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OSHA COVID-19 Guidelines: What You Need to Know
OSHA has released a set of guidelines related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The guidelines are recommendations that help employers fulfill their legal obligation to provide a safe work environment for employees. In the midst of a pandemic, these guidelines could save your employees from severe illness or even death.
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Businesses should have a comprehensive COVID-19 prevention program in place, according to OSHA. The organization says, “Implementing a workplace COVID-19 prevention program is the most effective way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at work.” Here are some recommendations for the program:
- Assign a workplace coordinator to oversee program implementation and enforcement efforts.
- Use hazard assessments to identify COVID-19-related hazards, including seating arrangements that are too close or other tight configurations. Ask for employee input because they usually understand their workspace the best.
- Identify and implement measures to curtail COVID-19 spread. Preventive measures include sending home infected or potentially infected employees, implementing physical distancing, installing barriers when social distancing isn’t possible, using face coverings, and performing routine cleaning and disinfecting.
- Make special considerations for older workers and workers with disabilities or medical conditions. Workers with disabilities may be legally entitled to “reasonable accommodations” that protect them from the risk of contracting COVID-19, such as work-from-home options.
- Train employees on COVID-19 workplace policies in a language they understand.
- Minimize quarantine’s negative impact on employees by allowing them to telework or work in an area isolated from others. If neither accommodation is possible, allow workers to use paid sick leave or consider implementing paid leave policies. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act gives eligible employers 100% reimbursement through tax credits to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19 through March 31, 2021.
- Deep clean any areas where suspected or confirmed COVID-19-infected people have been.
- This next guideline is a requirement for employers: Record cases of COVID-19 illness on Form 300 logs if they are confirmed as COVID-19, are work-related, and involve one or more relevant recording criteria. Follow the requirements in 29 CFR 1904 when reporting COVID-19 fatalities and hospitalizations to OSHA.
SMART’s safety team consists of experienced, highly qualified and well-trained safety professionals whose focus and goal is to assist our client’s in attaining and maintaining compliance with OSHA requirements. We accomplish this goal through our comprehensive Safety Program Management that reduces jobsite hazards, incidents and injuries in the workplace.
Partnering with SMART Safety Group provides our client’s with the assurance that their safety policies, practices, jobsite audits, training, reporting and documentation meet – and in many cases exceed, regulatory OSHA requirements. We create weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual professional documentation of all safety related activities and results that build an effective OSHA “defense file”. These certified documents can be used in the event of an inspection to help prevent unnecessary violations and fines.
SMART Safety is also experienced with Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) compliance. MSHA helps enforce mining health and safety for U.S. miners. For more information on MSHA, visit their Mission page.
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Your Guide to Osha Compliance
We briefly discussed OSHA compliance in our “Business Owner’s Guide to Creating a Safety Management Program.” Now we will delve deeper into the regulations that we briefly touched on. It’s vital that you and your company understand them to avoid steep fines from OSHA.
Please note that this guide is by no means comprehensive. To truly understand the rules that apply to your company, you must conduct extensive research. Be warned that the complex web of regulations and laws are often difficult to navigate.
As full-time safety professionals, SMART Safety’s consultants dedicate their careers to learning these guidelines and helping companies like yours. They are well-versed in OSHA laws as well as laws from other authorities. If you wish to elevate your company’s standards for safety without the headache, call us today at (844) 820-8098!
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Osha Compliance Guide
Rule #1. Provide a workplace that is free from serious hazards and comply with standards issued under the OSH Act.
Employers are charged with providing a safe work environment for their employees. OSHA has outlined multiple actions that employers must take. Here are some more standards that our previous Guide did not cover:
- Examine workplace conditions to find any violations of applicable OSHA standards.
- If your company deals with hazardous chemicals, it must create a written hazard communication program. It is also required to train employees on the hazards they are exposed to and safety procedures. A copy of safety data sheets must be available at all times.
- Some applicable OSHA standards require your company to provide medical examinations and training.
