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What You Can Learn From OSHA Fall Protection Citations

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In April, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced a $2.4 million dollar settlement with Republic Steel over alleged safety violations found in plants located in Lorain, Canton and Massillon, Ohio, and Blasdell, N.Y. The comprehensive settlement addresses more than 100 alleged OSHA safety and health violations discovered in 2013 and a “serious” citation stemming from the death of a Republic employee in the Lorain plant rail yard in February, 2014.

Although the sheer size of the settlement is an ample reminder that we should all take safety seriously, perhaps the more interesting part of this story is how Republic first landed in the crosshairs of OSHA inspectors.  Last fall, OSHA placed all of Republic’s facilities under greater scrutiny when an employee sustained serious injuries after falling through a roof at the Lorain plant.  As a result of this incident, OSHA inspectors fanned out to multiple Republic plants under the auspices of the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP).  This program “concentrates resources on inspecting employers who have demonstrated indifference to their OSH Act obligations by willful, repeated, or failure-to-abate violations.”

Under the terms of the settlement, Republic has agreed to remediate all of the health and safety hazards identified by OSHA inspectors, including willful and serious violations for failure to provide required fall protection, failure to implement lockout/tag out procedures*, and failure to provide machine guarding.  Failure to meet the agreement terms may result in additional, mutually agreed upon financial penalties.  Republic has also agreed to hire additional EHS personnel, conduct safety inspections in conjunction with representatives from the United Steelworkers, and establish a comprehensive safety program.  Republic will also utilize third party auditors to ensure safety hazards are identified and remediated and meet on a quarterly basis with OSHA representatives to ensure implementation of the agreement.

As a recent article appearing in Crain’s Cleveland Business suggests, the key takeaways from Republic’s recent OSHA woes go beyond the immediate financial costs for a non-compliance citation.  Safety citations can limit your ability to bid on future jobs and previous violations are taken into consideration when OSHA assesses penalties.  And even if you plan to dispute your citation, it is important to remediate dangerous workplace conditions as soon as possible to reduce liability issues.

A proactive safety stance is the best strategy to avoid exposing your company to potential OSHA citations and fines.  Companies can consult with an OSHA Compliance Assistance Specialists.  These safety experts provide technical assistance, information on OSHA standards, seminars, and workshops.  OSHA also offers a free and confidential On-Site Consultation Program for small and medium sized businesses.  These services are separate from enforcement and the inspections do not result in penalties or citations for hazardous workplace conditions.  Another option is to partner with a company that specializes in fall protection systems and training to design and implement a comprehensive fall protection plan.  Taking these steps will create a paper trail documenting inspection history, remediation steps, and written fall protection system specifications needed to demonstrate full compliance with OSHA regulations.

There are two fundamental approaches to fall protection and workplace safety.  Some companies opt for a reactive approach where changes in the workplace are prompted by accidents and OSHA citations while others take a proactive stance, discovering and remediating fall hazards before they become an issue.  A proactive stance on safety may seem more expensive in the short-run, but it will pay huge dividends down the road.  To learn more about our comprehensive approach to fall protection, download our guide to selecting the right fall protection company, visit us online at www.fallprotect.com, or contact us for a no-obligation consultation today.

A copy of the republic Steel settlement agreement is available at http://www.osha.gov/CWSA/RepublicSteel05012014.pdf*. The agreement’s Appendix A is available at http://www.osha.gov/CWSA/RepublicSteel05012014AppendixA.pdf* and its Appendix B is available at http://www.osha.gov/CWSA/RepublicSteel05012014AppendixB.pdf*.

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Any fall protection anchor must be independent of any anchorage used to support or suspend platforms?