Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Did you know that the IRS collects fines for OSHA?

As a safety professional I bet you did not know that the IRS collects fines for OSHA. This is not common knowledge and is not really publicized anywhere. This little known fact was brought to light in the following article: Builder's plan to ignore OSHA fine in collapsed home could mean IRS involvement.

The IRS is not the primary collection agent for OSHA, they are only the "hammer" after unpaid fines have gone to collection. According to the article:

Bill Coffin, a supervisor for OSHA's Augusta (Maine) office, said his agency generally collects most of the fines, but there are procedures in place if companies refuse to pay. The process starts with the debt collectors in Washington, D.C. If the company ignores collector's letters the process is turned over to private collection firms and, eventually, to the Internal Revenue Service.

So what does that have to do with me, I am only the safety person. You must impress upon your superiors and the owners that OSHA fines are serious and need to be paid. They are not like herpes, they don't just go away if you ignore them. (Disclaimer: This is an attempt at humor.) Most of the time, you can "negotiate" with OSHA to reduce or to eliminate the fines. I have done this on multiple occasions.

The negotiation is a a give and take. OSHA will expect you to correct any deficiencies in a certain amount of time. They will expect a written safety program is instituted/updated, followed, and training is done.

This goes back to what I have always said: "Are you trying to do the right thing?"

 Your workplace has to have at the very least something that looks like a safety program. OSHA does this to give an incentive to utilize a safety program. There is a certain point of "economies of scale" where it becomes cheaper to just pay the fines. I won't go into the math, but OSHA has to make it more cost effective to do the right thing. If there is no safety at all, OSHA will figure this out very fast, and there is little that you can do.

If you work at a medium sized company, and management deems that it is "not in the budget" to pull everyone off the job and conduct a monthly safety meeting, then what do you do? I had this problem with a manager for one of my clients, here was my solution to him:

Conduct one-on-one training. As you walk around the floor, take 5 minutes and do a mini-training session. Go over what is important, ask the employee what they think is important, if they do not know how to do something show them then and there, and have them sign off on a training sheet. This is just as much about the day to day production as it is about safety.

The other solution was to have a once a month production meeting at the beginning of the month. This made the owner happy because it was a means to plan production, reduce costs, and increase output. Part of this included safety. Safety has a direct correlation with efficiency.

When I started in the staffing industry, my first job was sales. I was quoting a sawmill (this shows how long ago this was), and I asked the owner about his current work comp coverage. He told me that his broker was to have a policy for him.

The next day he was to start production.

I told him that if he has not heard from his broker by now, I doubted that he would have coverage tomorrow. I asked, "What are you going to do?" He answered, "What can I do?" "I have to start up tomorrow with or without comp. I can't afford not to." I asked, "What if someone got hurt?" "I guess I am out of business," was his response.

I walked away and never went back. That was one of those experiences that had a profound effect on me.  heard nothing of concern if someone got hurt, only what he could afford. I realize that you need to support your family and business, but at what cost? I also wondered that if he did have work comp, would he run the business any different? I doubt it.

I think the point to really take away is that it is cheaper to institute a safety program than to throw the dice and hope for the best. I also believe that it is the ethical thing to do. It will allow you to sleep at night. Most important, sometimes you have to walk away.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Internet Myth: Backhoe on a Train Car

Ok, so we have all seen these pics (sorry some are small). Usually with a caption like "Would you want to work with this guy?"

The Truth:

What you see here is actually very safe and the correct way to do this. This is the Herzog Car Topper System. I learned about them when they were working on a site I was on. Link to the Herzog Car Topper System here:

Herzog has patented this technology. You can not rent one of these, you can't even buy one. When you need this service, you hire Herzog and they send a Cartopper and an operator. The benefits are that you get someone trained correctly in its use and safety (remember that you also have to do site safety training with your subcontractors too).

This is a smart move on Herzog's part to prevent over-regulation or even banning of the Cartopper. If just anyone could rent or buy them then the number of accidents would increase. When accidents increase, OSHA steps in and begins regulation. This way, Herzog ensures that they "fly under the radar" of lawmakers.

You also get a fixed capacity. That is they provide the amount of material that they can handle. You know how much material that you have to move, given the rate, you know how long it will take and how much it will cost. Here are the rates from Herzog's site:

(One Machine)
Cross Ties:
1000 Ties/Hour
1/3 Track Mile/Hour
200 Tons/Hour
120 Tons/Hour

If you look at the bucket, behind the front wheels, and on the outriggers, you will notice special clamps/skids that help the backhoe move along the rail cars. Here is a video of the Cartopper being unloaded:

OSHA re-establishes full protection for demolition and underground construction

On August 17, 2012, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a direct final rule and notice of proposed rule making that applies the requirements of the August 2010 cranes and derricks in construction standard to demolition work and underground construction. The application of this rule will protect workers from hazards associated with hoisting equipment used during construction activities.

