Are you lax on your PPE? It could cost you
What to expect when OHSA comes calling
OSHA handed out $11 million in fines to metal fabricators in 2015, and PPE citations comprised 10 percent of that. This number does not include medical cost, increased workers' compensation, property damage, and replacement personnel costs. Are you prepared for an OSHA inspection? If not, here's what you can expect should the agency come calling.
We all know that personal protective equipment (PPE) is necessary to keep fabricators safe when welding or performing many other common hazardous operations in fabrication shops. Each employer must determine what protective equipment is necessary for each employee and each task and provide it at no cost.
Even if an employee furnishes his or her own protective equipment, it is still an employer’s ongoing responsibility to ensure its adequacy. Typical equipment needed in fabricating shops includes safety glasses, welding helmet, gloves, steel-toe boots, fire-resistant jacket, fall protection, and respirators. If your PPE program is inadequate, there are consequences to your business other than the risk of the general health and well-being of your employees.
By the Numbers
Between October 2015 and September 2016 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) citations cost metal fabricating businesses roughly $11 million in fines (NAICS Code 332: Fabricated Metal Product Manufacturing for October 2015-September 2016, www.osha.gov). PPE citations comprised approximately 10 percent of this total, which equates to more than $1 million. The actual cost of these violations is much higher because this amount does not include medical costs, increased workers’ compensation, property damage, and replacement personnel costs.
Other costs may include a damaged reputation and resulting loss of business and employee morale. Note that effective in August 2016, OSHA penalty amounts had increased a whopping 78 percent, so these numbers will likely be significantly higher going forward. In fact, projected penalty costs to metal fabricating businesses could top out around $19.5 million.When and Why Does OSHA Get Involved?
Have you ever wondered about the likelihood of OSHA showing up at your facility? Normally, OSHA conducts inspections without advance notice. In fact, it performed 2,052 inspections of metal fabrication shops in 2015. The agency focuses its inspection resources on the most hazardous workplaces, giving priority to the following :
- Imminent danger situations. The top priority are businesses with hazards that can cause death or serious physical harm.
- Severe injuries or illnesses. If and when either of these takes place, employers must report all work-related fatalities within eight hours and all work-related inpatient hospitalizations, amputations, or loss of an eye within 24 hours.
- Worker complaints. Allegations of hazards or violations also receive high priority. Employees may request anonymity when they file complaints.
- Referrals. OSHA responds to a hazardous work environment when alerted by federal, state, or local agencies, individuals, organizations, or the media.
- Targeted inspections. These are aimed at specific high-hazard industries and individual workplaces that have high rates of injuries or illnesses.
- Follow-up inspections. The agency will check for abatement of violations cited during previous inspections.
- Lower-priority hazards. With the permission of a complainant, OSHA may telephone you to describe the concern and follow up with a fax providing detail on the alleged hazards. In these cases, you must respond in writing within five working days, identifying any problems found and noting the corrective action that you are taking. If OSHA and the complainant are satisfied with the response, OSHA generally will not conduct an on-site inspection.
Before conducting an inspection, OSHA compliance officers research the inspection history of your worksite, review the likely operations and processes of your business, and determine which regulations probably apply to you. They also review citations for similar businesses to see what violations are commonly occurring in your industry. They gather appropriate PPE and testing instruments to measure potential hazards.
What Happens During an Inspection and What Should I Do?
Before entering your facility, the compliance officer must present his or her credentials, which include both a photo and a serial number. You should check with your local office to ensure that this person is really an inspector. You have the right to require the compliance officer to obtain an inspection warrant before entering the worksite.
Opening Conference. The compliance officer will explain why OSHA selected your workplace and describe the scope and procedure of the inspection. He/she will look at your written safety programs and your training records. You will select company personnel to accompany the compliance officer during the inspection. An authorized employee representative also has the right to participate. The compliance officer will consult privately with a number of employees during the inspection.
The Walkaround. Following the opening conference, the compliance officer and representatives will walk through the portions of the workplace covered by the inspection to identify any hazards. The compliance officer will also review worksite injury and illness rec-ords and confirm that the official OSHA poster is posted.
If there is an imminent danger situation, the compliance officer will ask you to correct the hazards immediately, or will remove endangered employees. The officer might also ask you to correct less serious violations immediately. While the law requires that these hazards must still be cited, prompt correction is a sign of good faith. The compliance officer must try to minimize work interruptions during the inspection and must keep your trade secrets confidential.
Closing Conference. After the walkaround, the compliance officer will hold a closing conference with you and the employee representatives to discuss the findings. The inspector will tell you what he or she thinks are violations of OSHA standards or serious hazards. The compliance officer will also discuss consultation services and employee rights.
What Happens After the Inspection?
The inspector will review the results with the area director, who may issue citations and fines. OSHA must issue a citation and proposed penalty within six months of the violation’s occurrence. Citations describe which OSHA requirements your business allegedly violated, any proposed penalties, and will provide you with a deadline for correcting the alleged hazards. OSHA has a policy of reducing penalties for small employers and those acting in good faith. The agency may also reduce the proposed penalty based on the severity of the alleged violation.
When OSHA issues a citation, it also offers you an opportunity to have an informal conference with the OSHA area director to discuss citations, penalties, abatement dates, and any other information pertinent to the inspection. You have 15 working days after receiving a citation to formally contest the alleged violations and/or penalties by sending a written notice to the area director.
You might work out a settlement agreement with the agency to resolve the matter and to eliminate the hazard. OSHA then forwards the contest to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission for independent review. Citations, penalties, and abatement dates that are not challenged or settled become a final order of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Obviously, this information applies to violations of any kind—not just PPE. Be sure that you have done a thorough job hazard analysis (JHA) at your facility to identify all safety hazards and to determine the controls needed to keep employees safe. Use the information gathered in this process to create all required written safety programs for your facility, including your written PPE program. These documents become company policy, and you can be held accountable for following them. You will need these documents and all training records if an inspector shows up at your facility.
It is important to be prepared and to recognize that even a seemingly small violation, including those involving PPE, can be extremely costly to your business.
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