Workplaces are hazardous places, and keeping your employees safe is not only the law. It could cost you if you don't.
Citations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration can carry maximum fines ranging from $13,260 per serious violation up to $132,598 per violation for willful and repeat violations, according to the 2019 OSHA penalties that took effect Jan. 23.
Violations most often cited last year were in fall protection in construction work, according to a preliminary OSHA list, but a newcomer on the list was eye/face protection in the same field.
OSHA’s list can offer guidance on what’s under its scrutiny, but assessing your own workplace or job site can help you reduce your chances of getting cited.
“Businesses should try to be proactive and identify the hazards in their workplaces that could lead to serious injuries,” said Travis Rhoden, a senior editor at J.J. Keller & Associates Inc., a Neenah, Wisconsin, firm that provides safety and compliance services and publications.
He said the OSHA list could fluctuate from now until March when the data are finalized, but the top 10 violations shouldn’t change greatly.
Besides falls, the top five include hazard communication, scaffolding, respiratory protection and "lockout/tagout," which deals with ensuring that the energy source of machines/equipment is properly shut down during servicing and maintenance, Rhoden said.
Eye/face protection in construction, 10th on the list, deals with having appropriate personal protective equipment for those exposed to hazards.
This can be a hot spot, agrees Charles Hunt, chief operating officer of ABLE Safety Consulting in Massapequa Parkwhich provides OSHA compliance help and occupational training
Companies aren’t giving employees proper eye/face protection or aren’t inspecting their workplaces regularly to enforce use of their gear, he said.
Reducing injuries starts with tracking ones at your site in the past and seeing how you can prevent or mitigate them in the future. Doing this will help reduce your workers' compensation premiums and minimize your exposure during an OSHA inspection, Hunt said.
Overall, there were 32,020 OSHA inspections for fiscal year 2018, down slightly from the 32,408 in the previous year, Rhoden said.
He said he expects similar numbers in 2019 and a continued OSHA focus on responding to reported injuries to determine its priorities.
OSHA recently announced it will target establishments with high injury rates based on information electronically submitted by employers for 2016.
OSHA's data and statistics (at osha.gov/oshstats) will also offer insights for your own industry classification, said Patrick Melfi, who co-chairs occupational safety/health law at Bond, Schoeneck & King in Syracuse.
You’ll see “what other people in your particular industry have had problems with,” he said.
That’s important for safety reasons, but also considering OSHA’s increasing penalties this year, he said.
Companies may also want to look at their region's "LEPs" that OSHA has highlighted, according to Thomas J. Bianco, a partner at Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Breitstone in MineolaThese local Emphasis Programs are intended to address hazards or industries that pose a particular risk to workers in an OSHA office's jurisdiction and can be found at OSHA's website.
It's also wise, Bianco said, for companies to have a health and safety plan, which can get businesses 25 percent off a potential fine.
Having a safety professional walk through your workplace to identify potential hazards, he said, is also something to consider. Many workers comp insurance carriers will do it for you.
The New York State labor department's Division of Safety and Health also has a free on-site consultation program for employers (see https://tinyurl.com/yar5mw5s), Melfi said.
Keep in mind, he said, “If you know or should have known [of a hazard], OSHA will treat you as though you knew.”.
Watch Your Step
It’s no wonder fall protection in construction consistently top’s OSHA’s list of top cited violations. Falls contributed to 381 out of 971 total deaths in construction in 2017 (latest available), according to OSHA.