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Knowing Where You Stand with Facility Safety and OSHA Compliance

April 15, 2014 - Kestrel Management

Strong safety performance is a cornerstone of any business. For many companies, it can make the difference in being qualified to work with customers and successfully expand the business.  On the other end of the spectrum, repeated safety accidents can lead to potential serious penalties and higher insurance rates for failing to comply with OSHA safety requirements.

Safe facilities, work practices, and training help to attract and retain employees and enable them to go home at the end of the shift without workplace injury or concerns. In addition, workers’ compensation rates and the ability to maintain adequate insurance both depend on an organization’s safety performance.

OSHA Safety Compliance and Inspection

Safety compliance with federal regulations is getting much more attention by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) due, in part, to a variety of significant accidents occurring over recent years. Many relate to the manufacturing in high risk industries where the impacts have caused injury, evacuation, environmental impacts, and significant business disruption. While not frequent, accidents like this draw attention from the public and communities, news media, regulators, and regulatory agencies. This, in turn, has increased scrutiny on all businesses, especially those in high risk industries or having a history of safety issues. When it comes to safety compliance, an organization should never be overly confident.

Increased inspections for non-compliance with safety regulations have been emphasized. OSHA tracks the types of safety violations found and their classification as “serious” or as “willful”. A serious violation is defined as “one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew or should have known of the hazard”. A willful violation is defined as one “committed with an intentional disregard of or plain indifference to the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and requirements”. Willful violations can also be applied to multiple plants in the same company.

The top 10 “serious” violations reported by OSHA for federal FY 2013 were:

  1. Fall Protection
  2. Scaffolding
  3. Hazard Communication
  4. Ladders
  5. Electrical – Wiring Methods
  6. Lockout/Tagout
  7. Machine Guarding
  8. Powered Industrial Trucks
  9. Respiratory Protection
  10. Electrical – General Requirements

All of these violations can be associated with the typical equipment and practices associated with manufacturing operations or other physical plant activities for maintaining processes and equipment.

Willful violations can result in significantly greater penalties, with related fines tripled should a violation be classified as in this category, and even greater penalties for multiple plant violations under the same corporate ownership.

The top 10 “willful” violations reported by OSHA for FY 2013 were:

  1. Fall Protection
  2. Excavations
  3. Lead
  4. Machine Guarding
  5. Lockout/Tagout
  6. Scaffolding
  7. Guarding Floor and Wall Openings and Holes
  8. Respiratory Protection 
  9. Process Safety Management 
  10. Powered Industrial Trucks

A best practice recommendation is that plant management should take the opportunity to review this list and validate their understanding of the related regulations and the level of compliance at their plant(s).

Opportunities for Improvement

Each of these standards represents an opportunity for assessment and improvement for plant managers and owners in the industry. Violations in these standards can take a variety of forms, including a failure to have not only the appropriate procedures, but necessary updates, training, internal inspection and recordkeeping. Be aware that vulnerability in compliance could be associated with evolving changes, including time, process, personnel, and materials. This is also known as “management of chain” necessary for maintaining and keeping programs current with requirements.

The question for plant owners and managers is, “What should we do now to both meet the requirements and establish a plan should we be confronted with an OSHA inspection?” These represent two related activities that need to be addressed to best ensure that the company can and will achieve the best in both situations.

Taking Action

When it comes to to determining the level of your existing OSHA programs against compliance issues and potential accidents, there needs to be both short-term and longer-term actions. The goal of the actions will be to provide the results of what will need to change in your OSHA compliance programs. There will be a range of results depending on how well the programs were developed, implemented, and updated. Regardless, the goal is to provide a means to assess and make this determination. We recommend taking the following short-term (if not immediate) actions:

