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Controlling your risk by Bob Carruth

As Risk Control Manager for the NCACC, Bob Carruth manages the operation of the Risk Control Team for the Risk Management Pools. The team assists members with development of safety policies and programs and identification of liability exposures and controls. Carruth is a Certified Safety Professional and is certified as an Associate – Risk Management.  For archives of this column click here

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Oct 12

I’m from OSHA, and I’m here to help….

Posted on October 12, 2012 at 8:55 AM by Chris Baucom

Arguably, there are few things for a manager or business owner that can disrupt a day or week more than a visit from the local, friendly OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) compliance officer. For most businesses large and small, OSHA compliance has become a major part of their management systems, and dealing with the myriad of regulations and standards has given rise to a whole industry of consultants, trainers and vendors. Given this, it is safe (excuse the pun) to say that the presence of OSHA has been the main factor in raising workplace safety and health awareness over the past 40 years.

Although OSHA is a federal agency, a provision allows individual states to establish their own OSHA equivalent agency, provided that the state agency meets or exceeds the requirements of the federal program. North Carolina, along with several other states, has a state-run program. This program is managed and operated through the N.C. Department of Labor. In fact, over the past several years, NCOSH, as it is called, has become one of the most effective state-run programs in the nation.

So, what does this have to do with local government? After all, the federal OSHA has no jurisdiction over state and local government. However, when a state establishes its own OSH program, local government DOES fall under its jurisdiction and becomes subject to compliance just like any other small business. Several counties have recently discovered this, as they have been paid a visit by their local, friendly NCOSH compliance officer.

In order to provide the proper oversight and assistance to North Carolina’s public sector employers, the N.C. Department of Labor has established a system to identify and target those employers that may need the greatest amount of assistance. For these organizations, it is more than just a safety inspection from a compliance officer, but also access to the full breadth of consulting and training resources that NCOSH makes available at no cost to the employer.

The process begins each year with a survey that every employer receives from the Department of Labor. This survey is broken down into separate entities, such as sheriff, public works, finance, etc. The survey asks for you to provide data for the subject year, to include the number of injuries and hours worked by your employees. From this data, a rate of injury is established. What is particularly important is the rate of those injuries that were serious enough to require an employee to miss work, be restricted in the normal work activities, or receive a permanent transfer to another job (DART Rate).

Once all of the surveys are in for the year, the NCOSH compares these rates and computes the average DART rate for all similar organizations. Once this is done, those organizations that have an above average DART rate for the particular entity grouping are put on the list to be visited for further review from NCOSH.

If you are one of the chosen and get visited by a compliance officer, then there are several things that will happen. First, the officer will determine if you should actually be on the targeted list by determining the size of the organization and reviewing your injury records. The officer will then do a “program audit,” and review your overall safety and health program, any safety committee meeting minutes you have, and even interview employees. After this is completed, the officer may also want to do a walk-through (or schedule one) of the facility associated with the entity.

There are several things that you can do in order to reduce the chances of being selected for a compliance visit, and if selected, make the experience as painless as possible, and even turn it into a positive experience for your organization:

1.    Take the public sector injury survey seriously. This is the single document that is used to determine if you are to be targeted for a visit. Make sure the figures you report are accurate, which means you must maintain an accurate OSHA 300 log as well. Also, when receiving the survey, ensure the contact information is up to date.

2.    Ensure your staff knows what to do if a compliance officer visits. You should have a standard protocol to follow that is communicated to all employees who may come in contact with an OSHA compliance officer.

3.    Designate a point person. Normally, this is the contact listed on the survey. This person is the one who will represent the county to the officer and manage the visit should one occur.

4.    Stay with the compliance officer. Never allow a compliance officer free reign to your organization. If the officer wants to see something, then escort nim/her to the location. If pictures or video is made, you make the same.

5.    Don’t shoot the messenger. It would be very easy for you to get upset, especially over something that you may disagree with the officer about. But realize – he/she is merely doing their job, and arguing needlessly will do you no good. Once a citation is written, then there is a full protocol that is followed to contest or discuss the citation.

Finally, don’t forget about your Risk Control team. Although we cannot prevent you from receiving a citation from an OSHA compliance visit, all of us have experience dealing with OSHA and can be of assistance throughout the process. We can assist you by reviewing your injury logs periodically, helping you compute your DART rate, helping complete the annual survey, and providing you with technical assistance after being visited by a compliance officer. Don’t feel like you are all alone if visited – we are there to help. The only way you will really be in trouble is if you still think that OSHA is a small town in Wisconsin.

Have a safe day!