When OSHA Compliance Isn’t Enough

ThinkstockPhotos-92449882Last month, at the National Safety Council Safety Congress in Atlanta, GA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released its preliminary “Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Violations” list for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

Most staffing industry assignments fall under the General Industry (GI) regulations, and to no one’s surprise, at the very top of the regulations most frequently cited list was Hazard Communication – regulation number 1910.1200. In fact, Hazard Communication has been No. 1 for more than three years. As most in the staffing industry are aware, this is the standard that requires employees be trained on chemicals they work with in the work place.

Consider this: Is exposure to chemicals a major loss driver for your staffing associates? Is this where you see your accidents happening for your employees? Is it where your customers are seeing accidents happen?

For most companies, there is no accident trend correlating to chemicals in the workplace. In these, (arguably most) cases, OSHA’s No. 1 is not nearly as relevant to accident prevention as we’d intuitively think. It doesn’t track with an accident history trend, rather a citation history trend.

I do not debate that chemical exposures exist in the workplace – of course they do. However, I take the position that if your aim is to create a zero-accident workplace – or even reduce your current accident rate – OSHA compliance isn’t enough. OSHA compliance is a portion of the safety equation, but should never be considered the sole metric for success.

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Why? The No. 1 loss driver for most temporary staffing firms tends to be strains and sprains, soft tissue injuries, and back exposures. There is no Federal OSHA regulation that focuses specifically on these exposures. There is also no Federal OSHA regulation that specifically focuses on ergonomic exposures. The Federal OSHA Ergonomic standard went into effect on Jan. 16, 2001, under President Clinton, only to be repealed on March 20, 2001, under President George W. Bush.

I’ve spoken on this topic at several conferences around North America, and the feedback is eye-opening. Time and time again, starry-eyed attendees approach me and validate that their OSHA citations do not correlate with where their people are getting hurt.

That doesn’t mean OSHA compliance isn’t important – to the contrary, it is. It should be a priority. However, you have to go beyond that if you want to protect your employees. To put it in perspective, I consult to a program of over 130 staffing companies. In reviewing their largest losses over the past 10 years, only two of the top fifty claims (over $500,000 each) are even mildly related to chemical exposures.

Another component to be considered is your customers’ – prospects’ – perception. It is easier than ever to look up a company’s OSHA inspection history. Kevin P. Kilcoyne, director of staffing insurance at the Barrow Group LLC, said in a Staffing Industry Review article by Craig Johnson, “When looking into prospective clients, a staffing firm may research them via an establishment search on the OSHA website to uncover any citations, if those citations were corrected, and whether the company faced fines.” If you can look up your customers and prospects, they can look your up too. Thus, OSHA citations can have a powerful impact on customer, and the public perception – but not prevention.

While I believe using OSHA inspections, with serious (abated) violations, as a weighted qualifier for work is reasonable – disqualifying a company simply because they’ve had an OSHA inspection is incredibly myopic. Great companies with very proactive safety cultures can – and do – get OSHA citations.

The rest of OSHA’s Top 10 List:
10. Electrical – General Requirements (1910.303) GI
9. Machine Guarding – (1910.212) GI
8. Electrical – Wiring Methods (1910.305) GI
7. Ladders (1926.1053) Construction
6. Powered Industrial Trucks (1910.178) GI
5. Lockout/Tagout – (1910.147) GI
4. Respiratory Protection (1910.134) GI
3. Scaffolding (1926.451) – Construction
2. Hazard Communication (1910.1200) GI
1. Fall Protection – General Requirements (1926.501) Construction

How many of these Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards are common accident sources for your associates and your customers? If the answer is “few” or “none,” I rest my case. OSHA compliance is important, but accident trend analysis is more important to preventing future accidents.

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Rick Grobart

Rick Grobart
Rick Grobart, MBA, is the Midwest area manager for Gallagher Bassett Risk Control. He can be reached at rick_grobart (at) gbtpa (dot) com.

Rick Grobart

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