The direct final rule will apply the same crane rules to underground construction and demolition that are already being used by other construction sectors, and will streamline OSHA's standards by eliminating the separate cranes and derricks standard currently used for underground and demolition work. The rule making also corrects several errors introduced in the 2010 rule-making to make it easier for workers and employers to understand and implement these standards.

The direct final rule will become effective November 15, 2012, unless OSHA receives a significant adverse comment by September 17. If the agency receives significant adverse comments, the accompanying notice of proposed rule making will allow the agency to continue the notice-and-comment component of the rule making by withdrawing the direct final rule.

The final rule can be viewed here:

Two years ago, on August 9, 2010, OSHA issued new requirements for cranes and derricks used in construction work under Subpart CC. For most construction work, the new Cranes and Derricks in Construction standard replaced the prior cranes and derricks standard, §1926.550, which had been in place for over 40 years.

However, for demolition and underground construction work, the protective requirements of §1926.550 were no longer covered in OSHA's construction regulations. As a result, OSHA had to reestablish the substance of the demolition and underground construction provisions in a new subpart DD, which was in the updated Cranes and Derricks in Construction standard.

A second error was made, however. In the rulemaking process OSHA inadvertently deleted the requirements addressing material, personnel, overhead hoists, and elevators in demolition and underground construction work by requiring employers to follow the requirements of Subpart DD for demolition and underground construction work.

The rule will become effective on November 15, 2012. The specific parts of the Cranes and Derricks in Construction rule that will be affected are:
  • §1926.800(t), Hoisting unique to underground construction.
  • §1926.856(c) Removal of walls, floors, and material with equipment.
  • §1926.858(b) Removal of steel construction.

Some of the updates include:

  • 1926.1427 addresses operator qualification and certification.
  • OSHA established minimum clearance distances for power line safety up to 350 kV for equipment in accordance with Table A of 1926.1408.

Note: The same formula that was used in subpart N (the 10-foot rule) and is similar to Table 1 in ASME B30.5–2004. Unlike subpart N, which required employers to calculate the minimum clearance distance from a formula, Table A sets specified clearance distances in a readily understood table and requires no calculations.
  • Section 1926.1423 Fall Protection, of the OSHA rule, contains provisions designed to protect workers on equipment covered by subpart CC from fall hazards.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Thank You for the Comments...

Thank you for reading my blog and the comments that you leave. I do read them and appreciate the sharing. What you offer is just as informative as what I write. 

Please tell others about this blog.


Safety and Technology

Safety and Technology

As safety professionals, we are victims of technology too. As I stated in my previous post, 10 things that I learned about Safety, just as much as we need to know about safety, we need to know about technology too.

The technology I speak of is not only about the new machines we use in manufacturing, but it is also the ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system.

What is ERP you ask? ERP was not a gunfighter at the O.K. Corral.

 Basically ERP integrates management information from outside your organization with management information inside your organization. ERP knows when a vendor is delivering raw materials so it can schedule more workers to unload the raw materials and have the workers scheduled to start production. You then can utilize your company's ERP system to plan your training. Many ERP systems have a "safety section" built in.

Technology that affects today's safety professional is the desktop computer. It has allowed one person to do the work of a room full of people.


Has replaced this:

So now you as a safety person are expected to be just as efficient. So how do you do that? Technology. Making your training available via the Internet and your company's Intranet.

Intranet? What's that? Think of an Intranet like your company's private Internet. More on Intranets here. Remember my last post, I said "Documentation, documentation, documentation?" Posting your safety program on the Internet or Intranet is documentation.  It is also now a "Written Safety Program."

So what Technology Tools do I Need?

Basic Tools:

Office Program Suites:

At the very least, you need to know an Office Program Suite. This consists of word processor (like MS Word), a spreadsheet program (like MS Excel), and a presentation program (like MS Power Point). I personally switched to Macs (Apple computers) and will not go back to Windows. I use Macs at work and home. I do have to give Microsoft credit, nothing out there beats MS Word. I use MS Office for Mac.

Apple's iWork is a close second. Open Office, is a free Office Program Suite, Sun Microsystems has a more robust version of Open Office called Star Office that is only costs about $80. There are many more like Corel's WordPerfect Office , IBM's Lotus Notes, and many more. A good list can be found here:

There are also great templates and template software for business cards labels, etc. at Avery (link here). The templates are mostly in MS Word (.doc) format.

Microsoft Office Templates (link here) offers free templates to download for resumes, spreadsheets, documents, calendars, presentations, brochures, certificates, labels, business cards, and more for Microsoft Office. I have found some safety templates here and some great presentation templates for training.

Image Programs:

Next you need a good digital picture tool (program). On Windows, I used Irfanview (link here). This is the best image program and it is FREE! Probably the only complaint that people have switching to a Mac is that there is no program like Irfanview for the Mac.

For Macs I use a couple programs to do what Irfanview alone does. I use iResize to resize many images at the same time. I use Batch R-Name (which appears to be no longer available) to do batch renaming of files.

MS has a free program that is called "Paint." For Mac I use a great program that is like Paint on steroids called Skitch (info here).