- All work-related deaths must be reported to the nearest OSHA office within 8 hours. All work-related inpatient hospitalizations, amputations, and losses of an eye must be reported within 24 hours.
- Maintain records of work-related injuries and illnesses. However, if your company has 10 employees or less or if it’s in a certain “low-hazard” industry, it is exempt.
- Allow employees or their authorized representatives access to medical and exposure records.
- If an OSHA compliance officer comes by, you must give him or her the names of authorized employee representatives. These representatives may be asked to join the officer during an inspection.
- OSHA encourages safety and health programs. Safety programs actively encourage your employees to implement safety at all levels. Check with your state for possible requirements for safety programs. The best safety programs incorporate management leadership, employee involvement, and a systematic method of finding/correcting hazards.
Rule #2. Provide workers with company-bought PPE that gives them appropriate protection.
Several OSHA standards require employers to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect employees from job-related injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. OSHA also requires employers to pay for PPE when it is required to comply with standards (with few exceptions). Examples of PPE are hard hats, gloves, goggles, safety shoes, safety glasses, and fall protection equipment.
Specific OSHA standards for general industry, maritime, and construction address PPE. Many categories of PPE must meet the standards developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Check out OSHA’s standards for your particular industry to see what is required.
Rule #3. Use color codes, signs, labels, and posters to alert workers of potential dangers.
Dangers often go unnoticed by people… unless a garish orange sign warns them of one. OSHA has passed guidelines for using signs, labels, and other materials for this very reason. Take a look at some of the guidelines:
- Signs do NOT include news releases, safety posters, and bulletins. Do not use these instead of signs to warn about dangers.
- Signs should be free from sharp edges, splinters, and similar hazards.
- Employees must be warned that danger signs mean “immediate danger.”
- Caution signs should only be used to warn people about potential dangers or to warn against unsafe behaviors.
Rule #4. Make sure that all tools and equipment are safe and well maintained.
You as an employer are tasked with maintaining tools and equipment. Faulty equipment or tools could become a trip to the hospital or even death for an employee. You can prevent these accidents through proper maintenance and replacement. Read below for tips on maintaining these powerful tools and machinery:
- Check your equipment/tools every day. It is best to check at the beginning of the workday to catch problems early.
- Maintain your equipment/tools. It is far better to halt the use of a damaged tool or machine than to create a preventable accident.
- Follow manufacturer guidelines. Teach your employees the guidelines and the consequences of not following them.
- Dispose of unsafe equipment/tools. Once a tool or equipment is deemed unsafe, immediately warn your employees not to use it. Most importantly, don’t let it lay around. Someone may forget that it’s not safe and attempt to use it.
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Rule #5. Place OSHA’s poster of worker rights in a prominent area within the workplace (such as the breakroom).
The OSHA poster informs employees about their rights. OSHA considers the act of failing to post it a violation. Carefully read the guidelines to avoid penalty.
- Make sure that the OSHA poster is displayed prominently and not covered up by anything else.
- If a state has an approved poster, employers covered by the state plan may post the state poster.
- Reproductions of posters are allowed as long as they are at least 8½ by 14 inches. The printing size must be at least 10 pt.
- When “distinctly separate activities” occur at one physical location, each activity must be treated as a separate establishment. Each establishment must have its own poster posted prominently. An example of “distinctly separate activities” is a car repair person and an office manager working at the same shop.
- If employees are dispersed across a wide area, the poster must be placed at the site they report to. Examples of dispersed employees include agricultural, construction, and electric workers.
- Sometimes employees do not usually work at, or report to, a single establishment. Examples of these employees include traveling salespeople and engineers. In this case, the poster must be placed at the “location from which the employees operate” to work.
Rule #6. Do not retaliate or discriminate against employees who file complaints against your company; they are protected under whistleblower protections.
It is illegal to retaliate against employees who engage in activities protected under whistleblower laws. Employers who break these laws may face severe consequences, including paying damages to the employee or being penalized. Retaliation occurs when an employer takes adverse actions against an employee for engaging in protected activities. An adverse action is one that would intimidate or deter an employee from engaging in protected activity (such as whistleblowing). Retaliation harms employee morale. Furthermore, employees can file whistleblower complaints with OSHA.
