Create A Safer Workplace
Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines keep workers safe on the job. Avoid costly fines by following these tips for inspection success.
May 23, 2012
Created in 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a division of the Department of Labor, was designed to maintain safe, healthy working conditions and ensure on-the-job safety for employees.
If an inspection goes poorly or an accident causes worker deaths and injuries, businesses can be fined anywhere from a couple thousand dollars to much more. When a British Petroleum (BP) facility exploded, killing 15 employees and injuring 170 more, it was fined $50.6 million. Avoid a similar fate by following these recommendations.
Not all OSHA regulations apply to every industry. Whereas the maritime regulations for shipyard employment don’t apply to growers, there are general regulations, such as record-keeping standards, that apply to everyone. The first step to maintaining a safe work environment involves knowing what regulations apply to your industry.
Pat McCon, a senior risk engineering consultant for Zurich Services Corporation, has had plenty of experience with OSHA inspections through a past manufacturing position as a safety professional at a large steel plant and as a part-time college instructor teaching OSHA standards classes.
“As far as complying with the law, you need to know the law,” says McCon, who recommends looking for guidance on the OSHA website, taking an OSHA 10- or 30-hour class or asking trade organizations for information.
When it comes to keeping a greenhouse or nursery operation out of trouble, McCon lists a few regulations that commonly trip up businesses. Most fines stem from “fall protection (ladders, elevated walkways, guardrails); electrical safety; chemical hazard communication; and recordkeeping violations,” McCon says.
Though a typical fine will set growers back a few thousand dollars, some state-ceded OSHA programs enact more devastating penalties. In the greenhouse and nursery industry, the largest fine in recent history was $25,125 to a California operation for lockout and recordkeeping violations, McCon says.
When OSHA Arrives
OSHA can stop by for a number of reasons. Although a worker complaint is the primary reason for an inspection, complaints from customers or passersby, a recent accident with three or more fatalities or an on-a-whim visit from an inspector in the area constitute other reasons for inspections.
McCon describes the inspection process like this:
1 An OSHA inspector arrives asking to see the place. The inspector indicates why he or she showed up but, in the case of a complaint, cannot legally identify who made the complaint. The grower has the right to deny entry to the compliance officer without a warrant. The compliance officer will likely approach a judge in an attempt to obtain the warrant and if successful, will be back, possibly with a different attitude. Generally, there’s not much value in delaying the inspection by requiring a warrant, McCon cautions.
2 An opening conference begins after the management has been given a reasonable amount of time to gather everyone who needs to attend. A representative for the workers must be available at the conference and to accompany the inspector and management on the inspection. In the conference, the inspector discusses the scope of the inspection and any necessary documents are reviewed.
3 The inspection may involve seeing the area mentioned in the complaint only or the entire operation. When accompanying the inspector, bring a maintenance person along to make small repairs as you go. A small repair might cost $1,000, but if the inspector indicates the problem was fixed during the inspection, the fine could be omitted or reduced.
4 Closing conferences give the inspector and management an opportunity to go over what violations will be suggested to the area director, who is in charge of enforcing the fines and has the discretion to reduce them. The inspector will also leave a paper indicating the grower’s rights, which includes a period of time to respond to the violations.
Overall, keep in mind that OSHA strives to accomplish a safe environment for your staff.
“The value of a safety and health program isn’t in avoiding OSHA fines,” McCon says. “That’s a nice side benefit, but the real values are twofold; reducing the costs of workplace injuries (and workers compensation), and the moral/ethical obligation of making sure employees go home at night in the same condition that they came to work in – maybe a bit more tired and dirty, but with all their components in place.”