Going beyond what OSHA expects

When Rick Rollo got a call from a crew leader on a November day, he was both surprised and angry at his crew members. Rollo, vice president of Kujawa Enterprises, Inc. (KEI) in Oak Creek, Wis., learned that an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspector had just been at a downtown Milwaukee job site and had questioned the crew about its holiday lighting activities.

Despite KEI’s safety program, a crew member who was nearly finished with the job decided to go back up approximately 18 feet on a vertical wheeled lift, but he left his safety belt on the front seat of the truck; a clear violation of company rules and OSHA’s fall protection standards.

Being prepared for an unexpected OSHA visit to a job site includes making sure any potential hazards have been identified. Here, workers at Kujawa Enterprises, Inc. use safety cones to mark off a work area.

Rollo, who immediately had the crew leader shut down the job site, disciplined the entire crew and spent the next several days retraining all holiday lighting crew members and pulling together documentation of KEI’s safety efforts. The result was a significant reduction in potential OSHA penalties.

“The information I gave OSHA was about 5 inches thick,” Rollo says. “I had to go through our entire safety and policy and procedure manuals to make sure they were up-to-date, complete and totally correct so as not to create any other problems. I had to develop a new procedure for unfamiliar or unusual jobs, along with checklists, and test the employees to prove that they had, in fact, received the training.”

He adds, “I had to review all of our current training and put it in writing so OSHA could review it. I had to document all training and safety meeting attendance records. I gathered photos of our safety functions, including safety parties, and had reprints made. I had to supply all OSHA logs and information on all accidents from the previous three years. It was a nightmare, but in the long run probably saved us $8,000 in penalties. More important, OSHA did not come in and do a full-scale inspection because the agency saw the depth of our safety program and didn’t feel it was necessary.”

KEI’s experience shows what can happen even to a green industry company that implements a strong safety program. Taking steps to go above and beyond what OSHA expects will cut your potential losses should you ever face an OSHA investigation.

Hazard analyses and inspections

In KEI’s case, the company—which subsequently surpassed the two-year mark without any lost-time incidents—learned some valuable lessons from that experience. One important lesson was that the company needed to develop checklists for tasks such as holiday lighting that aren’t regularly performed.

“The OSHA inspector was very strong about this point for two reasons,” Rollo says. “One was that crew members who don’t do these tasks every day have the tendency to forget things. The second was that if you can show an OSHA inspector that you have prepared these checklists and your employees failed to follow them, it Will Help Reduce Your Company’s Exposure to a Huge Fine.”

What else can you do to go beyond what OSHA expects? Here are a few tips:

Make use of job safety analyses (JSAs) for critical tasks. A JSA breaks down a job or task into its basic steps, identifies the hazards associated with each step and then recommends safe job procedures to reduce or eliminate those hazards. If you have never performed a JSA, a good place to start is to download the OSHA publication entitled Job Hazard Analysis (www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3071.pdf).

KEI makes use of written job safety analyses for such tasks as mowing. The company has developed a form that states at the top: name of department, persons completing form, title of job or task and location. Underneath are three columns: task, hazards and controls. The specific mowing-related tasks listed in the task column are equipment inspection, site inspection, mowing and equipment shutdown. Employees participating in filling out the JSA then list the hazards and controls for each task. In this case, the identified hazards associated with equipment inspection are unexpected (equipment) start-up and personal injury. Suggested controls include: engine off, safety guards in place, safety switches checked and mower inspection checklist completed (once per day).

Perform daily job site hazard inspections. Also called safety audits, these inspections can be done by the crew leader at the start of each job. It’s a good idea to develop checklists to simplify these inspections. It’s also important that the crew leader and other employees be on the lookout for changing conditions (such as rain resulting in slippery terrain) that may present new hazards after work has begun. A good place to start if you have not performed job site hazard inspections in the past  is with your insurance agent  or insurance company. Ask your insurer if he would make a couple of unannounced visits to job sites and write down any hazards he spots. Once a hazard is identified, be sure to correct it, if possible, or take steps (such as providing certain personal protective equipment) to protect your employees from that hazard. Be sure to document in writing any corrective actions that are taken.

Make use of the OSHA Consultation program. This program, separate from OSHA enforcement, is aimed at companies with 250 or fewer employees at one location or 500 or fewer companywide. Upon request from your company president or other top manager, an OSHA consultant will conduct an on-site safety audit, and then follow up with a written report on where you are out of compliance with OSHA standards and how you can improve your safety program. OSHA consultants do not issue penalties or fines and do not report their results to OSHA enforcement, unless the consultant spots an immediate, life-threatening situation that you refuse to correct.

One of the advantages of this program is that it shows your company’s “good faith efforts” if you are ever faced with OSHA citations, and can work to help reduce your penalties. Green industry companies including KEI; Pacific Landscape Management in Hillsboro, Ore.; The Bruce Co. of Wisconsin; and Yardmaster, Inc. in Painesville, Ohio, have all made use of the consultation program. Yardmaster President Kurt Kluznik estimated that his company saved as much as $16,000 in potential OSHA penalties by making the corrections suggested by OSHA Consultation. For contact information on the OSHA Consultation program in your state, visit www.osha.gov.

“Our company’s safety program includes much more,” Rollo notes. “For example, we have a strong return-to-work/light-duty program that gets injured employees back to work as soon as it’s medically possible. We also require our employees to participate in stretching and warm-up exercises at the start of each workday. This results in getting crew members thinking about the importance of safety before they even leave for their job sites.”

Barbara Mulhern is a Belleville, Wis.-based agricultural/horticultural freelance writer.