Allen Smith, J.D., the manager of workplace law content for SHRM. ( @SHRMlegaleditor) recently asked three attorneys, including me, to set out our wishes and cautions for OSHA in 2014, and then wrote a good (and short!) article. My responses are below, along with some comments from some construction safety experts, but please read Allen’s complete article. Allen generates good content.
Most retail employers, even large companies with hundreds of branches, do not much worry about being inspected by OSHA; let alone cited. It’s not that these employers are disinterested in their employees’ safety, it’s just that they have rarely experienced and OSHA visit, and with the exception of ergonomic issues at grocery stores, retail stores don’t show up on many of OSHA’s various target lists. While understandable, this is an increasingly dangerous attitude. Let’s review a few facts which show that retailers are more at risk for big dollar OSHA penalties than more seemingly “dangerous” industries such as construction. Why?
We wanted to let you know about the next 3 editions of Workplace Safety Wednesdays so that you are able to save the dates for you calendar. There are some great topics coming up, so please feel free to register by clicking the links below and share this information with your friends and colleagues!
These are the links I sent to F P attorneys after recently conducting an in-house session on our workplace safety practice. The focus of the links was not on building a safety culture, which is my favorite topic, or on the various labor and employment topics I regularly write upon.
These posts only deal with 2013 OSHA enforcement issues. These posts also do not include other attorneys' posts or great stuff from sites such as TLNT, EHS, etc.
EHS Today just reported that the Philadelphia District Attorney is taking the unusual step of charging two contractors for crimes ranging from multiple murder and manslaughter charges to risking a catastrophe as a result of the fatal collapse of the Philadelphia building last June, that killed 6 people and injured 14.
One of my focus areas is combustible dust in the workplace. As I have written before, an extraordinary range of common products can cause an explosion and deflagration (pressure wave) under the right circumstances. One occasion is when a well meaning employer decides to clean that dust accumulation on overhead beams, ductwork and lights. This material is difficult to reach and has never presented a problem, so the employer decides to use pressurized air to blow off the dust. The dust cloud ignites and we have a combustible dust event. And any combustible dust event will be bad.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Hazard Communication Standard has been changed to now align with the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling Chemicals (GHS). Since the Hazard Communication Standard became effective almost 30 years ago, employers have had to provide “right to know” information to their employees about the chemical hazards in their workplace. The key difference in the revised standard, however, is that it provides a single set of harmonized criteria for classifying chemicals according to their health and physical safety hazards as opposed to the previous standard that allowed chemical manufacturers and importers to convey information on the labels in whatever format they chose. This revised standard, like the original one, requires chemical manufacturers and importers to evaluate chemicals they produce or import and provide hazard information to employers and employees. However, the old standard’s “Material Safety Data Sheets” (MSDS) are now replaced by more detailed Safety Data Sheets (SDS’s) as well as new labeling requirements. Under the new standard, OSHA is requiring that all employees be trained on the new rule and how to understand the new SDS’s and new labels by December 1, 2013.
Many employees work alone at a customer’s site or on the road with no immediate supervision or the presence of a safety professional to check for hazards. Some employees, such as journeymen electricians and certified crane operators are trained to operate with minimal supervision. Other workers may be less trained or less equipped to individually analyze their setting. Unfortunately, both types of isolated workers may violate OSHA standards, and preventing that misconduct is more of a problem when employees are working alone.
Employers are not guilty until proven innocent. Napoleonic justice is not the law of the land. To make out an OSHA citation, OSHA has the burden to prove four (4) elements: an applicable standard, that a hazard existed, an employee was exposed, and that the employer knew, or should have known of the violation.
Despite the DOL’s continuous promotion of whistleblower/retaliation claims, I don’t believe that employers appreciate the sheer variety of ways in which disgruntled employees can claim that the employer retaliated against him for complaining or raising issues related to safety, environmental, wage-hour, discrimination, or numerous other subjects.