OSHA conducts 30,000-35,000 inspections a year, and there’s a chance it could pay you a visit. If that happens, be aware that some hazards that don’t have a specific standard have become so prevalent that the agency is citing employers under the OSH Act 5(a)(1) General Duty Clause.
During the Premier Learning Solutions webinar “OSHA’s New Targeted Inspection Program: What You Need to Know Now,” Certified Professional Environmental Auditor Jack Fearing highlighted the four components that must be present for a General Duty Clause violation:
- a hazard/potential hazard recognized by the employer and/or the industry, trade association, etc.
- the likelihood of serious injury or death
- a feasible and reasonable means of abating the hazard, and
- failure by the employer to keep the workplace free from that hazard.
According to Fearing, the agency will be zeroing in on these issues when it comes to the General Duty Clause:
- workplace violence
- assignments leading to musculoskeletal disorders, or lack of ergonomic safety practices
- housekeeping, and
- COVID-19, which now has an OSHA national emphasis program.
Although there still isn’t a national emergency temporary standard for COVID, there “probably will be very soon,” he said.
In case of fine …
Sometimes even safety-conscious organizations can have a bad compliance day or an incident that involves a visit from an inspector.
According to Fearing, both other-than-serious and serious OSHA violations can carry fines up to a maximum of $13,653. The good news is they can be reduced due to:
- size of the employer
- history of good faith between the employer and the agency
- no past serious violations, and
- the extent of the violation.
Fearing encouraged contesting violations by requesting an informal conference with the OSHA area director (the deadline is 15 business days from the receipt of citation) to talk about any provisions and considerations that could reduce the amount of a fine.
“Show them information that you may not have had available at the time (of inspection). Make them understand that you are very concerned about your employees’ safety and health,” said Fearing.
Click here for more info on OSHA’s appeals process.
In the event of a citation, there’s a requirement to post a notice in a prominent place in the work environment until the abatement period is over (a minimum of three work days). “So if it’s 30 days to correct something, due to perhaps a capital improvement — whatever, the citation would need to stay posted at the site for that period of time,” Fearing said.
If there are abatement conditions that an organization can’t fulfill in time, it’s necessary to submit a written plan to OSHA with abatement timelines.
Because there will likely be a follow-up inspection, it’s smart to start preparing for it right away.
“Make sure your organization is prepared at all times for an OSHA inspection. They’re going to check to see what you do to protect your employees … So if you’re doing your job, them doing their job should not have much of a negative impact on your organization,” said Fearing.