Warning: Owning an OSHA Guidebook Doesn't Guarantee OSHA Compliance
Employers are obligated to abide by numerous standards when providing employees with safe and healthy work environments, which is why understanding OSHA safety and health program management guidelines is critical to keeping workers safe and reducing exposure to penalties that follow accidents, inspections, and citations. While it is important to understand what is required of you as an employer, avoiding OSHA citations entails more than familiarity with laws and regulations.
At Hendershot Cowart, P.C., our Houston lawyers know that simply owning an OSHA guidebook does not guarantee OSHA compliance. Compliance comes from meticulous evaluations of current practices, a comprehensive view of programs and policies unique to your situation, and informed action to implement change. That’s why our firm provides businesses across Texas with proactive services, in addition to representation and guidance for inspections and citation defense, to:
- Draft and execute company- and industry-specific compliance plans
- Ensure compliance programs meet federal and state laws
- Refine risk-mitigating policies and company infrastructure
- Apply self-auditing techniques
- Protect workers and minimize exposure to citations, fines, and penalties
Our firm has extensive experience working with OSHA, designing and writing compliance programs, and helping employers effectively implementing programs. Without these, employers face citations.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a powerful subsidiary of the U.S. Department of Labor, and it is tasked with issuing and enforcing standards in a variety of industries to ensure employers meet requirements when it comes to workplace safety. To achieve this, OSHA conducts job site inspections – announced or unannounced – and issues citations that inform employers of which standards they violated and what penalties are imposed.
Employers have a vested interest to keep workers healthy, make job sites safe, and avoid repercussions associated with citations, which can be severe depending on classification. Having an OSHA guidebook sitting on the shelf does not guarantee protection from these risks. In fact, having a guidebook can lead to more trouble than not having it – particularly in cases where violations are classified as willful and employers are said to have knowingly failed to comply or purposefully disregard employee safety. When OSHA knows an employer has a guidebook, they make the assumption the employer knew the standard, and therefore may elevate what could have been a serious violation to willful.
OSHA Compliance Plans
OSHA stipulates certain areas of worksite safety that require written safety compliance plans specific to company, location, and industry safety standards. These plans must comply with government guidelines and regulations, and they must be effective in creating safe working environments when implemented. Some of the most common compliance plans required by OSHA for construction and general industries address issues that include:
- Blood-borne pathogen exposure
- Confined space entry
- Crane / hoisting inspection
- Electrical safety practices
- Trenching and excavations
- Fall protection
- Hearing conservation
- Laboratory chemical safety
- Lock out / tag out and machine guarding
- Personal protective equipment
By requiring these compliance programs, OSHA solidifies its intent to prevent injuries, illness, and death in the workplace. Having a written document in place is only half the battle under OSHA’s objective, however, which is why they evaluate such plans and programs to assess their effectiveness. When determining if an employer has an effective plan, and whether they are taking the appropriate steps to ensure a plan is effective, they will look to the following:
- Management Leadership
- Worker Participation
- Hazard Identification and Assessment
- Hazard Prevention and Control
- Education and Training
- Program Evaluation and Improvement
- Coordination and Communication on Multiemployer Worksites
Ensuring the effectiveness of a program should take precedent prior to any injury, illness, or death, and prior to any citation. Our legal team can help draft compliance plans in accordance to applicable standards and help businesses refine their infrastructure and policies to ensure they are implemented effectively. While pre-emptive counsel is critical to helping businesses reduce exposure to consequences, an immediate response may be required when employers face inspections or have already received citations.
For employers who face OSHA inspections or have already been cited, timely action is critical to maximizing the opportunity for a successful outcome. By responding immediately to employers, our team can work to pursue settlement negotiations with OSHA or structure a defense by contesting an OSHA citation and attending an informal settlement conference. Informal settlement conferences must be requested within 15 working days from the date of a citation notice.
Our team prepares employers for informal settlement conferences and accompanies them when meeting with OSHA area directors to discuss violations. Having an experienced lawyer by your side can allow for better accumulation of the evidence OSHA has, more specific identification of OSHA standards being applied, and deeper exploration of potential defense strategies to alleged violations. This, in turn, can facilitate the reclassification of citations to a lesser classification, which results in smaller fines and penalties or having citations dismissed. It can also allow for creation and implementation of sound compliance plans moving forward.
Discuss Your Needs & Compliance Issues During an Initial Consultation
Having an OSHA guidebook does not guarantee compliance, and a lack of written compliance plans or ineffective programs can further jeopardize your business. Our Houston attorneys at Hendershot Cowart, P.C. can help you take the right steps toward addressing all of your compliance issues – on a proactive or responsive basis – and position you for future success.
Call (713) 489-2028 to speak personally with a member of our team.