Next to receiving a letter from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), probably the most feared and despised federal agency to be contacted by is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Established within the United States Department of Labor in 1970, OSHA’s mission is to “assure safe and healthy working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.” Sounds innocent enough. A laudable goal. What employer wouldn’t want to have a safe and secure work place? Ah, as the old saying goes, “The devil is in the details.”
From personal experience, I know of a company that was fined $2,500.00 for a sprung spring on a clevis hook. A pair of safety glasses placed on a work bench, not enclosed in a baggie, is worth a $1,500.00 fine per occurrence. So, if there are ten glasses lying around during an inspection, that’s a $15,000.00 OSHA bill. Is such a scenario outlandish? Well, that is the regulation.
The regulation makes sense when you think about it. A pair of safety glasses exposed to the elements in a factory can be a hazard. A fleck of rust settling on a lens may get lodged in an eye when the glasses are picked up and worn. A co-worker of mine once tightened a loose bolt on a cultivator. No big deal, and no glasses. On the drive home, his eye started watering. The next morning, with his eye still bothering him, he went to the doctor’s office. By that time, a fleck of steel that had lodged in his eye had started to rust and become infected. He later lost that eye.
The regulations are in place to insure the safety of the employee. But, there are a lot of regulations. For example, Part 1926, Regulations for Construction consists of 1,442 pages plus appendixes.
How can a small business that is just barely hanging on financially afford a full-time safety manager? There are alternatives. Some insurance agencies have full-time safety consultant who will come into your business, and in some cases, act like an arrogant, overbearing, know-it-all OSHA inspector. Yes, it is an act, but it helps prepare management and employees for the real thing. It also provides a track record for the insurance underwriters to determine risk factors for insuring the business.
The Nebraska Department of Labor also has a safety consultant available for safety walkthroughs. This no-cost inspection can be very informative from both a safety and monetary standpoint. While businesses need to correct any violations found, there are no fines, and in many cases, the business will also be exempt from spot OSHA visits.
One last item of importance: should a person come to your business and say that they are from OSHA, make sure to inspect their badge, write down the badge number, and call the local OSHA office to confirm that the person is in fact an OSHA agent. There have been reports of fake agents performing industrial espionage or trying to shake down business to “overlook” violations.
For more information on the Nebraska Department of Labor Safety programs, contact me at [email protected] or at 408.602.5905.
—John Ecklund, Director, Greater Nebraska