Dan Hoerner’s Latest WorkBoat Article: Stop-work Authority is a Win-win

Many view stop-work authority as an underused or hollow “feel good” practice that should rarely be implemented. But this proactive safety measure should be embraced and exercised by employers and workers alike.

The underlying premise of stop-work authority is to permit anyone involved in business activity to halt operations when a danger or risk of an accident, injury or damage is perceived. Theoretically, a stop-work order can prevent accidents before they happen.

The effectiveness of stop-work authority is only as good as those who allow it or exercise it. In my three decades of litigation practice, I have heard too often from workers on the front line that they would never seriously consider invoking the policy, primarily out of fear of repercussion or being deemed a problem employee. On the other hand, management nearly always stands firm that unfettered stop-work authority is an essential part of risk management and that no worker should hesitate to use it when an unsafe situation is believed to exist. Anecdotally, there is often some degree of truth to both opposing viewpoints.

If stop-work authority is going to serve as a viable tool in promoting safety and reducing risk of injury or loss at the workplace, then it needs to be firmly entrenched as part of a company’s safety culture, from the upper levels of management down to the boots on the ground.

First, it should be well defined and reduced to writing in a company’s safety rules or procedures manual. Second, the policy must be expressly and unequivocally communicated throughout the ranks of each business so that the rule is known and understood by all. And finally, all personnel must practice what they preach and recognize that a stop-work order is not something that can be either used arbitrarily or ignored when it is invoked.

Reinforcing the policy at safety meetings can go a long way in encouraging an appreciation of the value of a meaningful stop-work authority practice that is respected at all levels.

Maritime attorney Dan Hoerner is a regular contributor to WorkBoat magazine.

This article was originally published in the July 2023 issue of WorkBoat magazine.