The goal of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 1970, is to ensure safe and healthy working conditions by setting and enforcing standards and to provide training, outreach, education and assistance.
Two branches within OSHA carry out this mission: The Enforcement group is responsible for compliance, enforcement and inspections, while the Consultation and Training group provides services to employers such as training, education and consultation services while also managing voluntary and cooperative programs such as the Construction Health and Safety Excellence Program and the Voluntary Protection Program. This article will focus on the enforcement side of the agency. A subsequent article will focus on consultation and training.
Alaska is one of 24 states with a “state plan,” meaning that OSHA-related activities (for most employers) are carried out by a state agency. In Alaska, the Alaska Occupational Safety and Health Division (AKOSH) is part of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
The Alaska State Plan covers all private-sector places of employment in the state with the following exceptions:
Obviously, OSHA cannot inspect every workplace so it has developed a list of inspection priorities, listed in order.
– Occupational accidents that result in the death or overnight hospitalization of one or more employees.
– All work-related inpatient hospitalizations, amputations or losses of an eye within 24 hours.
OSHA may conduct different types of inspections depending on whether the inspection is scheduled or unscheduled; the result of a complaint or dangerous working conditions; the result of an injury; the result of high incident rates; or part of an industry-specific or equipment-specific program emphasis.
A comprehensive inspection is thorough and will likely cover every potential hazard identified.
A partial inspection may be limited to certain potentially hazardous con-ditions or operations.
Upon arrival, the compliance safety and health officer will present the general scope and nature of the inspection, ask for any necessary private employee interviews, request documents, outline the inspection process and provide other information. The officer will initially review the employer’s injury and illness records for the previous five years.
During the walkaround, the employer and designated employee representative may (and should) accompany the compliance safety and health officer. The company rep — ideally a safety professional with knowledge of regulations — should have the authority to abate any easily corrected violations or hazards.
The compliance officer may also conduct private interviews with employees asking about workplace conditions, exposure to hazards, safety processes and systems, and any other relevant information.
The compliance officer will notify the employer representative and the employee representative of any safety and health violations, documenting interview statements, the hazard, the identity of the employee exposed to the hazard and the employer’s knowledge of the hazard.
For a violation to occur, the hazard must be recognized by the employer, the industry or by general observation. Violations will be issued only when employee exposure to the hazard can be documented within six months of the inspection.
OSHA must issue a citation and proposed penalty within six months of the violation’s occurrence. Citations describe OSHA requirements allegedly violated, provide proposed penalties and give a deadline for correcting the hazards.
When OSHA issues a citation, it will offer the employer an opportunity for an informal conference with the OSHA area director to discuss citations, penalties, abatement dates or any other information pertinent to the inspection. Unless the citation will be contested, it is best to take advantage of this opportunity to meet with the area director to create a good working relationship, to indicate a willingness to work with the agency to improve safety and health and to learn about available services.
The agency and the employer may work out a settlement agreement to resolve the matter and eliminate the hazard. OSHA’s primary goal is to correct hazards and maintain compliance rather than issue citations or collect penalties.
Alternatively, employers have 15 working days after receiving a citation and proposed penalties to formally contest the alleged violations and/or penalties by sending a written notice to the area director. OSHA forwards the contest to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission for independent review. Citations, penalties and abatement dates that are not challenged by the employer or settled become a final order of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Long before an inspection, employers should have a robust and effective safety management system in place. This includes a process to identify hazards, train employees, document exposures and maintain records. To reduce hazard exposure to the lowest practical level, knowledgeable employers use the Hazard Control Hierarchy to assess and abate risk.
Other key elements of an effective safety management system include employee involvement, good housekeeping, annual program review and top leadership commitment.
The Engagement Effect, a division of Ross Performance Group LLC, offers solutions in organizational results, safety and health, leadership, talent management and culture change. Learn more at www.theengagementeffect.com or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.