Grab your beverage of choice, sit back, and kick up your heels, because it’s story time. Sadly, however, this story does not have a happy ending, for this is the story of an OSHA investigation run amok, and the damage that can be caused once OSHA gets into your business.
Last week, we responded to an OSHA investigation on behalf of a client. That client had the unfortunate situation of an employee who suffered a workplace amputation. Mind you, amputation might be too strong of a description. This employee had the tip of a finger accidentally removed by a piece of industrial equipment. OSHA, however, now mandates that an employer self-report to OSHA, within 24 hours, any amputation (and also any employee hospitalization or loss of an eye). So, this employer reports the “amputation” to OSHA, which spurs a visit from OSHA’s friendly, neighborhood investigator. The investigation revealed that the accident was the result of nothing more than bad luck. The machine was properly working and guarded, and the employer had properly trained and supervised the employee on its proper and safe use. The accident was just an accident, nothing more, and, more importantly, nothing cite-able.
And, yet, I offered that this story suffers an unhappy ending. While there was nothing wrong with how the machine was working or was guarded, it lacked an appropriate lock-out/tag-out. And, as the machine lacked lock-out/tag-out, it also lacked an training of employees on said (missing) lock-out/tag-out procedures. So, what had otherwise been a clean visit turned into multiple (and costly) violations resulting from the missing procedures.
What does this cautionary tale tell us (other than to make sure all of your energized machines have proper, and working, lock-out/tag-outs, on which your employee have been trained)? Even the most innocuous incident could cause big problems. Because employer are required to report any amputation (no matter how small), these new reporting requirements have exponentially increased the probability of a visit from OSHA. And, once OSHA is inside, they are not limited to the machine that caused the accident. They also have carte blanche to add to the investigation any areas of national or local emphasis, which includes the following:
- Current National Emphasis Programs: combustible dust, federal agencies, hazardous machinery, hexavalent chromium, isocyanates, lead, primary metal industries, process safety management, shipbuilding, silica, and trenching and excavation
- Current Ohio Local Emphasis Programs: building renovation/rehabilitation and demolition, powered industrial vehicles, fall hazards, dairy farm operations, carbon monoxide, grain handling facilities, lead, silica, tree trimming, wood pallet manufacturing, maritime industries
These programs entitle OSHA to inspect any aspect of your facility that touches one of these programs, whether or not it includes the accident site. And, don’t forget that OSHA needs to walk though your facility to see of these things, and anything in plain sight is also fair game for OSHA.
Even the smallest accidents can lead to big OSHA problems (and the resulting big citations and penalties). If even the smallest accident can lead to these big problems, isn’t it best to be prepared?