Here are some examples of adverse actions (taken from OSHA’s website):
- Firing or laying off
- Denying overtime or promotion
- Denying benefits
- Failing to hire or rehire
- Intimidation or harassment
- Making threats
- Reducing pay or hours
- Subtler actions such as isolating, ostracizing, mocking, or falsely accusing the employee of poor performance
Rule #7. Correct any violations that an inspector took note of in a timely manner.
If you receive a citation, you are allowed to correct the violation by the date set in OSHA’s notice. Or, you may request an “Informal Conference” within 15 working days from the day you received the citation. This conference is with the OSHA Area Director. Its purpose is to further discuss violations and abatement dates. Abatement is the correction of a violation.
Notify the Area Director by letter that your company has attempted to correct the violation by OSHA’s deadline. This is called a letter of corrective action. Write down specific measures taken as well as the date each measure was taken.
Rule #8. If an inspector issues a citation, it must be posted at or around the cited work area.
You certainly hope to avoid receiving a citation from OSHA. Be warned that if your company receives one, it must immediately post the citation at or near each cited location. If doing this isn’t practicable, you must post the citation somewhere all affected employees can see it. For example, dispersed employees would be able to see the citation at the place they report to daily. If employees don’t work at or report to one place, place the citation at “the location from which the employees operate.” You are responsible for ensuring that the citation is not tampered with or covered up.
All citations must remain posted until the violation has been abated, or for 3 working days, whichever is longer. If you contest the citation, you still have to adhere to posting guidelines until the Review Commission vacates the citation.
You may post a notice at the same place as the citation explaining why your company is contesting it. The notice may list the steps that the company has taken to abate the violation.
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Rule #9. Allow workers access to the Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses because employees always have the right to view it.
OSHA requires companies to fill out the Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses (Form 300). It classifies work-related injuries and illnesses and records the extent and severity of each case. You will also be required to post an annual summary at the workplace from February 1 – April 30 each year. Take a look at some of the injuries and illnesses that you are required to record:
- Loss of consciousness
- Days away from work
- Restricted work activity or job transfer
- Medical treatment beyond first aid
- Work-related cases such as cancer, chronic irreversible disease, or a fractured or cracked bone
If an injury or illness occurs, you must document it in the Log within seven days. There are a few exceptions to this rule. See OSHA’s website for more info.
Rule #10. Provide all safety training using language and terms that employees can understand.
As an employer, your workforce likely reflects the larger shift in America towards greater diversity. That also means your workforce is comprised of people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Because everyone has had different experiences, they will sometimes react differently to the same situation. When developing training materials, pay attention to how people of different backgrounds may perceive them. Make sure they are clear and understandable to everyone, not just certain groups like the college-educated.
Evaluate the employees to whom your training is directed. How do they talk? What languages do they speak? Do any of them have low literacy? Accommodate your employees’ differences. When employees understand what they are being taught, they are far more likely to implement it. Otherwise you may find them dozing off or daydreaming into space during training.
Rule #11. Develop and implement safety policies/procedures and communicate them to workers.
Remember to conduct thorough research into industry, state/local, and federal/OSHA laws when developing safety policies and procedures. Always form your guidelines around these laws. Add some excitement to your training by using your company’s brand voice when writing. It’s a good idea to make employees sign agreements acknowledging the rules. That way, if they’re caught breaking the guidelines, they can be warned or disciplined. Positive reinforcement works as well. Give small prizes to departments that exceed a certain time period without an accident. Recognize employees who actively look for safety hazards, even if it’s not their job.
Compliance for All
As we said before, this guide is not comprehensive. Industries such as construction and maritime may have their own guidelines in addition to ones covering all industries. Sometimes state OSHAs pass additional regulations (check if your state has its own OSHA). SMART Safety conducts an average of 1,000 jobsite safety compliance audits monthly across a variety of locations. Partner with us because you’ll know your company and workers will be in safe hands.
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