In a one-week period in September 2010, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced eight citations against employers; penalties totaled close to $1 million. The agency fined a picture frame manufacturer for not protecting workers’ hearing, allowing combustible dust to accumulate, and blocking exit routes. An excavating contractor is paying a six-figure fine for failing to protect workers against cave-ins. A painting contractor’s scaffolding was missing railings, bracing and access ladders. Because OSHA had cited the company for these violations before, it levied a fine exceeding $200,000.
Clearly, failing to comply with OSHA regulations can be costly for employers. However, by implementing a few new procedures and attitudes, a company can reduce the chances that its name will end up in an OSHA news release.
Improve record keeping. Think of good documentation as your first defense against an OSHA inquiry. Inspectors who find information gaps in the OSHA 300 log (the record of work-related injuries and illnesses) may initiate a full-scale safety audit of the business. If your business has deficiencies in its logs for the past three to five years, devote some time to correcting them. Personnel files and Workers Compensation loss records can provide much of the missing information.
Focus on ergonomics. OSHA has announced that it will pay special attention to musculoskeletal problems. Businesses that seek out ways to prevent repetitive motion disorders will avoid citations and penalties. They will also pay lower Workers Compensation insurance premiums in the long run. Analyze how workers are performing their tasks and look for ways to reduce the strain on their joints, necks and backs.
Fix the routine violations first. Some safety issues are simple and cost little or nothing to correct. For example:
- Blocked exits
- Lack of protective equipment, such as gloves and safety goggles
- Poor housekeeping
- Improper storage of materials such as flammable liquids
These problems can accumulate over time if management is not paying attention. Operations with large numbers of these violations have paid substantial penalties to OSHA, so monitoring and correcting them is essential.