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Houston OSHA Law Blog

OSHA's five-step abatement process

For an employer who has been cited for an OSHA violation, the cost and process of fixing the hazards that OSHA identified can be more challenging than handling the fine and other issues associated with the citation itself. OSHA requires employers to abate hazards and has identified a five-step process for correcting and showing the hazards have been corrected.

The steps include:

  • Fix the hazard. OSHA requires hazards to be corrected quickly. If a hazard will take more than 90 days to correct, you may be required to have an abatement plan.
  • Certify in a letter that you have corrected the hazard. The letter must include information about the inspection and citation numbers of each violation, a statement of how and on what date the hazard was abated, and other information.
  • Provide documents that verify the abatement has been completed.
  • Notify employees who were exposed to the hazard. The notification should contain the same information that OSHA received.
  • Tag movable equipment that has been cited to warn employees of the hazard.

What employers are covered by OSHA?

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) covers most – but not all –employers and employees in the United States. The federal safety agency, which also works with states that have their own health and safety programs, regulates safety for nearly 8 million worksites and 130 million workers.

OSHA may be involved with health and safety regulation of these types of employers:

  • Private sector: Workers and employers are covered in every state, including Texas. OSHA may cover a private employer either directly through the federal OSHA program or through a state program approved by OSHA.
  • State and local government: These workers are not covered by the federal OSHA program, but they may have OSHA protections if they work in a state with a program approved by OSHA.
  • Federal government: Federal government workers are required to have a safety program that meets the same standards as private employers OSHA monitors federal agencies but does not fine them for violations.

How OSHA prioritizes the worksites it inspects

If you are an employer, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) may inspect your worksites at any time for potential safety violations. In many cases, however, inspections will fall into one of several types. The reason: OSHA enforces safety regulations at more than seven million workplaces around the nation. Because of the size of the operation, OSHA must prioritize which worksites it inspects.

The agency says it focuses on these six reasons for an inspection. They are listed in order of importance.

Ten most common OSHA citations

Last year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and related state agencies issued nearly 90,000 citations for alleged violations of safety regulations. The regulations cover nearly all types of employers - from hair salons to hospitals to construction sites - and a wide range of potential hazards defined in safety regulations. 

Despite the variety, some types of violations are more frequently found than others. OSHA releases a list of the 10 most common OSHA citations issued each year. For fiscal year 2013, they are:

An OSHA Inspector Has Come to My Workplace

Do you know what to do if an OSHA inspector comes to your work site? Inspectors from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) may appear for a safety inspection at your worksite at any time and for any reason. These inspections may result in citations that can carry monetary penalties and requirements for potentially expensive abatements. Because of the potential for severe consequences, it is worth the time and effort for employers to prepare for OSHA inspections, understand the process associated with an OSHA inspection and develop a plan of action for when an inspection occurs.

If you have properly prepared for an OSHA inspection, your employees should know how to handle each stage of an OSHA inspection. In this blog, we provide some tips for handling OSHA inspections. These tips are not comprehensive. Your business or worksite may have needs that can best be addressed with an individual plan.

What constitutes 'effective' workplace safety training programs?

From an employer's perspective, it probably seems reasonable to provide safety training to employees as they are hired or as safety needs change. After all, maintaining a safe work environment can help operations run more smoothly, which is beneficial for the health of employees and the business.

However, well-intentioned employers may run into issues if their training programs do not meet the standards established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Given the sprawling nature of federal mandates, it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly how a training regimen can be effective and meet all necessary requirements. An employer's training program is not simply a plan that is "implemented" and then put on a shelf to collect dust. A training program must be dynamic and evolve with the ever-changing regulatory climate. 

Defining OSHA's standards for a 'willful' work safety violation

Over the course of this blog, we have spent time discussing ways that employers can defend against workplace safety violations or take steps to prevent citations. In the midst of all this, it may be beneficial for employers to understand exactly what is meant by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's most severe penalty: a willful violation.

As a point of reference, OSHA defines four most common types of citations for safety violations that can be issued after a safety inspection. They range from other-than-serious violations and increase in severity to willful violations. Of course, the harshest penalties generally accompany willful violations.

What if OSHA doesn't accept abatement efforts after a citation?

As a business owner, being struck with a workplace safety violation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration can prove to be very costly. Not only can violations lead to fines and negative public perception, but business owners may also have to accept the costs of abatement -- no matter how serious the violation.

In short, abatement is the process that employers must go through to demonstrate that safety hazards have been addressed. According to OSHA, employers must provide documented evidence and a sworn statement that the issues in question have been corrected. Even if efforts at abatement are made, OSHA can issue a citation if they feel as though abatement requirements haven't been met.

What options do employers have when OSHA levies a citation?

Being subjected to a random, unannounced inspection conducted by Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials can cause a major disruption within a company. In the wake of the OSHA's actions, an employer may also be taken off guard by a citation for a safety violation.

Being faced with sanctions -- no matter how significant -- is something any employer wants to avoid. In some cases, it might seem easiest to pay the fine, take corrective measures and try to move on. However, taking this course of action could cause a company to be labeled "unsafe," even if the citation is inaccurate.

Focus: satisfying OSHA industry training guidelines

Saying that, “There’s no problem until there’s a problem,” a director of training programs geared toward compliance standards set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration strongly cautions companies against taking training shortcuts.

Granted, the inclination to do so might be strong for some cash-strapped or otherwise constrained employers with knowledge that OSHA oversight might be lacking somewhat these days owing to limited personnel and budget cuts.

Not abiding scrupulously by the rules, though, and ensuring that employees are fully trained and qualified, is a bad ploy in several respects.

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