As we continue our efforts to increase employee safety within organizations, OSHA focuses on improving conditions at the industry level. Professionals should not view OSHA as a watchdog looking to penalize them for mistakes, but rather as a partner in improving safety performance for their organizations. OSHA provides many resources for companies to utilize in their safety programs, and it is the responsibility of these companies to follow the national and state standards it provides. It is important to stay current with OSHA guidelines for practice, so let’s take a look at some of the key updates implemented this year.
Increase in Fines
Of course, the main reason for enforcing a strong safety program at your organization is so that your employees go home injury-free at the end of the day, but now there is an even larger business purpose for adhering to safety guidelines as well.
Last November, President Obama signed the Bipartisan Bill which includes a provision that OSHA must raise its citation amounts for companies that violate safety standards by August 1st of this year. This is the first change in penalties since 1990, at which time the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act exempted Federal agencies from correspondingly increasing fines with economic inflation. With the exemption repealed, the present catch-up adjustment represents an approximately 80% difference in that time period, meaning that:
Serious violation fines will increase from $7,000 to $12,500
Willful (and repeat) violation fines will increase from $70,000 to $125,000
Starting next year, annual increases in fines will reflect cost-of-living adjustments per the Consumer Price Index. OSHA is currently holding meetings to determine the percentage by which it will raise penalties because it is not actually required to use this maximum percentage increase, but all signs suggest that it will. Specifically, David Michaels, OSHA’s Assistant Secretary of Labor was quoted as saying that:
“The most serious obstacle to effective OSHA enforcement of the law is the very low level of civil penalties allowed under our law, as well as weak criminal sanctions…penalties must be increased to provide a real disincentive for employers accepting injuries and worker deaths as a cost of doing business.”
OSHA’s goal here is to deter companies from engaging in unsafe practices that net profits even after fines are given, at the cost of their employees’ well-being. Given the sheer size and profitability of some large organizations, we recognize that this is an uphill battle for employee safety, but at least this is a major step in the right direction. Furthermore, the only companies that should be concerned about these changes are those that knowingly violate safety standards.
Hazard Communication Standard
As I have discussed in a previous blog, training employees to recognize hazards and safely work around dangerous materials is paramount in many industries. This includes understanding the various warning labels for chemicals. In their efforts to minimize the associated risks, OSHA has finalized its updates to the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), which it expects to be fully in place by June 1st.
Although the HCS has existed since 2012, OSHA now expects 100% compliance to ensure that all organizations are following the same guidelines and using the current safety labels. The HCS is aligned with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, and now provides a common and coherent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information on labels and safety data sheets. This will reduce the number of incidents that take place due to an employee’s confusion regarding a chemical’s specific hazards. If hazardous materials are used at your worksite, be sure that you are:
Using the current hazard classification system
Using the current approved labels for your chemicals and have removed all old labels
Using the updated 16-section formatted safety data sheets
Training your employees on the new label elements and safety data sheets
Eye and Face Protection Standards
OSHA recently published a final rule that updates the requirements for worker PPE in general industry, shipyards, longshoring, marine terminals, and construction, which became effective at the end of April. Therein, it provides the updated national consensus standards approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and eye and face protection standard of the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA).
The standard states that employers must ensure that their employees use eye and face protection where necessary to protect them against flying objects, splashes, or droplets of hazardous chemicals, and other workplace hazards that could injure their eyes and face. These protections must meet the specified consensus standards, and although the updates are not major, if you work with hazardous materials it is in your best interest to read the new standard to know that your worksite follows any new guidelines. The final rule and relevant information can be found by clicking here.
OSHA is constantly working on new guidelines, such as standards regarding exposures to beryllium and silica dust, so be sure to regularly check back with them concerning the present hazards at your worksite. However, the three discussed above are notable examples of changes happening in the safety industry that can impact many organizations. We hope that your safety program goes above and beyond these standards for keeping your employees safe and reducing your incident rates, but at the very least you must follow them to keep yourself from being vulnerable to fines and legal action.