During the dog days of summer, the occupational safety and health administration (OSHA) announced an important policy change that could potentially have a significant impact on small business owners.
For the first time in more than 25 years, osha increased its maximum penalties for inspection violations. The potential maximum penalty increased by 78 percent; the previous maximum penalty of $7,000 for a serious violation is now$12,471. Even though osha is dramatically increasing its maximum penalties for workplace safety violations, its primary goal is to help maintain safe working conditions for employees. Penalties for willful or repeated violations, previously capped at$ 70,000, have now skyrocketed to $24,709 per violation.
While much remains to be seen about how the incoming administration may change or enforce workplace safety regulations, these new penalties are likely to remain intact since they were mandated by congress as part of the bipartisan budget act of 2015. This legislation required all federal agencies with civil monetary penalties covered by statute to update their fines.
What this means for small-business owners and entrepreneurs: failure to maintain a safe work environment could get a lot costlier.
The most effective way to avoid inspections and potential fines is to promote and enforce a culture of safety within the workplace. Many common on-the-job safety risks can be avoided by establishing a workplace safety plan, conducting training, and enforcing rules and regulations. Managers should also regularly assess their workplaces to identify and address potential hazards that may result in an injury. Even the most diligent businesses have the potential to face an osha inspection at some point. Here are seven tips small business owners need to know to survive an osha inspection:
Osha inspections can be triggered for different reasons, such as serious injuries or fatalities, but in most cases they are the result of employee complaints.
For instance, one of our policyholders that operates a dry cleaning business recently had an osha inspection triggered by an employee who was concerned about asbestos exposure in the workplace. While it turned out the suspected asbestos was actually fiberglass, this example shows that even businesses in seemingly low-risk environments can be subject to an osha inspection at any time.
OSHA rarely gives advance notice of an investigation. For example, an osha representative arrived at one of our insured small businesses without any notice simply due to the fact that the manufacturing business was classified as a high-hazard employer or business type. One exception involves situations presenting imminent danger. In such scenarios, OSHA may provide notice to expedite the remediation process. In most other cases, osha either investigates complaints by phone or dispatches inspectors without notice to conduct an in-person inspection.
OSHA often investigates complaints by phone. For lower-priority hazards and with permission from the complainant, OSHA may call the business to describe the complaint. The agency will then follow up with written material, including details of the alleged safety or health hazards. If your business receives an inquiry from OSHA, you are required to respond in writing within five working days. You must identify any issues found and note what corrective actions have been taken or are planned. If your response is timely and adequate, and the complainant is satisfied with it, OSHA will generally not conduct an on-site inspection.
In most cases , OSHA inspections are not the jarring experiences many small-business owners expect. OSHA strives to make the process as open and transparent as possible. It is in your best interest to be cooperative and non-combative when working with OSHA. When an OSHA compliance officer arrives for an inspection, he or she will hold what is called the opening conference. This is when the officer will explain the reason for the inspection, its scope, and the procedures that will be used to conduct the inspection. In addition, the compliance officer could request employee representation and interviews.
After the opening conference , the compliance officer will take a walk-around tour of the worksite to inspect for hazards that could cause injury or illness. The employer and its chosen representative are entitled to accompany the compliance officer on the tour of the workplace. In fact, being on the tour may allow you to immediately correct a cited hazard, which could be seen as a sign of good faith. The officer may also review worksite injury records. The inspection can take place over several hours, days or weeks , depending on the nature of the inspection and the size of the workplace. It is recommended that you take your own notes throughout this process.
Once the walk-around has been completed, the compliance officer is required to have a closing conference with the employer and employee representative. The OSHA inspector will discuss findings and review any violations, deadlines or potential fines. The inspector will also review possible courses of action the employer may take following the inspection. In many ins tanc es , the OSHA representatives will discuss OSHA services available to b usinesses , including the free audit program, which many of our clients find to be a valuable and positive experience. If OSHA chooses to issue citations and financial penalties for violating standards, it must do so within six months of the violation s occurrence.
When issued a citation, employers have the opportunity to speak with the OSHA area director to discuss it and any potential p enalties, abatement dates or additional information relevant to the inspection. OSHA’s main goal is to correct hazards and ensure safe working conditions for employees. Thus, it may consider an agreement with the employer to resolve the situation and quickly eliminate the hazard. If not, Employers have 15 working days to challenge alleged violations and penalties by submitting written notice to the OSHA area director, which is then reviewed by the occupational safety and health review commission. One of our small-business policyholders appealed several violations and had the same OSHA representative visit the business again for a follow-up. The representative worked with the owner and assisted in correcting violations. To this day, the business owner has direct contact with this OSHA representative and has developed an excellent relationship with the administration.
Even though OSHA is dramatically increasing its maximum penalties for workplace safety violations, its primary goal is to help maintain safe working conditions for employees. OSHA andthe national safety council offer many resources to help employers identify potential hazards, assess their safety efforts and establish an effective workplace safety p rogram . Business owners are also encouraged to contact their insurance agents or carriers for best practices in creating and implementing safety p lans, and reducing the risk of on-the-job injuries or illnesses .
THE INFORMATION CONTAINED HEREIN IS INTENDED TO BE GENERAL IN NATURE AND SHALL NOT BE CONSIDERED LEGAL ADVICE. YOU ARE ENCOURAGED TO CONSULT WITH AN ATTORNEY .
If you have a question on this or any topic related to safety with your forklift, give our resident expert, Dave Bennet, a call or fill out the request form.