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Third Quarter 2013

Are You Prepared for OSHA? 
By: Aaron Wissen


Everyone knows that being prepared for OSHA starts long before seeing an OSHA Compliance Safety and Health Officer (CSHO) on one of your projects.  So, why are so many citations issued?  Simply put, OSHA’s goal is to enforce and cite any violators, particularly those with severe violations.  Now, let’s be honest….if one or multiple CSHO’s show up at one of your projects, they’ve probably spent some time observing from afar before they even walk on site.  So how does an employer protect their company? 


The first step is to ensure all employees have up-to-date training; that frequent and regular inspections are being conducted on projects, and all necessary documentation has been completed, reviewed and signed by a supervisor.  If any deficiencies are discovered, employers must be able to prove there is in-house enforcement should an OSHA regulation or company safety policy is broken.  Some form of written disciplinary action needs to be documented when these situations arise.  Having records of employee training, site specific safety plans, inspections of your projects, and documented disciplinary actions are just the start of showing OSHA that you actually demonstrate your safety consciousness. 


In order to be prepared for OSHA, it is vital to understand OSHA’s purposes and objectives.  Aside from their stated purpose (29 CFR 1903.1), OSHA’s objective is to ensure that their regulations are being followed, as well as the employer’s policies and requirements.  OSHA regulations are a minimum expectation that must be followed or the employer runs the risk of receiving a citation (i.e.  other-than-serious, serious, willful, repeat and failure-to-abate; ranging from $7,000-$70,000 per violation/citation) or even worse, exposing employees to unnecessary hazards and the associated costs with that potential injury. In the long run, the associated fines are the least of your worries.  The real risk to the business, at least in the long term, is the classification of the citation/violation.  Citations will follow the company around for the duration of the company’s existence.  All issued citations can be searched by going to https://www.osha.gov/pls/imis/establishment.html and performing an establishment search.


Taking it one step further means understanding what OSHA’s objectives are even AFTER an inspection/citation has occurred or been issued.  First, set up an informal conference within 15 working days of receiving the citation.  The purpose of this conference is to discuss the “alleged” violation(s) and negotiate a resolution, if possible.  The ultimate goal during an informal conference should be to achieve a downgrade of each violation to the lowest possible classification.  Before the conference, decide what violation classifications are acceptable and what is considered unacceptable.  In general, this should be based upon the future risk of being cited for repeat and/or willful violations.  Remember, OSHA does not want companies to contest violations; they want to reach a settlement.


Since the informal conference is NOT a place to “wing it”, having a basic plan or outline in place will help keep you on track.  The following basic outline will help get you started:


1.  Introductions
Formally introduce each person from the company who is attending the conference.
 
2.  Senior leadership statement
Providing a safe and healthful work environment must be expressed with conviction and commitment.
This statement must be expressed with conviction, his/her belief in and commitment to providing a safe and healthful work environment.

3.  Safety and health program
You must demonstrate your company’s commitment to making an investment in safety.  Review your efforts in relation to your program requirements, focusing on the positive aspects of the program.

4.  Enterprise-wide response
Make sure that the corrective action(s) and abatement for the citations goes beyond the specific area that was cited and that all similar situations will also be corrected.  Provide a quick rundown on hazard identification, risk assessment and corrective action.

5.  Know more than they do.
You need to be an expert on each alleged violation: manufacturer information, source standards, operator instructions, technical guidelines, OSHA compliance directives, and letters of interpretation.  Make sure you have the answer, even if the question is never asked.

6.  Likely to cause death of serious physical harm
This is the foundation of a serious violation.  Make sure OSHA has objective evidence regarding this issue on each alleged serious violation.

7.  Possibility of a Mistake
Was the wrong standard cited?  Was the Field Operations Manual followed? Were the alleged violations actually witnessed?  You have a very strong argument for downgrading or deleting a violation if OSHA procedures were not followed. 

8.  Lawyers
This is an informal conference, leave the lawyers out.  Mention that you have sought legal guidance on the alleged violations and are prepared to contest.  However, OSHA should also be aware that you would rather come to a negotiated agreement.  Have a completed and signed “Notice of Contest” letter prepared and sitting on the table during your discussions.

9.  Start with the easy issue.
You should be able to get some basic agreement on downgrading or deleting alleged violations that were obviously cited incorrectly.  This gives you a chance to get comfortable your negotiations and move closer to the finish line.  Remember, OSHA wants to settle.

10.  Don’t leave anything unfinished.
Ensure you have completely abated all the violation items so that you can walk out the door and the only thing you need to do is send a check.

11.  Dress appropriately.
As always, dress to impress.  You are a symbol of your company and how seriously you are taking these violations.


Preventive measures are the best way to both be truly “OSHA prepared” and help the long-term success of your company.  However, if that certified mail arrives with an OSHA citation, you must be ready to act.  Developing a plan for the informal conference and consulting a safety consultant familiar with the OSHA citation process are the best reactive actions your company can take. 


For any OSHA informal conference or other compliance assistance needs, please contact Safety Resources, Inc.

 

 


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