Workplace safety Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2007
Congress created the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which was signed by President Nixon on Dec. 29, 1970. OSHA’s mission is to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths by enforcing rules, or standards, for work-place safety and health.

The agency recently released its top 10 list of most frequently cited standards in fiscal year 2006 (October 2005 through September 2006).

Companies can guard against accidents and OSHA citations by understanding the regulations that apply to them and implementing and managing programs to meet their needs, says Jim Kapnick, president of Kapnick Insurance Group. “Analyze the claims and incidents you’ve had, do walk-throughs and examine your operations. Then custom-tailor a program to those specific areas to maintain compliance,” he explains.

Smart Business spoke with Kapnick about OSHA standards, how to best identify and correct potential hazards and the importance of communicating safety standards to employees.

What were the most cited OSHA standards in 2006?

Falls have been a leading cause of occupational death for several years, so it is not surprising that scaffolding and fall protection were the top two most cited standards in FY 2006. OSHA standard 1926.451 requires employers to provide scaffolding at heights of 10 feet or more. OSHA standard 1926.501 protects construction workers working over 6 feet by providing rules for fall protection.

How do the cited standards vary by industry and company size?

OSHA cites the standards based on exposures. They prioritize the most significant exposures first because they want to provide the most impact for their inspections. For example, a steel forging operation is likely to get more attention than a restaurant, even though both have the potential for accidents.

The standards are based both on the industry and company size. A good example of this is construction. The construction industry represents about 4 percent of the work force nationally, but about 50 percent of workplace fatalities. The result is that there tends to be more inspection targeting construction and construction-related operations.

Targeting can be re-prioritized, however, which may affect smaller companies or less visible industries. In Michigan, there is a special-emphasis program on companies that apply spray-on truck bedliners, largely due to a worker inhalation fatality a couple of years ago. In this instance, these employers tend to be smaller mom-and-pop operations that otherwise might not have been targeted for inspections because of their size and their industry, but are now receiving enhanced focus.

How can a company best identify and correct potential hazards?

One of the best things that can be done is a formal safety program audit. This should be performed by an independent source; someone who can objectively look at what’s going on. It is easy not to see ‘the forest through the trees’ when you walk through your operations or review your program documentation.

Having a credentialed safety/loss control professional objectively examining the situation is often very helpful and can dramatically reduce your potential for fines and other losses.

How should an employer communicate with employees about safety standards?

The most important thing is that every new employee has a strong and well-documented orientation program that includes safety. Existing employees should be kept up to speed through ongoing refresher courses. As your organization evolves over time, you need to make sure that your employees are properly trained in safety issues, as their tasks or jobs change or are modified.

What resources are there for business owners about OSHA standards?

OSHA has valuable resources on its Web site (www.osha.gov) and also provides classes and consultation. Michigan is one of 26 states that has its own state OSHA plan, called MIOSHA.

In addition to compliance inspections, MIOSHA provides a wide array of consultative and educational services. The MIOSHA Consultation, Education & Training Division (CET) puts on seminars throughout the state, provides free on-site nonpunitive mock inspections and has numerous resource materials. Recently, the organization put together a safety training awareness CD-ROM that you can receive free of charge by visiting the Web site at www.michigan.gov/miosha.

JIM KAPNICK is president of Kapnick Insurance Group. Reach him at (888) 263-4656, x132 or Jim.Kapnick@kapnick.com. Kapnick is a member of Assurex Global, an international network of insurance & employee benefit brokers.