Safety and OSHA News

The war of words over OSHA fines

Imagine this: You’ve been fined by OSHA. Not only that, the agency has alerted the media that your actions put your employees in danger. Do you respond, and if so, how? 

One company’s response to a hefty OSHA fine got our attention.

OSHA fined Remington Arms Co. $170,000 for 35 serious violations at its Ilion, NY, plant for a variety of mechanical, electrical and chemical hazards.

The violations involve:

  • PPE
  • accumulation of lead and cadmium on surfaces
  • failing to provide training to workers
  • electrical hazards
  • unguarded machine parts
  • improper storage and transfer of flammable liquids
  • lack of lockout/tagout procedures, etc.

The agency’s press release stated,

“Left uncorrected, these conditions expose the plant’s workers to electrocution, falls, burns, lacerations, amputation, crushing and “struck-by” injuries, as well as exposure to hazardous substances and being caught in operating or unintentionally energized machinery.”

OSHA administrator David Michaels has said that these sorts of press releases are meant to cast shame on the company, on top of any penalties it might pay.

And of course, some of the penalties might not stick, either through a negotiation process or an appeal to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

You can bet if some penalties are dropped, OSHA won’t issue a press release on that.

That’s why we took particular notice when Remington issued a strong statement to the media on OSHA’s proposed penalties.

“OSHA has cited Remington for many conditions that do not violate the law and has proposed penalties which are excessive,” Remington spokesperson Jessica Kallam told The Post Standard, a Syracuse, NY, newspaper.

The statement continued, “Remington is committed to providing a safe workplace for every one of its employees and is proud of its safety program, which includes comprehensive safety policies and procedures, equipment to protect our employees and safety training.”

Regional newspapers near Remington’s plant would have covered the company’s OSHA fines whether the employer issued its own statement or not. Chances are, the local newspaper reporter called the company for a response: That’s only fair.

However, issuing a statement provided the newspaper, and its website, with an opportunity to write a second “update” story.

So instead of just one story on its OSHA fines in the local paper and on the Internet, Remington now faces two.

Which raises a question: Is it best to respond or not?

Remington isn’t the first company to issue a response after it’s been fined by OSHA. However, it goes further than most by saying that OSHA overstepped its bounds in both the citations and the amounts of the fines.

It appears Remington will appeal the citations. What if most of them stick? Will it make the company look like it’s in denial about safety hazards at its plant?

Tell us whether you think Remington’s statement was a good idea or not. You can offer your opinion in the comments box below.

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Comments

  1. It is never a good idea. OSHA (being a government agency) is to be feared. When the publicly stated strategy is to publicly shame companies who have simply been accused (and not convicted), there is no way they should speak out. Those who show contempt for OSHA will long suffer the consequences.

    Keep your mouth shut, contest the citations, then after you win release a statement.

    Venting through a public statement is ill advised when the citations haven’t been thrown out yet.

  2. The government needs to stay out of our pockets. Enough is enough. OSHA is yet another reason American companies are unable to compete in the international market. How about this idea, if OSHA decides to fine a company, let that company use the sum of the fine or at least the majority to give more training and purchase more safety equipment. This won’t happen because it’s all about the revenue not the safety. OSHA needs to justify its existence and support itself. American companies already have an incentive to be safe: ridiculously high workers compensation premiums.

    Quotation: “When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” -Thomas Jefferson

    “A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor and bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.” – Thomas Jefferson

  3. Why not respond to the press releases of OSHA? David Michaels wants to cast shame on the company. Well Mr. Michaels, what if many of the fines are dropped. The damage has already been done by your rush to shame the company. Good for Remington and other companies that are willing to publicly disagree with OSHA. A government agency of any kind should not be feared. It’s the peoples country, therefore the peoples government. Sitting on the sideline and keeping your mouth shut because a government agency “speaks” just emboldens more of the same government power grabbing, and quite frankly the arrogance that David Michaels shows. Because Michaels is the OSHA administrator that makes him all knowing? He is an epidemioligist put in charge of an agency that takes $600 million in taxpayer money and is becoming a regulatory morass that cost businesses $30 billion a year. Worker safety, of course. An agency to be feared? Only if we allow it to happen.

  4. OSHA by design is an employee protection agency. Protecting employees was their main objective–too bad they haven’t stuck to that. Scaring the public and collecting money seems to be their main objective. Now they are butting into “public safety”. The infractions listed in this article are really not that serious and could be found at any home or work site. Even though they were observed, they probably did not put anyone in harms way. Each one is quite argueable and doesn’t even mean they were correct or even relivant.

    PPE-they probably saw someone with their safety glasses in their hand not on their eyes
    Accumulation: it is impossible to keep every spot of accumulation cleaned at all times, doesn’t mean there isn’t a plan in place to prevent exposure
    Training: This is an inspectors every time citation, they ask a person if they know what an MSDS is? The employee says no-yet they have been trainied many times over. It all depends on how the question was asked.
    Electrical: On an electric panel one of the knockouts was missing or an LB cover was off conduit
    Unguarded parts: A shaft on a motor stuck out 1/2 inch as was not guarded
    Flammable liquid storage and transfer: A plastic gas can was used with a funnel
    Lockout Procedures: Every work place MUST have procedures for every piece of equipment. They must be reviewed annually.

