Fabricating shop owners—and business owners in general—have voiced concern about increased regulations that their companies have had to face since the election of President Obama, but that may be nothing compared to the trouble they might find if they run into trouble involving the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). That agency is on the hunt for "indifferent employers" who don't take the necessary steps to keep workers safety.
That's the take of David Jones, an attorney and head of the workplace safety practice group for Ogletree Deakins, as he spoke to a crowd gathered for the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association's Safety Conference 2013 on April 23 in Nashville. Agency officials realize that it's difficult to pass any regulations because of the contentious nature of Congress right now and the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, and that's why OSHA is focusing on "tough enforcement," Jones said.
The statistics verify this observation. "Significant cases," which Jones defined as cases that result in penalties of more than $100,000, jumped from 120 in fiscal year 2009 to 219 in fiscal year 2012. Jones said he expected that number to hit 250 in 2013.
Also the number of companies in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP)—designed to punish companies that have been found to have "willful or repeated" violations or "egregious" offenses—is expanding. As of January 2013, more than 300 companies were a part of this program, and of that number, 55 percent of them were businesses with 100 or fewer employees.
"How do you get out [of SVEP]? You’ve got to at least serve three years before you can think of getting out," Jones said.
Once the three years is up, the company must have corrected the violations, paid the penalties, settled agreed-upon provisions, and not received any further serious citations at the facility that was originally the source of the original problems—and related workplaces within the company family. If a SVEP participant doesn't meet the necessary qualifications, they don't leave the program and must wait another three years before getting a chance to revisit the issue.
Jones said the best way to avoid OSHA's wrath is take the steps necessary to keep employees safe. Of course, most shops don't have a full-time safety manager, but that doesn't prevent machines from having the proper guarding and employees having the correct protective equipment. By doing right by employees, companies won't be left with the nightmare of dealing with OSHA and their investigators.