In 1970, the United States Congress passed the Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act. As a result, OSHA was formed.
The Act required that "every employer under the Act furnish to his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees" (29 CFR 1903.1). This passage is commonly known as the General Duty Clause. Failure to comply with this clause or any of the standards set forth by OSHA may result in a citation.
To avoid citations, employers need to comply with standards. Compliance can be facilitated by an internal safety staff or through the use of an outside consultant. These options may cause financial hardship for small businesses. Fortunately, there is an alternative.
The Act provides OSHA consultation service to small businesses at no cost (29 CFR 1908.1). The service will assist in establishing effective safety and health plans. It is provided by state governments and is separate from the normal OSHA inspection efforts. The following focuses on the eligibility requirements, procedures to follow, opening and closing conferences, inspection process and other general information.
Requirements for the employer include:
- No more than 250 employees at one site
- No more than 500 employees total at all sites
Size determination shall be based on the average level of employment during the past 12 months.
If either of these parameters is exceeded, employers may still seek assistance, provided that only specific assistance is requested.
Requests for an OSHA consultation may be done in person, over the phone or in writing. The request will be prioritized according to the nature of the workplace and the existence of any backlog of requests. A consultant will be assigned to the case and will contact you to arrange a visit date. It is encouraged that you prepare a list of specific needs, along with the working conditions of the site and any present safety and health plans that are utilized by the facility.
At this time, the consultant will describe his role in the visit and may review your current safety and health plan at your request. As stated earlier, this OSHA consultation is separate from federal inspections. The consultant will detail the relationship between the two organizations and encourage employee participation during the inspection.
When scheduled, the consultant will conduct an inspection of the worksite. It is suggested that a member from management accompany the consultant to assist him with the inspection. Either the entire facility or only specific areas will be inspected; the scope depends on the facility's original request.
The consultant will review the facility for mechanical and physical hazards. This may be done by inspecting the structure of the building, the condition of the floors and stairs, and the process layout. Items such as powered industrial trucks (forklifts), machinery and storage areas may warrant closer inspection. Attention will also be given to electrical hazards and guarding of equipment.
Air and noise monitoring may also be conducted to determine exposure levels. Personal protective equipment may be inspected for proper use and storage. Environmental conditions, such as vibration and temperature controls, may also be discussed.
It is suggested that employees be allowed to participate in the inspection process. At a minimum, the consultant must be able to talk with employees to gain further information about job processes and their applicable hazards. Some basic questions may include: job training, supervision, maintenance of equipment and orientation.
The consultant may also inquire into the status of the current safety and health program—whether it is being implemented and if new programs are being developed. Upon request, the consultant will give advice for improving or initiating a program. A portion of this inspection will focus on management and worker attitudes toward safety. The consultant may ask to review the current injury and illness records and may also review the communication procedures for safety policies and procedures.
During this portion of the OSHA consultation, the consultant will discuss any potential problems, current unsafe conditions and possible solutions.
If a condition is judged to be an "imminent danger," immediate action must take place to solve the situation. If a situation is judged to be a "serious violation" under OSHA specifications, the consultant will work with you to develop a mutually acceptable plan.
The consultant may also make suggestions to establish or modify existing programs.
Such suggestions may include: increased training and monitoring, safety promotion, and accountability procedures.
As part of the agreement, the employer must respond to and correct all violations noted in the OSHA consultation— especially those judged to be serious or imminent in nature. Though rare, failure to correct the violation(s) may lead to an unannounced OSHA inspection.
Employers who correct all identified hazards and institute a comprehensive program may gain an added benefit: a certificate that will exempt the employer from an OSHA inspection for one year. Inspections prompted by employee complaints or fatalities are not included.
If the certificate is accepted, the employer must notify the consultant of new hazards or processes that are introduced into the workplace. Presently, the exemption applies only to fixed worksites.
The OSHA consultation service has many benefits for small businesses. It will:
- Assist in identifying worksite hazards
- Suggest corrective actions
- Identify sources of assistance
- Provide a written summary
- Offer training and education
- Recommend a one-year exemption to OSHA
The service will NOT:
- Issue citations or propose penalties
- Routinely report violations to OSHA
- Guarantee that a worksite will pass an OSHA inspection
OSHA has also developed a program for smaller businesses similar to their Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). "The Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) is designed to provide incentives and support to employers to develop, implement and continuously improve effective safety and health programs at their worksite(s). SHARP provides for recognition of employers who have demonstrated exemplary achievements in workplace safety and health by receiving a comprehensive safety and health consultation visit, correcting all workplace safety and health hazards, adopting and implementing effective safety and health management systems, and agreeing to request further consultative visits if major changes in working conditions or processes occur which may introduce new hazards. Employers who meet these specific SHARP requirements may be exempted from OSHA programmed inspections for a period of not less than one year.” There may be similar state run programs available as well, similar to SHARP and VPP.
Find even more information you can use to help make informed decisions about the regulatory issues you face in your workplace every day. View all Quick Tips Technical Resources at www.grainger.com/quicktips.
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The content in this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only. This publication is not a substitute for review of the applicable government regulations and standards, and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific compliance questions should refer to the cited regulation or consult with an attorney.
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