With This New Increase Penalty Structure... - 07/18/2016

Safety E-QuickTips

U.S. Compliance Systems, Inc.

Monday, July 18, 2016

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Safety E-QuickTips is a weekly email designed to help Employers and Employees start their week with a short thought about safety in the workplace.

With This New Increased Penalty Structure...

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Last week I let you know that OSHA’s penalties are going up 78% come August 1st and they will be increasing annually starting in 2017.

With this new increased penalty structure, I thought it would be a good idea to make sure you know what you need to do when and if you have an OSHA inspection. So here goes.

First you need to make sure your foremen, supervisors, superintendents, or anyone else in authority are aware that compliance officers are not at your work site to help with OSHA compliance - they are there to find violations and issue your company citations. That's why they are called compliance officers.

Here’s a Special Note: If an inspection is the result of a fatality or injury, it is strongly advised that, prior to talking with OSHA, you seek experienced representation to protect your company's rights.

When a compliance officer arrives, they should show their credentials and ask to see a company official such as the owner, safety director, competent person, or supervisor. If an employee is approached, they should direct the inspector to their supervisor. If it is necessary to wait for a supervisor to arrive, instruct your employees not to engage in idle chit-chat with the inspector. Do not volunteer any information. Just have them say that the supervisor will answer all questions.

If your company has a designated Safety Director, they should also try to be present during an OSHA inspection.

If you are a contractor on a multi-contractor job site, of course, the inspector may gain entrance through the controlling contractor or some other subcontractor. After that they have free reign to inspect the whole site.

Assuming the inspector is dealing with your company, he should explain during the opening interview:

  • The reason for the inspection
  • The extent of the inspection
  • How the inspection will be conducted

Right up front, during the opening interview, if in fact it is true, explain to the inspector that your company fulfills OSHA's basic safety requirements and has:

  • Established company safety policies and procedures
  • Effectively communicated your policies and procedures to your employees
  • Performed regular and frequent jobsite safety inspections
  • Employed consistent enforcement procedures

Quite possibly, the inspector will ask you to provide them your OSHA 300 logs and a copy of your safety program. While it's ideal that these items be immediately accessible, it is acceptable to let the inspector know that they exist and that they will be provided in a timely fashion.

During an inspection, the inspector will take notes and document his information with pictures. You should do the same thing. At a minimum, take notes. If possible, take pictures.

Remember, it is much easier to prevent a citation from being issued than defending yourself after the fact. Sometimes, the simplest of items are overlooked. Violations seen from across the street may have been committed by employees of another company. The answer "Yes" to a simple question from a compliance officer where they see a guard missing, such as "Do you use this machine?" can be misunderstood to mean you have used the machine while a guard was off.

The most critical, and potentially devastating, part of an OSHA inspection is the employee interview(s).

If an employee or any official representative of a company does talk to OSHA, the following MUST BE ADHERED TO:

  • Answer questions truthfully and be clear and concise. Do not volunteer additional information, but beware of providing vague answers. For example, during a client's OSHA inspection, the compliance officer examined a machine where the guard was missing. He asked the employees, "Do you use this machine?" The employees replied "Yes" with no further information. The compliance officer interpreted this to mean that the employees used the machine without the guard and a citation was issued to the company. Had the employee made it clear that the guard was missing because of a recent blade change, and the machine hadn't been used since that
    change, the compliance officer would have had no grounds to issue a citation.
  • DO NOT SIGN ANY STATEMENT THAT YOU PERSONALLY DID NOT WRITE. More and more, we have seen OSHA inspectors conduct an interview, write an incomplete and distorted synopsis of what was said, and have the employee or supervisor sign the statement. Aside from the fact that this is unethical, it is always detrimental to the company.
  • IF YOU SIGN A STATEMENT, YOU WRITE THE STATEMENT.
    It is advisable to have your statement reviewed by someone familiar with OSHA law prior to signing it and giving it to OSHA. If you do write a statement, you do not have to sign it and provide it to OSHA prior to them leaving your work site. You are able to provide the statement at a later date.

Of course, the incident should be documented and appropriate enforcement action taken per your company's standard enforcement procedures.

Three key words that can save you from citations are: Document. Document. Document.

Documentation can:

  • Eliminate citations before they are issued.
  • Keep a less than serious infraction from becoming a serious violation.
  • Keep a serious violation from becoming a willful citation and literally save you
    thousands and thousands of dollars.

Well, that will do it for this week.

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Thanks for Reading and Please - Work Safe This Week!

Contact Information

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U.S. Compliance Systems, Inc.
Phone: 1-888-475-5353
Fax: 1-888-925-5353
Website: www.uscompliancesystems.com
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