What is in this article?:
- Preparation, training are keys to avoiding OSHA penalties
- Know what to expect
- Preparation is critical
- Hazard prevention is much cheaper than the fines and other losses that could result from citations for hazardous working conditions.
- Employers need to know what to expect from an inspection.
- In the United States, 16 people die in the workplace every day.
MIRIAM MCGEE, outreach compliance assistance with South Texas OSHA, discusses employers’ responsibilities during a grain handling and storage safety conference recently in Sinton, Texas. Michael Donalson, right, Refugio County Extension agent, sets up the PowerPoint equipment.
Know what to expect
Employers should know what to expect from a visit from OSHA. “The scope of the investigation may be comprehensive—wall to wall—or limited based on a fatality or a referral for a specific problem. “If we have a fatality referral we need to know who, where, what, when, and why.”
She advises employers to make certain the representative is authentic. “OSHA investigators will say who they are, why they are there and will show credentials. Make them show credentials.”
Some cases of persons falsely representing themselves as OSHA agents have been reported in the Corpus Christi, Texas, area.
An opening conference will cover the scope of the visit. Employee representatives or their union representatives may be present. A closing conference provides a list of hazards and actions to correct them.
“A compliance officer has six months to complete the file.”
McGee said employers may not discriminate against employees who report conditions they think may be hazardous.
An employer has 15 working days after receiving the list of citations—sent by certified mail—to request an informal conference. At that meeting employers may negotiate penalties. “They may ask for a reduced penalty, a citation reclassified to a lower level, grouping of citations (lumping several citations from one machine, for instance into just one citation and one penalty). Employers may also request the citation be dismissed.
“It is important that an employer know what he can ask for,” McGee said. “After those 15 days, the citation becomes the final order and moves through OSHA channels.”
She said employees should be aware of procedures to follow if someone from OSHA shows up. They also need to know to whom an OSHA document should be routed and how quickly it needs to be attended to.
Employers also are required to prepare an “abatement document” detailing proof that the recommendations have been taken care of and the hazards corrected.
McGee said the grain elevator industry should be aware of many areas of potential hazards. Failure to have an emergency action plan in place is one area that has been cited, she said. Others include entry into a grain bin without an observer, electrical circuit breakers not labeled properly, missing covers on junction boxes, use of improper equipment, stripped wiring, unguarded belts or pulleys and inadequate fire extinguisher maintenance and inspections.
New standards have been approved and will reflect a global standard. By Dec. 1, 2013, workers must be trained on new labels and data sheets from that new standard. By Jan. 2015, manufacturers, importers, distributors and employers must be in compliance, and by Jan. 2016, all employees must be trained.