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How Companies Can Avoid Increased OSHA Penalties

Penalties levied by OSHA have never been low: Until recently, a serious first-time violation of OSHA workplace health and safety rules cost companies $7,000 and willful and repeat violations brought penalties of $70,000. But new rules that took effect on August 1 have upped the ante, with penalties now totaling $12,600 for the former and $126,000 for the latter, IndustryWeek reported.

OSHAHere are six steps CEOs can take to help their companies avoid taking the hit.

1. Keep impeccable records. OSHA will be looking more carefully than ever at record-keeping and will impose fines for incomplete and inaccurate records, according to a blog post published by The OSHA Connection, a firm that specializes in helping companies to avoid OSHA violations. Ensure that your firm’s OSHA 300, 300A, and 301 forms for reporting workplace illnesses and injuries are complete. “There shouldn’t be any over- or under-reporting, just accurate, complete information,” the post said.

2. Involve and empower employees. Management can’t always identify problems and situations that might constitute or lead to OSHA violations, but fear of repercussions may prevent employees from reporting them, according to IndustryWeek. Providing a way to anonymously report safety and health concerns and situations will increase employees’ potential for speaking up about their concerns and allow issues to be addressed proactively.

“Your in-house safety inspector should have a record-keeping system to allow for real-time reporting accountability, as well as to ensure that safety is monitored consistently and that hazards are being flagged up the chain.”

Similarly, appoint an employee or employees to conduct regular safety checks, and implement safety training programs to ensure that all employees are on the same page where safety is concerned. Additionally, your in-house safety inspector should have a record-keeping system (such as a mobile form) to allow for real-time reporting accountability, as well as to ensure that safety is monitored consistently and that “hazards are being flagged up the chain,” IndustryWeek stated.

3. Plan early. With the stakes for violations higher than ever before, the prospect of an OSHA inspection will have everyone, from upper management to employees on the production floor, increasingly jittery. But when everyone is prepared for an inspection ahead of time and knows what to expect, inspections will produce fewer cases of nerves and will run much more smoothly. For this reason, both IndustryWeek and The OSHA Connection recommended that mock interviews be conducted so that employees garner a complete understanding of how inspections are conducted and what their rights are as these inspections are carried out. Conducting regular “surprise” inspections that are true to OSHA regulations can be very helpful here.

4. Remain abreast of current workplace regulations, inspection results and equipment-related recommendations. Each industry faces different OSHA-related challenges, and different rules may apply. Staying on top of the latest regulations and inspection findings decreases your risk of running afoul of OSHA (and facing stiffer penalties in the bargain).

According to The OSHA Connection, OSHA will be checking more carefully to determine if companies are following the latest recommendations issued by manufacturers. These recommendations cover procedures for safe equipment usage and ensuring safety through proper maintenance.

5. Harness technology. Consider utilizing a mobile app for workplace inspections, as it gives teams access to daily inspection checklists to remain OSHA-compliant, IndustryWeek said.

Moreover,  IndustryWeek noted, data gathered using technology “can be an invaluable asset, “ as  “tracking and consistently evaluating processes and procedures in real-time can allow sites to instantly take corrective actions.” The real-time information flow afforded by mobile platforms also empowers companies to act on non-compliance issues and yields documented date- and time-stamped inspection data that can be “immediately pulled down from the cloud in case of an OSHA inspection and/or employee complaint/lawsuit,” IndustryWeek reported.

6. Respond quickly to citations. Companies that want to avoid the increased fines by contesting an OSHA violation citation have a window of only 15 working days from the date the document was received to set the wheels in motion, the National Law Review reported.

Hefty OSHA fines can blow an enormous hole in larger companies’ bottom line, and may be so crippling as to put small- and even middle-market firms out of business. Taking proactive steps to avoid these fines will cost far less—and lead to more positive results—in the long run.

 


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