A note on image programs: These are a very powerful tools. My main tool for inspections and accident investigations is a digital camera. "The camera remembers." What this means is that if my mind forgets, even if I take notes, a picture is like being back at the scene. The camera shows what's wrong and what's right. You can zoom in to see details that you may have missed, even look for things in different spectrums of light.

Advanced Tools:

I use Adobe's Creative Suites (CS4 and CS5.5). These include Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat, Flash Professional, Flash Builder, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Premiere, After Effects, Audition, Bridge, Media Encoder, plus more depending on what version you have. I use Photoshop (for image manipulation) and Dreamweaver (for building websites) the most.

A note on Acrobat: Adobe Acrobat Pro (link here) is a very good tool. I would categorize this as a Basic Tool. The Windows version includes Adobe LiveCycle (link here) which is a powerful tool for creating, distributing, and compiling forms. 

I also use TextWrangler which is the free version of BBBEdit which is a code editor. A windows alternative is Notepad++ (which I have never used).

I could write a whole book on this subject. Please leave comments and share tools that you use.

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

I read a very disturbing article today from The Herald Star (link here). The second paragraph stated:
But we remembered what Sarah Ghezzi had told us about preparing for a visit from OSHA, and we were ready. We invited them into our conference room and at first they were very formal advising our boss of his rights and his right to an attorney. They told us an employee had filed a complaint with their office and we were presumed guilty until proven innocent.

I am hoping that someone from OSHA did not say this or this is a typo. But if it is not, then this is VERY DISTURBING! Is OSHA not part of our government? Does our government not presume Innocent Until Proven Guilty?

As a safety person, we need to maneuver the legal system just as much as we maneuver the  job site. Many times government officials take the presumed guilty until proven innocent position because they are protecting someone (presumed) innocent: the police officer protecting children from drug dealers, OSHA protecting workers from the company owner, airport screeners strip searching grandmothers to protect us from terrorists.

What these people don't realize that they are harming more people than they protect by eroding away our civil liberties. We have turned our schools into prisions (metal detectors, uniforms, guards) and then question why our kids behave like criminals.

Note: This is a good lesson for workplace violence prevention. There is a balance to be achieved. Turning your workplace into a prison will not eliminate violence, it may escalate it by creating tension. And what about searching workers to protect trade secrets? You accuse everyone every day of stealing from you. How does that make a person feel?

I digress. Let me clarify a misconception about "Innocent Until Proven Guilty" before I continue. 

First, it should be pointed out that if you did it, you're guilty, no matter what. So you're not innocent unless you're truly innocent. However, our system presumes innocence, which means that legally speaking, even the obviously guilty are treated as though they are innocent, until they are proven otherwise.

The concept of the presumption of innocence is one of the most basic in our system of justice. However, in so many words, it is not codified in the text of the Constitution. This basic right comes to us, like many things, from English jurisprudence, and has been a part of that system for so long, that it is considered common law. The concept is embodied in several provisions of the Constitution, however, such as the right to remain silent and the right to a jury.

OSHA is an organization made up of human beings. Just like anything else human, there are good people and bad people. Not all human intentions are bad, it may be a lack of knowledge of how your good intentions are doing harm.

So, how to deal with OSHA. Always in a professional manner and with respect. I assume the best in people until they give me reason otherwise. I also take the position (as previously stated) that what may appear to be an attack on me may be misguided, good intentions.

So what to do?

Try to get them (OSHA) back on track, you have a safety program, maybe just not a complete program. Put the issue in context to the overall safety.  Missing 10 out of 100 safety issues is better than missing 9 out of 10.

Look at your workplace, are you making an effort to provide a safe work environment? Are there unguarded machine gears everywhere?

Exposed electrical contacts?

Do we do orientation training? Do we do safety training? Just as many "inspections" are not the product of bad intentions, so to many OSHA violations are not the product of bad intentions. I had a client that did lots of safety training. They did tool box talks, production scheduling, and covered any new conditions in the workplace and their safety issues every Monday. What they didn't do is document it. Simple fix: a sign off sheet for every Monday morning. Afterwards the supervisor listed the topics and checked one of 5 boxes next to each:
  1. Safety
  2. Production
  3. Remediation
  4. Employee Concern
  5. Other
Documentation, documentation, documentation. Document everything.

Take pride in your work. If you are proud of your accomplishments and your safety program, then you will not be hiding anything.

Explain your processes, both safety and work. An inspector may be making assumptions, an explanation may clarify the situation.

OSHA knows that most of the employee complaints are from disgruntled employees looking to get back at an employer. For every visit they make, they probably see 1000 complaint that are just retaliation by an employee.

Ask for relevant code. What standard are you supposedly violating? Is the standard clear? Does it even apply.

This will take care of 90% of the inspections.

If push comes to shove. If you are innocent, you may have to get an attorney. Don't be afraid to fight if you are right.

If you are guilty of negligent safety practices, then the only thing  you can do is correct the problems from here on out.

Again, let me reiterate I am hoping that someone from OSHA did not say this or this is a typo. Until we know the truth, I will presume OSHA innocent until proven guilty.