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OSHA Random Inspections: A Thing of the Past?

Originally posted August 01, 2013 by Jim Bocci on http://www.duralabel.com

Imagine OSHA as an angler heading out from port every day looking to catch the “big fish” that endanger their employees and flaunt safety guidelines.

That angler could head a few miles out, drop anchor at a random spot, and start fishing. Most days the catch would be mostly small fish, with the occasional whopper. That’s the equivalent of OSHA’s random inspection program.

An angler more intent on landing a string of “big ones” would instead map out the hot spots where the trophy fish are known to feed, instead of fishing at random coordinates. That’s what OSHA calls its Site-Specific Targeting (SST) program.

There’s a growing consensus that OSHA’s getting serious about its fishing, favoring the SST program over random inspections. Random inspections are still part of OSHA’s enforcement program but if you are a big fish that happens to feed in one of the hot spots, there are measures you need to take to ensure you don’t become lunch.

How Does OSHA’s SST Program Work?

OSHA’s SST Program targets industries that statistically have been shown to have the most industrial injuries. These industries are classified by either Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code or North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code. Data is collected from approximately 80,000 businesses of 20 employees or more and employers judged likely to be the worst offenders are put on a target list, known not-so-affectionately as the “hit list” by many employers. The list criteria are updated yearly.

How You End Up on OSHA’s SST Target List

OSHA analyzes injury data as recorded on the OSHA 300 log. The numbers for recorded injuries and total hours worked are calculated into two rates: Days Away, Restricted, and Transfer (DART) rate, and Days Away From Work (DAFWII) rate. (Check this OSHA document for specificSST target criteria applied.) Companies within the targeted SIC codes (see table below) with DART or DAFWII rates exceeding the average by a specified amount get put on the SST target list.

Should I Be Worried about Getting Inspected?

If your business falls under any of the SIC codes listed in the table below, and if your DART or DAFWII rate meets or exceeds the numbers specified by OSHA, then yes, it is time to get your house in order, especially if your business exposes workers to amputation hazards, or if you are a construction company whose employees are exposed to fall hazards. Manufacturers that expose employees to arc flash hazards are also often cited.

Our Injuries Here are Minor. Why Did We Get Targeted?

If your company pays attention to safety but still ends up on the target list, it could be because you over-report on the OSHA 300 log.

According to OSHA, if any of the following incidents occur, you should log it on Form 300:

  • Death
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Days away from work
  • Restricted job activity or job transfer
  • Medical treatment beyond first aid

There are some other situations that require recording on OSHA 300. There are also published letters from OSHA interpreting and clarifying how its standards are to be applied. As there are attorneys and other consultants who specialize in this kind of information, it is wise to research what belongs on that form and what doesn’t if your course of action isn’t completely clear. If it turns out you have over-reported on Form 300 or haven’t been good about submitting forms, contact OSHA Recordkeeping to straighten it out. Going forward, make sure OSHA gets right information.

“Many on the hit list don’t know they’re on it and are ashamed and concerned about what needs to be done to get off it,” said Gary Glader, CSP, president of Network Safety Consultants in Chicago. Glader’s company has worked with many employers who get tagged in the SST program.

“Most small- to mid-size employers are behind the eight ball with respect to recordkeeping,” Glader continued. “Besides recording injuries that don’t need to be reported on the OSHA 300 log, some employers incorrectly under-report the number of hours worked in a given year, which affects the DART rate—or they simply haven’t completed the required forms, which automatically puts them on the list.” He added that many employers assign the task of completing the OSHA 300 to clerical personnel who don’t fully understand proper recording criteria.

On the Hit List? Here’s What To Do.

“Don’t forget the underlying premise of the SST initiative,” Glader cautioned. “Employers on the hit list are expected to have hazards that aren’t adequately identified or controlled. Inspections of such employers will inherently result in more violations than inspections of employers that aren’t on the list.”

If you are on the list, the best course of action to take is to identify the reason you’re on the list and change it as soon as possible. Besides seeing your employees harmed, the last thing your management wants to see are willful violations—intentional violations or plain indifference to the Occupational Safety and Health Act—which could cost your company up to $70,000 per violation.

Here are some concrete ways to change course:

  • Get your paperwork in order: Make sure your OSHA 300 logs are filled out correctly and submitted to OSHA in a timely fashion.
  • Monitor your injury rates, especially your DART rate: Treat your DART and DAFWII rates as you would any important business metric, such as profit, loss, turnover, or productivity. Even if you don’t get inspected, striving to improve your DART rate will improve your company’s productivity at the very least.
  • Prepare for inspection: Doing a thorough facility safety inspection or working with a safety consultant to conduct a “mock audit” can help to identify potential safety hazards, such as missing or illegible arc flash signage, missing machine guards, or an incomplete lockout/tagout program—all hazards that can contribute to hefty OSHA fines if unaddressed.
  • Go the extra mile: Have you heard of OSHA’s SHARP or Voluntary Protection Plan (VPP)initiatives? Enrollment in these safety programs can in some cases cause a deferral of inspection or get your company stricken from the SST list. Meeting the stringent requirements of these programs shouldn’t be viewed as a Band-Aid approach to your safety problems, but rather a complete overhaul of your safety culture which will bear fruit not only in worker safety, but turnover and productivity as well.