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Risk & Safety Management

Avoid Costly OSHA Fines

a worksite with a complex set of metal pipes

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is charged with the vital mission of enforcing safe conditions in the workplace. OSHA fines focus not only on large scale hazards, but even minute ones that could lead to unsafe working environments.

The details are important for keeping your workers healthy and avoiding hefty OSHA fines.  Here are four small changes you might need to make in your workplace to avoid receiving penalties.

Maintain Safety Records

It’s vital that you keep detailed and up-to-date records regarding workplace safety to stay in line with OSHA regulations. Visit the OSHA website to ensure your records comply with the organization’s standards.  Among the records you must keep are the following:

  • Details about accidents or illnesses that may have resulted from an employee’s exposure to unsafe working conditions or to hazardous chemicals
  • Reports of monthly safety meetings using documentation from OSHA handbooks
  • Copies of OSHA tests and quizzes that each employee has taken

Keep the files easily accessible both to you and to OSHA inspectors, who are likely to review Hazardous Communication and PPE program materials upon visits.  The more detailed you are and the more attention you pay to every possible incident, the less likely you are to be levied OSHA fines.

On Dec. 3, 2010, OSHA initiated an inspection in response to a complaint alleging under-recording of injuries from 2007 through 2010. Inspectors cited AK Steel Corp. with four willful violations carrying a penalty of $200,000, and six other-than-serious violations with a penalty of $6,000.

“Accurate injury and illness records are vital to protecting workers’ health and safety,” said Robert Szymanski, director of OSHA’s Pittsburgh office. “They are an important tool that employers and workers can use to identify hazards in the workplace, and they also enable Occupational Safety and Health Administration to better target its resources.”

Check Your Ladders

Ladders are a common piece of equipment in many workplaces; they are also often overlooked.  Whether you own a fleet of almost-new ladders or have dozens of older ones, they require careful inspection to ensure they meet safety requirements:

  • Use ladders in the way they are intended.  Different tasks may require different ladders; use the appropriate one.
  • Be sure to follow any safety warnings given on the equipment, paying careful attention to notices such as those related to maximum load.
  • Use ladders that are long enough for the job and extend at least 3 feet above the upper landing surface. You do not want employees trying to reach beyond the length of a ladder because they could easily lead to an accident.
  • Inspect ladders carefully.  Before using a ladder, it should be scrutinized to ensure there are no damaged pieces and contaminants, which could lead to a fall, are not present. Take care of damaged ladders.
  • Mark all impaired or defective ladders with a “Do Not Use” sign.  Better yet, immediately dispose of damaged equipment.

In April, 2009, OSHA cited a North Reading, Mass., roofing contractor for 16 alleged violations of safety and health standards. Duval Roofing LLC faced a total of $79,000 in proposed fines for fall, scaffold, ladder and other hazards identified at a residential construction site.

OSHA’s inspection found employees working on a two-story roof without fall protection and accessing the roof and scaffolding on ladders that did not extend at least three feet above the upper landing surface.

Properly Use Scaffolding

Your employees may have been erecting and employing scaffolding for years, but they may not be doing it according to OSHA regulations.

Improper use of scaffolding can cost injuries or even death and may lead to heavy fines.  Here are some easy-to-do regulations regarding scaffolding that are often missed by workers:

  • Keep scaffolds at a minimum of 10 feet from power lines.
  • Inspect, inspect, inspect!  Employees need to frequently check on the structure, including before a shift or after any type of event that affects the scaffold’s integrity.
  • Instruct your employees about the possible hazards when using diagonal braces to protect against a fall.
  • Do not use boxes or other unstable items to brace a scaffold.

Controls and Lockout

Engineering and constructions firms have safety regulations that are particular to those industries.

For instance, if employees operate heavy machinery, a lockout program must be implemented.  Also known as tagout, failure to employ such a program can cost a whopping $7,000 per violation.

Engineering controls must also be administered.  To keep your employees safe from harm, such controls are needed to remove hazards to keep them from being exposed to hazards.

Although initially costly, erecting ventilation systems, safety interlocks and sound-proofing or sound-dampening materials can save you money.

Procedural controls are also necessary to keep your employees out of harm’s way.  By reducing the amount of time one is exposed to hazardous materials and environment, you reduce the likelihood of an accident.

Cheap and Easy Changes

None of the changes above are costly; neither do they take much effort.  Yet, they can save your company up to thousands of dollars in OSHA fines.

Implementing these and other small changes can keep your business in line with Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations while protecting your greatest asset: your employees.

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