Besides the undesirability of enduring an OSHA safety inspection, a critical component of a responsible business owner is to keep your people safe. A safe workplace for your employees (who are individuals with hopes, dreams, and their own sets of responsibilities) should be a top priority. For employers with ten or more employees, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulates workplace safety. OSHA violations are expensive and burdensome for your small business.
What you can expect from an OSHA investigation
OSHA has a number of general and industry-specific standards for safety compliance. For example, the requirements for a dentist, as compared to a framing contractor, will have some different hazards to take into account. The Utah Occupational Safety and Health (UOSH) agency oversees workplace safety in Utah, and its compliance division enforces both federal OSHA and specific UOSH standards.
Surprise! OSHA site inspections today!
One of the most common reasons for a site inspection is that somebody complained, probably an employee. The inspector is free to walk around and talk to your employees. Don’t worry, you will know the outcome of the inspection and your action items, if any, that need to be addressed. The inspector will be evaluating items such as:
- Do you document workplace injuries and illnesses?
- Do you investigate workplace accidents/injuries/illnesses?
- Does your workplace safety program cover the full range of hazards?
- Do you post the required OSHA Job Safety and Health: It’s the Law poster, informing employees of their rights and obligations?
- What potential hazards are present in your workplace?
- Do you have a written workplace safety program?
- Are the emergency procedures and inspection schedules for emergency personal protective equipment (PPI) documented?
- Do you have a system set up for the selection, use, and maintenance of routine PPI?
- How are employees trained about the workplace safety program?
- How do you communicate with employees about the workplace safety program (posters, booklets, meetings, emails, training, etc.)?
12 OSHA Safety Tips
An OSHA inspection can be a mess for you as a business owner if you are not prepared. You do not want to get stung by a surprise safety inspection. Let’s be clear, there are 12 things you can do now so you are ready when an OSHA inspector shows up on your business’s doorstep.
- Do what is necessary to ensure a workplace free from seriously recognized hazards. Refer to OSHA’s website to see if your industry fits under a particular category for detailed requirements. For example, “Health Care” includes a variety of specific industries, such as dentistry, clinicians, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.
- Make sure that you post the OSHA poster in your workplace. Piece of cake, right! Is it posted in a place where employees can see it? You will be cited if you not.
- Train your staff to document workplace injuries and illnesses. The inspector will request to see your records of workplace injuries and illnesses. Establish a system, create a form, assign a designated individual to ensure the reports are completed and filed correctly.
- Report and document workplace injuries. Under Utah law, employers are required to report workplace incidents within eight (8) hours.
- Comply with all record-keeping requirements. Depending on your type of business, OSHA may have additional record-keeping requirements for you. Document the various components of your workplace safety program, such as determination of workplace hazards, PPI ordering, and inspection, employee training, etc.
- Provide proper equipment and training to your employees. Proper equipment will be industry-specific. If you work at a recycling plant, it could be a hard hat, special gloves, and close-toed shoes. If you work at a dental office, it could be a mask, eye protection, and gloves. Don’t forget to train employees for proper use of equipment, as well as safety procedures.
- Implement safety policies and procedures as part of your workplace safety program. Include your workplace policies in an employee handbook.
- Communicate with employees about workplace hazards. Again, a handbook and training are critical to proving you communicated with employees. The more intentional you are, the better it will look come inspection time.
- Be prepared for emergencies. Start by conducting a Risk Analysis. For example, if your employees drive between various worksites, what is necessary to ensure safety, and for responding to an emergency? Or, what happens if you need to shut the water off to your building? Do your employees know where the shutoff valve is, or how to turn it off? For example, one thing we have done for clients is to put together an emergency action plan (EAP). Include photos, such as where the emergency shutoff valve is, and include that in the employee handbook.
- Be ready for an OSHA inspection. Have your records available, your safety records should be easy to find. Figure out who could be designated as an OSHA compliance officer.
- Post and figure out how to correct any issues. If you receive a citation, you need to post it, and you need to correct it. Document the measures that you take to correct it.
- Do not discriminate or retaliate against employees who report work-related injuries or illnesses. Reporting workplace injuries or illnesses is a protected activity, and retaliating against an employee for making a report will put you in hot water fast. Retaliation is one of the most common and easiest lawsuits for an employee to file.
OSHA and COVID-19
OSHA regulations have been changing quickly in response to COVID-19. The best way to understand how these requirements affect you and your business is to frequently check OSHA’s website. OSHA has repeatedly stated that the best way to protect your business and your employees is through following the CDC guidelines. It is important to follow the OSHA regulations along with doing what is best for your business.
Common Sense Actions to Ensure Workplace Safety
In light of the last two years, use common sense and ensure the protection you put in place makes sense for your type of business and what OSHA requires. Be prepared. It is simply not worth the risk and the embarrassment of an inspector going through incomplete records or seeing insufficient efforts to establish a safe workplace. Save yourself from the added cost and burden of an OSHA fine and citation. When was the last time you walked through your workplace to assess the safety and potential hazards?
Dana Ball Legal Services can help you with your small business legal needs. Stay legally compliant with your safety obligations. Call Dana Ball, an employment lawyer to answer your questions with employees and avoid court.