A safe workplace is not only best for workers but also affects the bottom line. Laurel Ferguson of Paychex, Inc. visits with Dennis Zink to discuss safety issues, OSHA compliance and the costs of safety – and the costs of being unsafe!
Published: Monday, June 15, 2015.
Recently, I interviewed Laurel Ferguson who works for Paychex and who is a subject-matter expert in safety and loss control. She has degrees in occupational safety, environmental health and safety; degree certificates in crisis and disaster planning; and is a certified safety professional and CHMM and hazard materials manager. She has over 35 years of experience working with Eastman Kodak Co. in the health safety environmental division.
Q. What is OSHA and how does it relate to operating a small-business?
A. OSHA was formed in 1972. The letters stand for Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA is a government agency that oversees the safety and health requirements that companies have to meet. There are very specific safety regulations that OSHA enforces through its specialized divisions. Its outreach division advises small-businesses on regulations that specific businesses have to meet. This is similar to what a safety consultant would do if you wanted to pay them instead of OSHA.
OSHA also has an enforcement division. If something goes wrong, they will come to your place of business and do an inspection. If they drive by and they see you doing something wrong, they’re going to stop and they’re going to do an inspection. OSHA can fine your company for a violation of the regulations.
Q. What does an employer need to know about OSHA?
A. OSHA applies to every company. There isn’t a company in business that doesn’t have at least one OSHA regulation that applies to them. For example, everyone has to know how to get out of a building in an emergency and also know where they’re supposed to go once they’re out of the building so they can be accounted for. This is one of the primarily regulations that applies to everyone. There are many other regulations that apply unilaterally across the board.
Q. What would an employee need to know about OSHA?
A. OSHA is there to protect their health and safety and to make sure that the company they work for is doing things properly. For example, if you work on a piece of equipment or machinery, it has to have very specific guards to protect you from getting your fingers cut off. If you work with chemicals, there has to be specific information available to you on what the hazards of those chemicals are and how to obtain that information at a company level.
There are many things that OSHA does to protect employees. Its primary goal to make sure that everyone goes home at the end of the work day in as good or better condition than they came to work that morning.
Q. What are some of the problems that a company may face as it relates to OSHA?
A. There are several regulations that apply to most companies. For example, if one of your employees is injured, OSHA has specific processes to document the circumstances of that injury or that incident. Depending on how many employees you have in your company, other regulations may apply.
Q. Does a company pay when OSHA comes to inspect?
A. No, they should never be paying OSHA under any circumstances. OSHA is a governmental agency that provides a service for the health and safety of the employees.
Q. Does a smaller company have to comply with OSHA the same as a larger company?
A. There are regulations that are size dependent, but most of the regulations apply if a company has a specific exposure. For example, does your company have a forklift? If you don’t have one, you don’t have to comply with the regulation. But if you do have one, then you must comply. In this case, the size of your company doesn’t matter. There are a couple of regulations that are size dependent. If you have 10 or more employees, there are two or three regulations that would kick in if you have that type of exposure.
Q. Can you tell me more about OSHA’s documentation requirements?
A. There are very specific forms and requirements that OSHA has for documentation. For example, personal protective equipment. If your employees wear personal protective equipment, you must document what protective equipment you have and why you need it. If you have chemicals, you must have what we call safety data sheets for each one of those chemicals and information available to your employees on the hazards of those chemicals.
If you have more than 10 employees, you must have an emergency action plan in writing that specifically designates all of the responsibilities. If you have fewer than 10 employees, you still have to have a plan; you just don’t have to write it down.
Q. Are there state or local requirements?
A. There may be requirements for individual states. In some cases it’s down to the county or the city level. For example, California has a regulation that applies to every company that has a location in the State of California. It’s call the IIPP or the injury, illness, prevention plan. New Hampshire has a requirement that if you have more than 15 employees on your payroll, you have to have a safety committee. There are very specific things that some states regulate more stringently than others.
Q. What are the risks if a business doesn’t follow OSHA regulations?
A. If somebody gets hurt, OSHA is going to find out about it because there are requirements for reporting accidents and injuries. If an employee visits the hospital, that medical provider may have to call OSHA.
OSHA will do an inspection. If an employee does not feel safe in the workplace, it’s their right to call OSHA and OSHA will contact that company. If the allegation is serious enough, OSHA will come and knock on your door.