Prevention may be worth a pound of cure, but when it comes to OSHA regulations, it can mean the difference between a safe workplace and one that poses potential risks for accidents, injuries, and what can be serious repercussions.
At Hendershot Cowart P.C., we’re well aware it’s easier to sell cure than it is prevention – many businesses seeking help with workplace health and safety regulations do so after they’ve already been cited for OSHA violations, including ones that put considerable penalties on the table.
Though that may be the case, the benefits of proactive compliance efforts and a comprehensive approach to reducing citation risks cannot be understated. In many cases, it could make or break the future of your business, or make the difference between life and death.
Because the risks of workplace hazards and the impact of an OSHA citation can be so grave, taking preemptive steps to avoid violations is crucial for any employer. Here are a few tips to help you do just that:
- Documentation and record-keeping – Ensuring you keep complete and organized documentation about OSHA compliance, worker training, and other workplace regulatory matters can prove invaluable in the event of an OSHA inspection. From regulations requiring document retention (i.e. lockout / tagout, PPE, and hazard communication program assessments to various enforcement efforts, 300 logs, and other training or safety records, well-maintained files can not only help avoid violations, but also the risks which accompany them.
- Perform hazard assessments – A job hazard assessment can benefit employers and employees across many different industries. As both sword and shield, a job hazard analysis is an important accident prevention tool, as well as a valuable technique for limiting exposure to potential regulatory violations. Be aware that a hazard assessment alone won’t shield you from all potential violations; you’ll want to ensure they’re appropriate for your workplace and industry, customized to your specific needs, and effectively conducted and implemented. An experienced OSHA lawyer can help you address the nuts and bolts of a job hazard assessment in accordance to your unique situation.
- Create comprehensive compliance plans – OSHA doesn’t require written compliance plans for all regulations, but it does for many specific workplace hazards and dangerous chemicals. That includes hazard communication plans (a leading OSHA violation), emergency action and fire prevention, electrical and fall safety, confined spaces, and more. When creating compliance plans, you’ll want to ensure they’re comprehensive in scope, and that they address the core components recommended by OSHA (i.e. objectives, responsible party, and hazard identification, prevention controls and safety practices, emergency and catastrophe policies, employee training, process review/improvement strategies, and recordkeeping processes.
- Be ready for an inspection – Know what to do when an OSHA rep visits your workplace to conduct an inspection? What about your employees? Whatever industry you’re in, you’ll want to ensure there are effective policies in place for dealing with regulators, and that employees and managers are all on the same page when it comes to possible interviews. Training, documentation, displaying the correct postings, and periodic assessments and audits can ensure you’ll be prepared for an OSHA inspection whenever it occurs.
- Make training a top priority – Safety training has numerous benefits for workplace safety. Not only can it reduce risks of preventable injuries among your workforce, it can also cut down on potential reasons for inspections and violations. That’s because statistics show over half of all OSHA inspections are due to complaints received by employees (a sign that workers may not be inclined to bring such complaints to their employer first), and because adequate training programs can ensure workers are well-informed about the procedures for compliance in your place of work. Make employee training a top priority, and be sure it addresses issues specific to your industry.
- Clean up / put away potential hazards – This may be an all too obvious “tip,” but it’s also one that’s commonly neglected. Whether it’s part of a compliance plan for daily processes or in preparation for a potential inspection, cutting back on clutter and keeping materials and equipment properly stored can cut down on some of the biggest workplace safety risks (i.e. trip and fall hazards, falling objects, etc.). Comprehensive compliance programs can help formulate how these policies are implemented, and how employees should address any issues where an immediate clean-up is needed.
- Ensure proper postings/communications – Hazard communication failures are among the most commonly cited OSHA violations. Employers keen on avoiding costly citations and worker injuries need to be sure they post proper hazard warnings and communications – whether it concerns certain machines or toxic substances, electrical safety, confined spaces, or any other high-hazard area.
- Actively maintain your compliance efforts – Having a compliance plan on your bookshelf does little if it’s just collecting dust. An effective compliance program that protects workers and reduces citation risks is one that’s actively maintained, regularly audited for effectiveness, and implemented in ways that work for the unique circumstances surrounding the particular workplace and industry. Designate a position or a worker to handling compliance efforts, or work with an experienced team to help you create, refine, or re-evaluate any plans or policies you should have or should improve. Active compliance maintenance is all the more important if you’ve had violations in the past, and are at risk of more severe penalties upon a new one, such as a willful or repeat violation or enrollment in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
COVID-19 Update: Following best practices is essential to avoiding common violations cited by OSHA, especially amid OSHA’s increased oversight of health and safety standards related to the coronavirus.
In response to the pandemic, OSHA has prioritized its handling of complaints and reports involving COVID-19 in the workplace. That includes not only increased worksite inspections, but also increased enforcement of recordkeeping and reporting requirements.
In addition to creating a comprehensive compliance plan, employers looking to reduce their exposure to citations should be mindful of new and evolving regulations involving COVID-19 and workplace safety, and ensure they are in compliance with standards for determining whether COVID-19 cases among employees are work-related and reportable. Our team at Hendershot Cowart P.C. is available to discuss your compliance program during a consultation.
Whether you’re in need of proactive compliance counsel or experienced OSHA defense when responding to inspections, catastrophes, or cited violations, Hendershot Cowart , P.C.can provide the insight-driven support you need. Learn more about our proactive compliance services or discuss a pressing matter personally with a member of our legal team by calling (713) 489-2028 or contacting us online.