In a move that caught many in the construction industry by surprise, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was granted power to increase their fines by the 2016 federal budget bill that recently passed Congress and was signed into law. The included provisions will allow OSHA to adjust fine amounts frozen since 1990 in order to reflect rising inflation that has occurred since then. Read more
Understanding the OSHA Inspection Process
Many contractors consider OSHA to be a real thorn in the side. This is unfortunate, because the agency exists to protect you and your workers from injury, loss and liability. There will be occasions when you have an accident on site and OSHA will come in to inspect the area and issue violations. Understanding the how and why of the OSHA inspection process can save you a lot of time and grief.
Reasons for Investigations
There are three main reasons that OSHA conducts site inspections and investigations. The first of these is that the organization believes there is an imminent danger to your workers present. The second is if a catastrophic accident results in death or serious injury, and the third reason is when a job site is subject to a number of complaints from workers.
As a contractor, you can refuse an OSHA inspection when they show up on site. However, this doesn’t mean the investigation won’t happen. It does mean that the organization can come back with a court order or compulsory mandate that requires the inspection. Understand that if you force them to get a mandate, they will be less likely to show lenience on minor violations.
If a Violation Is Found
If OSHA does issue a citation, you have fifteen days to respond and defend against reported violations. This defense will occur through either an informal conference or a formal hearing. The faster you respond to infractions, the better able you will be to reduce any fines or citations. Make sure that if the violations are legitimate, you address the problems quickly and decisively and are able to show that you’ve taken care of the issue. This way your penalties will be far lessened.
Most Common Violations
The most common violations of OSHA standards involve common safety and security issues. The single most common citation handed out by the agency is for falls. These accidents create more jobsite fatalities than any other issue. In fact, in 2013, over 300 deaths were reported as a result of falling accidents. This is from a total of over 825 deaths in the industry.
Second to falls is hazard communication, where improper signage or warnings of dangerous conditions are present. Third comes scaffolding safety issues. They collapse and workers have accidents due to improper securing of the devices. Fourth among violations are the use of respirators (or failure to use them, more accurately) to protect workers from harmful gases or fumes. Finally, the fifth most common violation cited relates to heavy equipment such as hand trucks, pallet trucks, forklifts and other heavy machinery. One in six fatalities at the workplace are caused by accidents related to heavy equipment.
At some point, almost every contractor faces an OSHA inspection and potential violation. Having the right insurance coverage can protect you from the financial losses you can face as a result of the accidents that lead to these investigations.
OSHA safety regulations were created to protect workers from dangerous workplace conditions while also keeping employers informed of best practices. Handy safety guidelines and suggestions published by OSHA have potentially saved tens of millions of lives.
Despite these efforts, some workplaces continue to engage in habits that put their employees in danger. Part I of this post covered how electrical systems, machinery guards and ladder usage all make up some of the most commonly-seen OSHA violations during inspections. Here are even more common and dangerous violations that make up number six through number one of the most egregious practices OSHA regularly sees: Read more
As a contractor, there will sometimes be moments in your career when things don’t always go your way. Accidents are unavoidable, and once in a while you will end up in a situation when the OSHA will hand you a violation. It’s important to understand how the OSHA inspections are conducted and what you can do to avoid getting flagged.
There are three main reasons why the OSHA might consider slapping you with a violation or conducting an investigation on your work site. The first would be if the OSHA believes there is an imminent danger to employees. The second reason would be if a death or catastrophe has occurred on the worksite previously. Lastly, if the worksite has been subject to multiple complaints by the workers.
If the OSHA comes to your worksite and requests to inspect things, you reserve the right as a contractor to say no. This will not protect you from an investigation as the OSHA can then return with a compulsory process to mandate and inspection. If you force the OSHA to take this route, they will not be lenient on smaller infractions. If something inspected is in fact wrong, the Employer will have the right to defend himself in an informal conference or a formal hearing. In order to reduce the fines and citations, respond quickly to infractions that are written up. Generally, within 15 days of the occurrence would be enough time to protect yourself. Any citations that are made must be displayed for up to three days or until the violation is fixed, whichever happens to be longer. It’s your duty as a contractor to fix all the violations you commit. It is even in your best interest because if violations are corrected immediately, the penalty is far less than if you do nothing.
Being a contractor is tough work and no one is perfect. Mistakes can occur on any given day, but by understanding how to respond to violations and inspections you can limit the effect it has on your business. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact one of our insurance professionals today.