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.

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