Thanks to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the federal government has been keeping a watchful eye on workplace safety conditions in the name of preventing worker injuries, fatalities and illnesses.
The agency responsible for setting and enforcing employee health and safety standards is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Citations and fines for noncompliance with safety regulations can hit your bottom line hard:
- Other-than-serious (no serious injury involved) and serious OSHA violations carry fines ranging from $946 to $13,653.
- Violations deemed to be willful or repeat can cost anywhere between $9,639 and $136,532.
- If the agency finds something particularly egregious in an inspection, it can impose a penalty for each instance of a violation.
- Fines for failing to abate a safety hazard can carry a price tag as high as $13,653 per day beyond the deadline given by OSHA.
The top 10 most violated standards in 2020 involved:
10. Machine guarding. Many serious injuries are a result of not protecting employees from coming in contact with dangerous moving machine parts.
9. Personal protective equipment (PPE). Lack of proper eye and face PPE alone accounted for 1,369 citations.
8. Fall protection training (Also see No. 1).
7. Powered industrial trucks. Forklifts can become significant hazards if used unsafely.
6. Lockout/tagout. Machine energy control procedures need to be followed to prevent electrocutions, amputations and other serious injuries.
5. Ladders. Inspectors caught 2,129 instances of ladders being misused or used for purposes they weren’t designed for.
4. Scaffolding. Roofing, framing and other building contractors were nabbed 2,538 times for plank, deck and guardrail deficiencies; lack of support to keep workers from tipping over; and other reg violations.
3. Respiratory protection. The 2,649 citations weren’t all COVID-19 related. Auto body, paint and interior repair shops; cut stone and stone product manufacturers; metal coating and engraving services; and masonry contractors failed to perform medical evaluations for respirator use, perform fit testing or to create a written respiratory protection program.
2. Hazard communication. Not having a written hazard communication program, training employees on it or actively implementing a program resulted in 3,199 citations for manufacturers; general industry employers; construction; masonry and roofing contractors; auto body, paint and interior repair and maintenance businesses; general auto repair shops; and machine shops. Hazcom involves keeping safety data sheets and making sure they’re readily available, as well as hazard labels and other warnings.
1. Fall protection. According to OSHA, the problems that most often arise during inspections involve lack of fall protection during residential construction activities, no fall protection when working around unprotected sides and edges or inappropriate fall protection on low-slope and steep roofs. At 5,424 violations, it’s far and away the biggest safety hazard on the job.
Under the direction of U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, OSHA inspectors are going to be more active than they were the previous four years. For example, the Site-Specific Targeting Program is back.
However, the agency’s purpose isn’t to punish employers. In fact, OSHA offers proactive assistance to keep companies like yours in compliance.
Help from the feds
On-site consultation isn’t the same thing as an inspection. The program is separate from OSHA’s enforcement branch, so there won’t be citations or fines if something’s wrong.
The way the program works is consultants from state agencies or universities work with you to identify any workplace hazards, provide advice to get you compliant with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing and improving workplace safety and health programs.
OSHA’s Safety & Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) helps smaller companies that need help with their safety program. It involves a consultation with a rep from federal or state OSHA (plus, follow-up consultations) that includes a:
- records review
- safety program review
- safety committee evaluation, and
- hazard assessment.
Then comes an action planning and goal setting stage. Conditions that need to be met to remain in the SHARP Program are correcting or addressing all safety, health and ergonomic hazards identified in reports and having an incident rate below industry average or on a downward trend.
The agency’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) recognizes employers that have implemented effective safety and health management systems and maintained injury and illness rates below the national Bureau of Labor Statistics averages for their industry.
The program involves a collaboration between management and OSHA to prevent fatalities, injuries and illnesses through a system focused on:
- hazard prevention and control
- worksite analysis
- management commitment, and
- worker involvement.
Once a VPP application is approved by OSHA, the employer undergoes an onsite evaluation by a team of safety and health professionals. Union support is required for applicants represented by a bargaining unit. VPP participants are re-evaluated every three to five years.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of being a VPP participant is being exempt from OSHA programmed inspections.
Do you have a state OSHA?
There are 22 states with OSHA-monitored, state-run safety and health agencies responsible for protecting workers from work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths. Is yours one of them?
Find out by visiting osha.gov/stateplans#map. If you’re in a state plan OSHA state, the agency may have compliance consulting resources of its own to offer you.
Keeping it in-house
A popular option that many companies have had success with is developing a safety management system within the organization.
Picking the brains of professional associations specific to your industry about what to do to build a safety management program is a good place to begin. Also, don’t forget to investigate resources from professional organizations like:
- The American Society of Safety Professionals
- The National Safety Council
- The American Industrial Hygiene Association, and
- The Voluntary Protection Programs Participants’ Association.
Start some conversations
Another good source for implementing an OSHA-compliant workplace safety program is getting in touch with safety managers at other firms. Ask one that you get along with well to come to your facility, walk through the building and point out any hazards, risks and potential OSHA violations. You may be surprised what a fresh set of eyes from outside your organization can spot. Think of it as a dry run for an actual OSHA inspection.
An often-overlooked resource for safety ideas is the employees on the jobsite. Because they know their jobs the best, they’re sure to have opinions and suggestions on how to avoid incidents, injuries and fatalities. If you haven’t asked for their input lately, now’s a good time.