    These are potential infractions at every work site in America and around the world. If these are even close to correct would cost the employer many thousands of dollars to fix and fight them even though they are fixing constantly. No place can possibly be perfect all the time–

    RJ has stated it very well. I think it is time to eliminate the regulatory side of OSHA, and only focus on the Technical Side. That means The Techincal Side are the experts to come and help you with your workplace safety. That is were the tax dollars should be spent. No need to justify a visit, they are invited. They could…

  5. Leslie Halls says:

    One of the best ways to respond is not through a company press release but through testimonies from third parties, such as an employee or retired employee; a vendor; or a local civic leader, any of whom can write either an editorial or a letter to the editor (and yes, the more letters, the better), post comments on Facebook, etc. OSHA can’t come back on them, and the company does not look like it is writing its defense. Politicians do this all the time; they have supporters write letters or post on their behalf.

  6. Jimmy J. Safe says:

    I have never been an OSHA employee. Having said that, OSHA is not something to be feared. They merely do their jobs and inspect. They do not fabricate, but they sometimes do nit-pick. However, nit-picking is not the issue here is it? According to the article, having a buildup of lead and cadmium were cited. We all know the profound affects lead exposures can have on children, and that cadmium can give cancer to a rock. Sounds like they deserve what they got.

    Much of an OSHA inspection is dependent on how cordial and personable you are to the inspector. I have personally experienced many such inspections. All went very well with the worse being a “Notice in Lieu of Violation.” Meaning, no fine. The bottom line is 1) conduct numerous inspections of your facility and YOU be the nit-picker. 2) document findings, 3) and this is very important – correct findings in a timely manner. Otherwise the findings become Willful. 4) take the same pictures they take (and from the same angles). 5) Identify, Evaluate, and Control. That’s what we get paid to do.

  7. Jimmy J Safe says:

    I did forget to mention that you should partner with OSHA. Don’t make dumb comments (press releases) that you will later regret. A comment like: We at XYZ Company strive to provide a clean and safe work environment for each of our employees. While we conduct our own internal investigation, we will be working closely with OSHA to remedy any potential violations which they may have observed.

  8. Concerned Citizen says:

    In response to Heidi Brightly: Your speculations and ‘guesses’ could not be more wrong. You should ask one of the Remington employees who work at that facility how many of their coworkers have been maimed or killed in the past ten years due to these issues. After that, see if you are still able to say these violations “are really not that serious”. One example of PPE being “not that serious”….An employee operating a cleaning tank drops a part by accident. That part splashes the corrosive cleaning solution contained within into the worker’s eyes because his safety glasses were in his hand. Maybe you think loss of vision and permanent blindness aren’t that serious.

    .In response to Jimmy J. Safe: I couldn’t have said it better myself…!

  9. Concerned citizen: In regards to your cleaning solution in the eye problem. Once again, at some point people have to be accountable for their own actions. If the employee had glasses and chose not put them on, that tells me that the employer did it’s part by providing them and the employee ignored the fact that they needed to be worn.

    I realize this is getting off track but I am getting tired of paying OSHA fines because employees are not following the rules. Its time OSHA starts handing out individual citations, holding individuals accountable! We can’t hire a safety officer to baby-sit every employee every minute that they are at work.

  10. OSHA is under fire, and lawsuits, for their new tactic. Since OSHA is commenting on a legal proceeding, they seem to be on thin ice and it may be best to let the courts decide who is right. Fighting the government in the court of public opinion is a loosing proposition.

  11. You can read the citations at http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/RemingtonArms_314352477_1104_11.pdf*
    and http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/RemingtonArms_314352329_1104_11.pdf*.

    They did not get fined for all the issues that were found (could have been a lot more). Would you like your kids to work at a place like this (being that they are over 18) or someone in your family? I agree with Jimmy J Safe, make a safe place for your employees to work and you don’t have anything to fear.

    After reading the reports and all the problems found, they (Remington) should have thanked OSHA for not shutting them down. Why or how do you think OSHA showed up at their door?

    I also agree with Joe, “Its time OSHA starts handing out individual citations, holding individuals accountable!” If you have trained your workers and documented it, OSHA will talk to them and if they say “I wasn’t trained” or I don’t know” you can show that they were trained and it should not be a problem. Where you can get into trouble is training and not enforcing your programs.

    So, read the reports and then post who is wrong…

  12. My company received a very large fine after a fatality years ago. The fatality involved a person wearing their PPE but not actually using it. Yes, employees should be held accountable for their actions but that is hard to do after they are dead. The fines we received had to do with our record keeping and nearly every manager at that site lost their jobs over it. I am now the site safety manager and we have fixed all the shortcomings in our safety program and we constantly audit ourselves to make sure we are in compliance with every standard from OSHA, our client, and our company. We have a zero tolerance policy for PPE violations and have had to replace several foreman until we got the right ones in place. Our Site Super even terminated his own son over a serious safety violation. Ours is a very competitive business and we have a very low turnover for our industry. When they are asked by others why they stay, our employees say it’s because they know we care about them. The year of the fatality we also had 4 recordables and 20+ First Aids on site. This past year we had 0 recordables and 3 first Aids, the year before last we had 5 first aids.
    Yes, you need to hold your employees accountable and you need to hold yourself accountable as well. The rules are there, in place and if a company can’t or won’t follow them, then they will have to deal with the consequences. And lastly, In the past couple of years we have gotten a lot of new business from our client who tell our competitors that they should be emulating our safety program. There is a business benefit as well.

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