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OSHA on the prowl. Will you be next?

With increased funding and a mandate to crack down on underreporting and safety violations there has been a significant uptick in OSHA enforcement activity. For employers this means more inspections and increased enforcement penalties. In the last year, OSHA has nearly tripled the number of significant cases (citations including fines of $100,000 or more). Employers should also be prepared for increased scrutiny of injury and illness recordkeeping and reporting and safety programs that incentivize underreporting.

In addition there is likely to be increased regulatory action. OSHA’s latest semiannual regulatory agenda, released in December, includes 27 regulatory items ranging from global harmonization of classification of chemicals, combustible dust, crystalline silica, PPE, confined spaces in construction to musculoskeletal disorder reporting requirements and a final Cranes and Derricks in Construction rule.

Preparing now for the aggressive enforcement will help reduce the potential liability that employers face if OSHA does arrive. Here are nine steps to take:

Analyze worksite risk. Take the time now to do your own diligent walkthrough to identify potential problems. It’s important to recognize that if there are multi-employers involved, the controlling employer can be cited for issues created by vendors, do all aspects of the work place or site need to be examined.

Conduct a Recordkeeping Audit. Verify that your OSHA 300 Log is up to date and accurately reflects all reportable injuries and illnesses. Crosscheck with other records relating to injuries and illnesses (e.g., incident reports, first aid records, medical records and workers’ compensation claims) against your OSHA 300 Log.

Review your PPE documentation. 29 CFR 1910.132(d) of the PPE standard details hazard assessment requirements. It requires management to use their knowledge of workplace hazards to select the appropriate PPE for the work being performed. Documentation of the hazard assessment is required through a written certification. Be sure you have done the assessment and that the documentation meets OSHA requirements.

Review Your Safety and Health Program.  Verify that your written safety and health program is current and accurately reflects what is happening in the field.  Be sure that your program does not discourage reporting of injuries by rewarding low injury and illness rates.

Focus on training of employees and documentation. Ensure that you have conducted and documented all training required by the OSHA Standards or provided for in your written safety program.

Know your rights and be prepared for a visit at all times. Establish a procedure in the event of an OSHA visit. An individual should be designated to manage the visit and a backup should be trained in the event the designated individual is unavailable. The person who greets the inspector should have him or her wait for the designated person to arrive. The designated person should greet the inspector and verify his/her credentials.

Understand the scope of the inspection. The first stage of an OSHA visit is the opening conference. During this conference, the inspector should explain the reason for and scope of the inspection. If not clear, ask questions as these elements define the focus of the inspection. Most common reasons for an inspection are that there is an imminent danger, a filed complaint, a fatality or hospitalization of three or more employees as a result of one incident, or a scheduled inspection. The employer has the option to consent to an inspection without a warrant or to require a warrant. There should be a process in place to decide how this decision will be made.

Manage the inspection. At the conclusion of the opening conference, the inspector proceeds to tour the premises for safety and health violations. At least two company employees should accompany the inspector, one to take notes and the other to listen. Answer questions succinctly and do not volunteer additional information. Always be professional, not hostile. Video and/or audiotaping are also recommended. It is important to know what pictures and measurements are taken, and who is interviewed. The inspector has the right to interview a reasonable number of employees, but the employees have a right to have a company representative present, if they choose.

Listen at the closing conference. At the closing conference, listen to the inspector and take copious notes, but offer no additional information.