Higher OSHA Penalties Drive Safety Check-Ups

Jul 4th, 2016 | By | Category: Featured Articles

EHS Journal - Workers of Construction 2 by Xiskya Valladares

If you need a reason to give your OSHA 300 Log and associated injury and illness recordkeeping programs a thorough review, increasing OSHA penalties are as good a reason as any. In late 2015, the United States Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 requiring federal agencies, including OSHA, to adjust their civil penalties to account for inflation.  For OSHA, this marks the first time in more than 25 years (since 1990) that penalties will be adjusted.  Increased penalty amounts will apply to all penalties proposed or assessed after August 1, 2016.  OSHA is to announce the amount penalties will increase by no later than July 1, 2016.  While it’s still unclear how much penalties will increase, OSHA has discretion to increase penalties by up to 80% (for example, increasing the maximum penalty for a single “serious” violation from US$ 7,000 to US$ 12,600).

In the past, OSHA has aggressively enforced against companies that fail to accurately record work-related injuries and illnesses. OSHA has levied a number of fines in excess of US$ 150,000 for recordkeeping violations in the past several years.  Citable offenses include simply failing to record work-related injuries and illnesses, and failing to “timely” record work-related injuries and illnesses within the allotted 7 calendar days.

Unlike many OSHA regulations, which are arguably common sense (my young son was able to grasp the key elements of forklift safety after a short lesson during a recent wholesale grocery store visit…), OSHA recordkeeping requires a keen understanding of the regulations, access to unbiased medical professionals, and a commitment to conducting thorough incident investigations to ensure compliance. Getting your 300 Log “wrong” means underreporting or overreporting.  Each of these is bad in its own right — variously exposing you to enforcement, masking hazardous conditions, and giving your management a wholly inaccurate picture of how safe (or unsafe) your workplace really is.

 

Check-up Tips

If you go to a doctor for your annual physical, he or she will check your vital signs (pulse, blood pressure, respiration, and temperature) to get a general sense of your overall health. What should you look for when giving your 300 Log a check-up?  Key indicators include (but are not limited to):

  • Too few recorded injuries over a given period of time (in light of perceived facility risk);
  • Conversely, too many recorded injuries;
  • “Red-lined” entries lacking sufficient supporting documentation; and
  • Injuries that appear out of chronological order (due to late reporting or recording).

Beyond the 300 Log itself, a check-up of your injury / illness recordkeeping system should include a review of records related to other metrics tracked by your organization including first aid cases, near miss reports, and employee observations / reports of unsafe conditions that trigger maintenance work orders. With respect to safety related maintenance work orders, a review of “time to close” can be especially useful in gauging how responsive your maintenance group is to high priority work coming from the EHS function.  Quickly (and correctly) addressing employee safety concerns builds credibility, which ultimately leads to a safer workplace (and a blessedly shorter 300 Log).

While any 300 Log check-up can be beneficial, consider engaging a third party such as an external safety consultant or occupational safety attorney to conduct the review. These outside experts have the benefit of having seen both best practices and “worst practices” at other facilities, and can help you avoid the mistakes made by others elsewhere.  With OSHA recordkeeping mistakes getting more expensive soon, there’s no better time than now to get it right!

 

About the Author 

William H. Haak is a Partner with McMahon DeGulis LLP, where he leads the firm’s occupational safety practice. He has more than 15 years of experience in occupational safety law and promoting worker safety.  Mr. Haak has experience leading serious incident investigations (including fatalities, amputations, fires, explosions, and multi-employee injuries) for both small companies and Fortune 10 multi-national corporations.  He also has extensive experience conducting OSHA 300 Log redline reviews and assisting both EHS and medical professionals make recordability determinations.

 

Photograph: Workers of Construction 2 by Xiskya Valladares, Madrid, Spain.

 

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