By Michael Benedict on March 31, 2017
New year, new inspections — with a new administration in Washington, you might be inclined to think a lot of changes are coming down the line at OSHA. You'd be right. But a lot has also happened in the last year, as well. Here are seven things you need to be aware of.
1. Higher fines
OSHA’s maximum penalty for a “serious” violation increased 78 percent in 2016, from $7,000 to $12,471 per violation, and again in 2017 to $12,675 per violation. The maximum OSHA fine for a willful or repeated violation is $126,749 per violation, and being cited for a "failure to abate" can cost businesses $12,675 per day beyond the deadline to abate.
2. New submission requirements
New rules require employers to submit electronically injury and illness data that they are already required to record onsite. OSHA will post some of this data online. The agency says it believes "that public disclosure will encourage employers to improve workplace safety and provide valuable information to workers, job seekers, customers, researchers and the general public."
This rule takes effect at different times depending on the size of the company. Companies with 250 or more employees or companies with 20-249 employees in what OSHA calls "high-risk industries" must file their 2016 injury data by July 1, 2017. High-risk industries include construction and manufacturing, but also grocery stores, school bus transportation, and dry-cleaning.
3. Anti-retaliation protections
Also included in the new rules package are protections for workers who report an injury. The rule "clarifies the existing implicit requirement that an employer's procedure for reporting work-related injuries and illnesses must be reasonable and not deter or discourage employees from reporting." OSHA began enforcing this part of the rule December 1, 2016.
4. New slip, trip and fall hazard protections
In a separate rule, OSHA updated its Walking-Working Surfaces standards, which went into effect Jan. 17, 2017. OSHA estimates that the new standards will prevent 29 deaths and thousands of injuries yearly.
Included in the new standards are:
5. New silica rule
According to OSHA, about 2.3 million workers are exposed to silica dust, with the majority of those workers being in the construction industry. Inhaling too much silica dust can cause lung disease — including cancer — and even kidney disease.
The new rule on silica is set to go into effect in the construction industry on June 23, 2017 and general industry in 2018, Safety and Health Magazine reports. It lowers the allowed exposure limit for silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift — that's half the previous limit for general industry and five times lower than the previous limit for construction. OSHA says that ventilation or water systems can keep the amount of silica dust to a minimum and that respirators should be used when the engineering systems aren't cutting it.
It's possible that the Trump administration could roll back this rule, but as of now it is still set to go into effect, so plan on meeting these new exposure limits if your business is affected.
6. Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule
The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule, signed by executive order in July 2014, requires contractors to disclose labor law and safety violations from the past three years before they can receive a government contract. According to Employment Law Daily the violations that must be disclosed fall into five major categories: wage and hour, safety and health, collective bargaining, family and medical leave, and civil rights protections.
Both the House and Senate have voted to roll back this rule, and President Trump is expected to sign it, but for now the rule stands. Prime contractors are already required to disclose violations on projects valued at $50 million or more, and smaller projects and subcontractors will soon be required to disclose as well.
7. What to know about "incentive programs"
Another change, as of last summer, is that OSHA is wise to unethical companies that use "incentive programs" as a secret form of retaliation. For example, a "safety incentive program" in which a whole shift of workers loses their safety bonus due to an employee being injured is something that OSHA views as a form of retaliation. OSHA says that a good incentive program is one that rewards employees for following safety rules — not one that takes away rewards for reporting injuries.
What can you do?
Good recordkeeping is going to become even more key with the onset of these new rules. It's more important than ever to have unique safety checklists tailored to your business and records of what potential violations, if any, were discovered (and what you did to fix them).
Conducting your inspections via mobile checklist saves time, allows you to record “before” and “after” images of the violation, and prevents possible errors from retyping info into a database later. It also means your records are at your fingertips if an OSHA inspector requests to see them, as your checklists are safely stored in the cloud, which allows for immediate access and printing. By using mobile apps to create safety checklists, analyze your business’ safety program and trouble spots, and implement corrective actions, you’ll avoid injuries and safety violations — keeping you off OSHA’s radar in the first place.
Canvas has more than 360 OSHA mobile forms apps that can help make your business safer and make record keeping easier. Want more information about being ready for an OSHA inspection? Download our NEW interactive eBook, 4 Steps to Prepare for OSHA Safety Inspections.