The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) continues to wield a strong hand, bucking predictions that the Trump administration would rein in regulatory action. Budget increases and the hiring of additional field agents to fill positions previously left vacant has allowed OSHA to increase enforcement activities, devise and revise a few other regulations, and devote particular emphasis on specific industries and work situations.
Construction, manufacturing, and other blue-collar companies that work with potentially hazardous materials, heavy equipment should remain vigilant. OSHA citations can be costly, but more importantly, worker safety should always be job No. 1.
Here are a few OSHA enforcement trends that employers should be aware of:
Workplace Targeting In its report justifying a larger budget for the fiscal year 2019, OSHA stated that it would be “targeting inspections at workplaces with particular hazards or at specific hazardous industries.” The “Site-Specific Targeting” program is aimed at “egregious and persistent” violators and workplaces reporting an inordinate number of injuries, illnesses, and fatalities in their annual 300A submittals. Companies who failed to electronically submit 300A forms also find themselves in OSHA’s crosshairs.
Companies targeted under the program (construction firms and companies with fewer than 20 employees are exempt) and a few low-incident employers – to act as a control group – can expect wall-to-wall safety or health inspections.
Hazard Emphasis OSHA currently is emphasizing mitigation and safety measures for several common workplace hazards, record-keeping shortfalls, and work environments. Items on OSHA’s National Emphasis Program include lead, hexavalent chromium, trenching and excavations, hazardous machinery, ship-breaking, process safety management, primary metal industries, and silica and combustible dust.
Like most emphasis programs, the current focus included three months of education and prevention outreach, conducted at the end of 2018. While OSHA continued to investigate complaints, outside agency referrals, injuries, illnesses, and deaths related to these hazards, focused enforcement began only beginning January 1, 2019, after the initial outreach period, and will continue indefinitely.
Drone Usage With the permission of the employer, OSHA may now use drones to take photos and videos of accident sites and potential workplace hazards. The policy, instituted in May 2018 has only been used a handful of times. They mostly have been used in areas where firsthand inspections could put the inspector in danger – chemical spills, unstable buildings, oil rigs, fire or explosion risks, and more.
Drone use remains controversial, as they might expose costly violations that would not otherwise be visible to inspectors. Targeted inspections (see above) notwithstanding, most OSHA inspections are limited. However, citations may be issued for violations found in the course of a routine investigation. Does a problem uncovered by a drone count as being in plain sight if an inspector on the ground would not have seen it?
The requirement that employers must agree to inspectors’ using drones also puts them in an awkward position. If they refuse, would inspectors be inclined to conduct even more rigorous searches under the assumption that the employer must be hiding something?
OSHA offers comprehensive guidance for workplace safety. Start here.