3 ways to prevent OSHA penalties

Falls remain the most common, and most expensive, violations on construction projects
Proactive contractors can limit the risk of safety penalties.

In 1970, Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act to set the standard for safe working conditions for American workers. Since then, the working conditions have vastly improved, mostly due to the fact that companies are faced with stiff penalties to pay if they’re found to be in willful and direct violation of OSHA guidelines.

Related: Most common OSHA violations highlight ongoing risks

Nearly every private employee in the United States falls under OSHA protection. The exceptions are self-employed workers, workers in mining and transportation (covered by other federal agencies), and most public employees. OSHA has been criticized by both employers and employees for different reasons, but the agency’s goal is to ensure that corporations aren’t willfully exposing American workers to hazardous or life threatening situations while on the jobsite. OSHA has been proven effective, reducing the number of employee deaths from 38 per day at the birth of the program, to 12 deaths per day on average as of today.

How to raise the standard on construction sites

Let workers voice their concern. Employees who are free to raise concerns about their safety often bring unsafe work conditions to the employer’s attention prior to it becoming an OSHA recordable incident. Employees who may speak of their safety concerns without fear of retribution lend to a safe working environment and better safety awareness.

Use technology and fast data sharing. The age of smartphones means that employers don’t need to rely on outdated forms and paper copies of regulations that may or may not be the most up to date. OSHA is quite current on the technological front, and most any regulation or form can be found and downloaded from their website.

Make prevention part of your strategy. The greatest assets that you can have as an employer are adequate and thorough employee training records. In addition to ensuring that all employees are current on mandated training, safety audits should be performed on a company level to ensure that any potential OSHA violations are found and corrected prior to causing an accident or injury.

Related: ASSP launches construction safety resource library

How to deal with OSHA penalties

If an OSHA violation results in a citation and notification of penalty, companies must follow established procedures.

  • Post the citation or a copy of it near the place where the violation occurred. This makes employees aware of the hazards. It must remain there for three working days or until the violation is remedied, whichever is longer.
  • Post abatement certification documents near the site of the violation.
  • If you agree with the violation, correct the condition by the set (abatement) date and pay the penalty, if given one.
  • If you disagree, you have 15 working days from the date you receive the citation to contest it in writing.
  • You may also request an informal conference with the area OSHA director to discuss the violation.

Are OSHA violations negotiable?

In a lot of cases, OSHA penalties can be lowered if companies correct the problems that originally created the violation. OSHA uses this as an incentive to cause companies to actually correct the safety issues, versus simply paying the fines and continuing to endanger the health and well-being of their employees.

Employee misconduct is a valid OSHA defense, given that you can prove the following:

  • You must show an established work rule that, if followed, would have prevented the violation from occurring.
  • The rule was adequately communicated to the employees (usually in the form of signed safety training records).
  • You have taken steps to discover any additional safety violations (typically through safety audits).
  • You have effectively enforced your safety rules (you must show a safety violation disciplinary program, and documented disciplinary actions for violations).

What are OSHA’s top violations?

Nine of the most expensive fines issued by OSHA in 2019 included fall protection violations of one form or another. Because falls account for more than 33% of construction deaths as of 2018, it is an area of constant inquiry as far as OSHA recordables are concerned. Four of the 10 most cited OSHA violations are related to falls.

The top ten most cited OSHA violations are:

  1. Fall Protection Violations
  2. Hazard Communication (Chemical Safety) Training
  3. Scaffolding Violations
  4. Lockout/Tagout Violations
  5. Repiratory Protection Violations
  6. Ladder Safety Violations
  7. Powered Industrial Trucks (Forklift, tractors) Violations
  8. Fall Protection Training Requirement Violations
  9. Machine Guarding Violations
  10. Eye and Face Protection Violations

The article was contributed by the team of attorneys at Blumenshine Law Group.


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