  • Schedule a meeting with key management and safety and health staff to develop a plan to review and confirm all OSHA programs for compliance to the standard. It is not uncommon for internal audits and insurance company audits to be based on confirmation of a compliance policy and not the level of detail required in the implementation of the policy. In the meeting, a complete review of programs should be delegated, including a review of the OSHA standards themselves. This should be based on criteria, including the level of detail, training, and updates and supporting logs/records.
  • As part of this process, conduct a review of the last three years of internal and loss prevention reports, including local fire. The findings of these should be compared against review findings to verify that necessary changes have been implemented.
  • The review should include a review of the OSHA reporting and recordkeeping requirements. Again, this should be reviewed based on three years of historical records.  Not only should these records be verified to be accurate and complete, but each accident should have resulted in a corrective action of either an unsafe situation or the retraining of an employee. This information should be checked, as well, and any additional actions made to fully comply.
  • Should you have had any past OSHA inspections at your facility or if you have multiple locations, you need to ensure that proper actions were taken to close these issues. Again, it is very important to verify and assemble all of the related records.
  • You will need to require that multiple physical walk-troughs are conducted for all work, personal, and administrative areas for compliance. This should be done by updating or creating a safety inspection checklist for each section, area, and department to confirm that there are no violations in manufacturing and administrative areas alike. Note that one area often missed is the adequate spacing and egress from office cubicles and file rooms.
  • Your review should lead to the determination of corrective actions of your programs.  These corrective actions need to result in immediate “short-term” updates and implementation of your safety programs. This needs to be announced and included in the training that will need to be scheduled and documented.
  • Concurrently, a qualified person should be assigned to compare the review findings, your accident statistics and the top OSHA violations. If there are common links to programs, statistics, and OSHA violations report, an added level of scrutiny should be placed on this area and the resulting program updates.
  • Ensure that all of the basic requirements are met and in compliance, including accident/injury records, training records, inspection logs, and a log for all program updates implemented.

Inspection Readiness

Provided that the items above are done correctly will greatly reduce your risk for compliance issues and create a safer work environment for your employees for the short term. To fully verify the changes, a confirming review or audit should be completed within a 30-45-day strict timeframe, and any additional changes or training should be completed immediately. This will also put you in a much better position for an OSHA inspection should you be identified to require one. Some additional points to readiness for an OSHA inspection include the following:

  • Ensure that you have or develop a policy for a regulatory inspection that can be implemented immediately. This would cover OSHA and other possible inspections.
  • Assign a designate with responsibility for representing the company for an OSHA inspection. Until the designate is ready for an inspection, the inspector should be kept in a neutral office or conference room and away from all levels of activity.
  • The tour should be as that for any other visitor. Ensure that the inspector wears all of the required PPE at all points during the tour and is provided all of the awareness required for all personnel. The inspector should never be left alone and not allowed to disrupt the work activities in any way or at anytime.
  • Develop a list of the do’s and don’ts of information to be provided or shared with an inspector. When in doubt, decline to answer until the proper answer can be determined.  This list should include what the inspector is entitled to request and what you do and do not have to provide. Say very little and even less if asked.
  • A copy of all information, notes, photos, and videos should be kept for the company records, and the designate should ask the inspector to answer any related questions.
  • Note that if the inspection carries for multiple days, it will provide the designate to verify and communicate specific concerns for direction from senior management or counsel.
  • At the closing conference, the inspector will take time for a write-up and to determine apparent violations. During this presentation, you need to challenge any such issues and take the position that there are no violations.
  • The inspector will take several weeks to formalize the report, during which time you are not required to answer any follow-up calls.

This information presents a briefing on handling a typical OSHA inspection. Certain events could change how you handle an inspection in follow-up to an accident. Additionally, note that if you conduct an OSHA Program review and make the proper changes, you will be in much better readiness condition for an OSHA inspection. Regardless, the planning and demeanor of the designated contact for the inspection should be the same.

Owners and managers of companies need to focus on prevention and on the overall culture of the company in terms of taking the necessary steps to reduce risk and make prevention part of daily operations. Good practice is to examine the workplace broadly, identifying and assessing hazards, and developing and implementing appropriate controls. This helps ensure employees are protected in the workplace and regulatory compliance is achieved.

Submitted by: Tom Kunes

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