Whenever safety professionals gather for seminars, meetings or professional organizations, one topic that eventually surfaces is the many and varied misinterpretations or outright false assumptions of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s workplace safety standards. The “OSH” Act of 1970 regulates many aspects of on-the-job processes and procedures. There are different “Parts” and “Subparts” within Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Each of these addresses the various major categories of business and industry from factories (General Industry, Part 1910) to Construction and Demolition (Part 1926) to Agriculture (Part 1928) to Maritime (Parts 1915, 17, 18).
Regardless of the type of industry, safety personnel are always bombarded with both questions as well as assumptions from employers who tend to fall into either of two categories: those who are completely ignorant and those who believe themselves to be experts. All safety professionals catalogue these widely held beliefs and misconceptions at least subconsciously, since it always comes up whenever two or more of us get together. I’m unaware of any Wall Street Journal Poll or Pew Research Center finding on this topic. Nevertheless, here are my very unofficial “Top 10” misconceptions, in no particular order of importance or frequency.
1. “I have fewer than 10 employees, so OSHA doesn’t have jurisdiction over my company.”
While there are some exemptions for very small businesses from certain OSHA record keeping requirements, compliance with applicable OSHA safety standards applies to all private employers.
2. “I use a temp agency for much of my work force. Since they’re not my own employees, I’m not responsible for their compliance with OSHA standards or any injuries they sustain on the job.”
Employers often perceive the labels or job titles of non-permanent workers as “get-out-of-jail-free” passes regarding safety compliance. OSHA does not necessarily consider the entity that issues a paycheck to be primarily responsible for workplace safety. If temporary agency workers or even independent contractors are being directly supervised by a company that contracted with a temp agency, then that company is deemed to be in charge of workplace safety. Any infractions of safety standards or on the job injuries are the responsibility of the “controlling entity” on site – not the temp agency that sent them.
3. “I have power presses in my factory that predate OSHA machine guarding requirements.” OR “I recently purchased NEW power presses for my factory; therefore they must be in compliance with OSHA machine guarding requirements.”
Old equipment such as power presses are NEVER “grandfathered” so as to be exempted from safeguarding the employees who operate them. It is the responsibility of the employer to retrofit, if necessary, all equipment to assure compliance with applicable standards.
As for newly manufactured tools and equipment, OSHA has absolutely NO authority to regulate the equipment manufacturers’ installation of machine guards on their products. It it’s not wise to assume that just because a tool, power press, or other such equipment was recently manufactured, that it is compliant with applicable OSHA standards.
4. “My tools, equipment and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) are OSHA-Certified.”
Occasionally, less-than-ethical manufacturers and/or their sales persons claim that their product is “OSHA-Approved” or “OSHA-Certified.” These assertions may actually be in print or merely a verbal claim. However, OSHA never “certifies” or approves or endorses in any manner a tool or piece of equipment … buyer beware!
5. “All the workers at my construction site wear full body harnesses and are tied off when they’re working more than 6 feet from the ground. I’m in full compliance with OSHA’s Fall Protection Standard.”
There are many aspects to full compliance with OSHA’s Fall Protection Standard at construction job sites. While it’s commendable that all employees working at or above the 6 ft. trigger height are wearing “PFA’s” and are tethered to an approved anchorage point, this does not insure their safety, nor does it guarantee the employer’s compliance.
For instance, is the anchorage point at or above shoulder height for all affected employees? If not, then their free-fall distance may exceed the length of their 6 ft. lanyard, which is prohibited. If using a horizontal lifeline as anchorage, is it at or above shoulder height? Is there any sag in the lifeline? These factors could affect the free-fall distance.
If a worker does, in fact, fall, could the anchorage point allow a swing or pendulum arc that could carry the employee into contact with part of the structure? Is there a rescue plan to retrieve the fallen worker in time to prevent cardiac arrest or other injury due to the length of time constricted by the body harness?
These are only a few of the aspects of compliance with the OSHA standard, and more important, of preventing injury.
6. “I have MSDS sheets for all the chemicals on my property. I’m in compliance with OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard.”
Possession of up to date Material Safety data Sheets for all the chemicals your employees may contact at work is only the beginning of compliance. Have you established a written “HazCom” program? Has it been updated and revised, at least annually? Are all employees trained about your program before their initial work assignment? Are affected employees re-trained whenever a new chemical or process is introduced or when their duties change? As with fall protection, OSHA’s HazCom Standard is multifaceted and requires monitoring.
7. “I don’t have any confined spaces in my facility. All the rooms and spaces are large and have more than one door or exit.”
Determining if your facility has confined spaces and more to the point “Permit-Required Confined Spaces” that meet the OSHA criteria is a bit more complicated that looking at the size of a space and the number of entrances and exits. A confined space is sometimes quite large, sometimes quite small. It may have dozens of egress points or perhaps only one. Proper assessment and classification of confined spaces requires more than a casual reading of the standard. If an employer is unable to thoroughly examine and digest OSHA’s Confined Space regulations (in §1910.146), they may be at risk for serious penalties.
8. “I attended a class to get my OSHA-Certification to operate a forklift.”
As with “certification” or any endorsement of tools or equipment, OSHA does NOT under any circumstance “certify” a training program or instructor. OSHA does “authorize” instructors who have successfully completed specific curricula at an OSHA Outreach Training Center to deliver certain “Outreach” training classes. However, employers should avoid any company or individual who purports to be “OSHA-Certified” or offers “OSHA-Certified” training.
9. “OSHA funds itself through the fines they collect.”
All fines collected from violations go directly into the General Fund of the U.S. Treasury. OSHA gets no portion of any fines. OSHA’s budget is in no way contingent upon the number of citations written.
10. “I had no recordable injuries last year, so I don’t have to post the annual injury summary.”
Even companies (if they have more than 10 employees) with zero injuries must post the OSHA 300A summary form for the preceding calendar year. It must be posted no later than February 1and kept in place until April 30.
Compliance with OSHA requires time and effort. However, it does pay off in your bottom line. It’s been estimated that the “hidden” costs of a laissez-faire safety program are like the “hidden” portions of icebergs. The immediately visible costs of accidents and injuries aren’t nearly as great as those which lie just beneath the surface. Employers should take the time and effort to thoroughly familiarize themselves with the realities of safety compliance and avoid rumor, myth and misconception.
Several inexpensive (or altogether free) resources are at employers’ fingertips. Online, OSHA’s web site (www.osha.gov) is increasingly user-friendly. OSHA Area Offices will field anonymous inquiries on any topic of regulation (in Pittsburgh – 412/395-4903). Small businesses with 200 or fewer employers qualify for OSHA’s free consultation service (http://www.osha.gov/dcsp/smallbusiness/consult.html).