Occurred? 

There are a few requirements that must be met before the BWC determines that an injury was the result of a VSSR. First, the claim must be filed within two years from when the occupational injury, disease, or death occurred.

To file a claim, the injured worker or an injured worker’s dependent, when there has been a worker fatality, must submit Form IC-8/9 with the specific code sections that allegedly have been violated to the Industrial Commission of Ohio (IC). The employee must also have a workers’ compensation claim for the same injury. All involved parties will receive proper notification of the VSSR application.

At this point, you, the employer, have 30 days to file your response. Additionally, the Safety Violations Investigation Unit (SVIU) begins acquiring information from both parties.

In order to collect a compensatory award, the injured worker must prove the following:

  • That the safety requirement(s) was both specific and applicable to the employer
  • That the employer what not in compliance with the safety requirement(s) when the accident occurred
  • That the non-compliance with the requirement(s) directly contributed to the injury, disease, or death

Once an impartial investigator is assigned to the case, they will begin to gather pertinent information, including OSHA records, equipment purchase dates, manufacturer, model, and serial numbers, witnesses, and accident descriptions. The investigation will also inspect the injury site, equipment, and conduct interviews. It’s recommended that both you and your legal counsel be present during the on-site visit.

When all the facts have been gathered, the investigator will file a report with their findings in the BWC claim before the IC has a hearing on the matter. A pre-conference hearing occurs with the opportunity to settle the issue. Otherwise, a hearing will determine the merit of the claim.

Defending A VSSR Claim

The burden of proving employer liability falls on the injured worker, and they must prove the points previously listed. You can defend your business by simultaneously proving whether or not the safety provision cited in the VSSR is applicable to your business or industry. If facing a VSSR, you should prepare for the investigation by assembling critical documents such as maintenance and training records. Additionally, it’s recommended that you immediately contact legal counsel to defend or settle the issue at hand.

Keep in mind that the ORC does not place all the responsibility of safety on the employer. Workers are also expected to properly use the safety equipment provided by the employer. For example, if you provided the appropriate protective equipment, such as work gloves, harnesses, or safety goggles, and your employee failed to use them, then due to their negligence, the BWC may not find you at fault for the injury.

What Are The Penalties Associated With A VSSR?

If the IC decides that an employer is at fault for a VSSR, it’s going to cost that company quite a bit. The IC will grant the injured worker an additional monetary award, which the BWC states can range anywhere “from 15 to 50 percent of the maximum allowable weekly compensation rate granted to the injured worker.” The percentage awarded goes directly to the injured employee or their dependents. Multiple VSSRs can also become a costly problem. If a company has been charged with two or more VSSRs within a 24-month period, the IC can impose an additional penalty of up to $50,000.

Do VSSRs Affect Workers' Compensation? 

A VSSR claim is not a bar to receiving workers' compensation benefits; it’s an additional award paid to the injured employee. Not only did an injury occur, but your specific violation of safety requirements led to their personal harm. However, even if the VSSR claim is denied, medical and income benefits are unaffected.

What Can My Business Do About VSSRs? 

The easiest and most important way to avoid VSSRs is to crack down on any potential violations and ensure you’re adhering to safety requirements to create a safer working environment for you and your employees.

One of the best ways to prevent violations is by implementing a strong safety training program for all employees. They should have appropriate instructions for all equipment and procedures, including:

  • How to operate machines safely
  • How to use personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • What hazards exist in the workplace
  • How to recognize hazards and how they can be controlled or eliminated through engineering controls and administrative controls 

In addition to training, you must provide the appropriate PPE for the tasks of your employees. Think – eyewear when operating machinery or driving vehicles; hard hats when working near exposed electrical wires; gloves when handling chemicals or sharp objects; earplugs if there's loud noise from nearby machinery or vehicles outside your facility.

Risk Management In The Workplace

It’s important to remember that safety training isn’t reserved solely for onboarding new employees, it should be consistently reviewed with all employees to ensure safety compliance.

Of course, this is easier said than done, especially if you’re not an expert on risk management and don’t have the time to become one. A professional employer organization (PEO) can provide your business with expert risk management services and strategies that can help you create a safer workplace and limit your risk for workers’ compensation claims.

At GMS, we take a proactive approach to workplace safety by working closely with you to build a comprehensive risk management plan, including onsite consulting, job hazard analysis, training services, and OSHA inspection assistance. Contact us today to talk to one of our experts about how we can help you make your business a safer place.

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