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OSHA Inspections: Are You Prepared?
By Ed Zalewski, Editorial Manager at J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.
Given that OSHA rarely conducts an inspection that doesn't result in at least one violation cited, employers must be prepared should a compliance officer knock at the door. Read on to learn what steps you can take to ensure ongoing OSHA compliance.
An inspector's primary task during an inspection is very simple: to find non-compliance issues. If they don't find any, they won't issue a citation. However, if they do find violations, the officer may choose to expand the scope of the inspection, so it's paramount you proactively identify the requirements that apply to your workplace.
It is also important to stay abreast of regulatory changes. Just because you're in compliance now doesn't mean you will always be in compliance — regulations can change quickly and without warning.
OSHA has issued several proposed and final rules over the last few years. The most recent final rule of significance was the Walking-Working Surfaces, which includes major fall protection, training, and inspection requirements that affect every general industry employer.
Conducting routine hazard assessments is an excellent way to find hazards in the workplace before OSHA does. Focus on the Big Four: falls (now required under Subpart I, "Personal Protective Equipment," Section 1910.132), electrocutions, caught in or between, and struck by. OSHA is placing increased focus on these hazards, which are the leading causes of fatalities. In the past, OSHA focused on these hazards only in the construction industry, but now the agency is targeting these four hazards in general industry as well.
Safety and Health Program
The benefits of developing and implementing a safety and health program are varied and many, but perhaps the greatest benefit is reducing injuries and illnesses. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employers spend over $170 billion per year on costs associated with occupational injuries and illnesses, all of which comes straight out of company profits. Conversely, workplaces that establish a written injury and illness prevention program can reduce their injury and illness costs by 20-40%.
If you haven't already, establish a written injury and illness prevention program that outlines the hazards in your facility and how they're controlled. This is another way to find and fix hazards before OSHA does.
Ensure employees are trained for the tasks they perform. OSHA compliance officers are now verifying not only that required training has been conducted, but that the training was provided in a format that workers could understand in terms of both the language and vocabulary used. According to OSHA, employers are expected to realize that if they customarily need to communicate work instructions or other workplace information to employees at a certain vocabulary level or in a language other than English, they will also need to provide safety and health training to employees in the same manner.
For example, if employees are not literate, telling them to read training materials would not satisfy an employer's training obligation. There cannot be any barriers or impediments to understanding. If this means that your company has to provide training in other languages, then that is what has to be done.
OSHA says that if a reasonable person would conclude that necessary training had not been conveyed to employees in a manner they were capable of understanding, then the violation may be cited as serious.
Keeping accurate records is another way to avoid an OSHA citation. Most importantly, focus on injury and illness records — OSHA always reviews these records at the outset of an inspection to determine areas on which to focus.
The compliance officer will review any required written programs, such as a hazard communication program, for completeness. He or she might also request to see any other programs related to the complaint, accident, or fatality. Training records, inspections, and safety data sheets for any employee exposure to toxic substances could be requested as well.
Remember, if your industry as a whole has fewer injuries and illnesses, you're less likely to be targeted by OSHA for an inspection.
Inspections are typically done by walking around a facility and focusing on a particular safety issue, such as machine guarding, fire extinguishers, chemical storage, forklifts, falls, etc. Through the inspection, you are able to specifically determine whether or not OSHA requirements have been met. The goal of any inspection should be to find any and all deficiencies and get them corrected before they lead to an incident or an inspection by OSHA. This ensures ongoing safety compliance because there is a constant check for problems in the workplace.
For these reasons, conducting self-inspections may be viewed favorably by OSHA. A thorough inspection with proper follow-up can signal that a company is complying with applicable regulatory requirements.
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