David Letterman’s got nothing on OSHA’s Top 10

Top 10 lists have been a favorite of late-night comedians for years, but no one did them better than David Letterman. If you enter “David Letterman Top 10 lists,” into Google, you’ll find dozens of websites, news articles and YouTube videos detailing years of Letterman’s top 10s. His lists always seemed to keep audiences in stitches.

It might seem counter-intuitive then, that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a Top 10 list of its own. But unlike Letterman’s, OSHA’s list is not intended to make us laugh. Their list is intended to highlight the issues for which OSHA most frequently cited employers in the past year. It therefore serves as a sobering reminder that workplace safety is a constant concern.

OSHA’s list could be considerably shorter – and perhaps even non-existent – if employers and facility managers better understood how to deal with workplace safety, or if they stopped figuratively closing their eyes and hoping nothing bad will happen. But bad things do happen, and every company and facility manager has a responsibility – in fact an obligation – to do everything possible to prevent workplace accidents. The stakes can be quite high: Loss of life, loss of limbs or bodily functions, huge liability claims and the loss of your own job are very real possibilities.

So, let’s take a quick look at OSHA’s top ten list for 2015, but with a specific eye toward the areas in which Mitchell & Lindsey specializes. Here is the list:

1. Fall Protection
2. Hazard Communication
3. Scaffolding
4. Respiratory Protection
5. Lockout/Tagout
6. Powered Industrial Trucks
7. Ladders
8. Electrical, Wiring Methods
9. Machine Guarding
10. Electrical, General Requirements

At Mitchell & Lindsey, we specialize in electrical safety in the workplace – primarily the prevention of arc flash and other electrical hazards, so while all 10 categories are important, we’ll focus on items 5, 8, and 10 on the list:

#5, Lockout/Tagout: Lockout/Tagout relates to protecting machines and equipment from unexpected energization or start up, or the release of stored energy – any of which could harm employees – during servicing and maintenance. A review of OSHA’s news releases for 2015 shows that failure to lockout/tagout equipment and machinery resulted in loss of life, loss of limbs, and large fines against employers.

#8, Electrical, Wiring Methods: This category relates to employers’ failure to implement adequate electrical wiring and other electrical safeguards. Many of these violations are due to a lack of understanding the associated danger of poor or noncompliant installations and the classification of equipment. These types of electrical violations are normally easily identified during an audit and therefore should become a priority when considering safety audit protocols within your program.

#10, Electrical: The last item in the Top 10 involves employers who have failed to adequately provide for or install electrical wiring and other equipment in a manner that safeguards people who may come into contact with the equipment. This includes everything from properly installing electrical equipment to ensuring that it is properly labeled.

The fact that these categories rank so highly is a clear indication that many employers still don’t understand – or are too casual about – the need to implement common sense safety processes and procedures. In many cases, we find that facility managers are just too busy to address these issues.

That’s where we can help: Mitchell & Lindsey specializes in electrical safety, testing, engineering and drawings, including facility inspections to ensure that government standards for safety are met. We work nationwide, with hospitals, manufacturing facilities and other industrial facilities. Many of the solutions we offer aren’t particularly expensive, but even the most expensive solutions are a great investment compared to the potential loss of a life or limb and the financial liability of ignoring or circumventing these requirements.

Mitchell and Lindsey can help ensure that your processes, procedures and equipment comply with all applicable regulations and best practices. We specialize in the development and implementation of electrical safety programs. Give us a call at (502) 682-8491 to learn more about our services.

See our post about last year’s OSHA Top 10…

Are you a believer? It’s not too late!

No, this is not a sermon. Well, perhaps it is….

It’s amazing to me that many facility managers and maintenance supervisors still think they don’t need to worry about workplace safety. You might be one of those who says, “Arc flash won’t happen to me,” or “There’s little chance of something happening in our facility.”

Tell that to the electrical technician at Republic Steel in Blasdell, New York who suffered third degree burns on her hand and first degree burns on her face while working on a fan motor in October 2014. It seems her employer failed to ensure that she use personal protective equipment (PPE) appropriate to the task. In this case, the employee was wearing leather gloves and safety glasses, but they did little to protect her from the arc flash that resulted when an ungrounded electrical conductor touched a grounded surface.

The result? In addition to the employee’s serious injuries, the employer is being fined nearly $150,000 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). That’s $70,000 for failure to wear hand protection, plus $70,000 for failure to wear face protection, plus another $7,000 for failure to protect employees against contact with energized electrical equipment. This was Republic’s second similar citation for incidents occurring in 2014, the first of which occurred at its Lorain, Ohio facility.

Of course, it’s terribly unfortunate that many employers seem to think they are immune from these risks, and it often takes an incident like this one to make them realize they are. At least no one died in this case. But, I am absolutely amazed that this company had been cited for similar violations (and fined in excess of $2.4 million for a wide variety of workplace safety violations) and had not taken corrective action to prevent such an incident.

OSHA is very clear about the fact that every employer has a legal, moral and ethical responsibility to ensure that their employees are properly trained in the use of, equipped with, and actually uses, personal protective equipment to protect from arc flash and other hazards. In this case, that equipment should have included a face shield and rubber insulating gloves. Pretty simple, but some people just don’t seem to get it.

Besides the use of proper protective equipment, OSHA recommended – among other things – that Republic Steel conduct an arc flash analysis and follow the practices found in NFPA 70E. The problem is that many employers think such steps are cost-prohibitive. On the contrary, I would argue that a fine of $150,000, plus the expense of treating a seriously injured employee, plus the possible lawsuits that could result, are more cost-prohibitive.

Other employers may simply not know how to deal with these kinds of hazards. They are intimidated at the prospect of dealing with these issues, or they think ignoring safety hazards will somehow make them magically disappear. To be blunt, that’s just stupid.

Instead, we urge facility managers to deal with these issues head on and make the relatively small investment in a comprehensive safety study – including not only arc flash analysis, but an overall workplace safety review.

That’s where Mitchell & Lindsey comes in – we are experts in workplace safety, and we’re here to help. Stop ignoring the risks and deal with them before it’s too late! Call me (Mark Mitchell) 502-682-8491 for a free consultation.

Read the OSHA citation. Read the OSHA news release.

Electrical safety – a concern for ALL employers

This month, we focus on a rather unique OSHA citation that points up the fact that every employer – regardless of the nature of their products or services – is subject to OSHA inspections, citations and fines. It also reinforces the fact that no employer is immune from potential hazards related to electrical safety.

Case in point: The United States Postal Service (USPS), whose Clark Street Distribution Center in Chicago recently was cited by OSHA for a number of workplace safety violations. The USPS is therefore subject to penalties exceeding $63,000. That’s chump change for the U.S. Government, but it’s a lot of money for a small business or manufacturer.

Fortunately, no one had to be hurt or killed before OSHA inspectors visited the distribution center, as they had received a complaint of unsafe working conditions. During their visit, the inspectors found that USPS workers were exposed to electrical hazards, but these weren’t your typical “high-profile” hazards like arc flash or failure to lockout or tagout highly dangerous machinery.

In fact, most of us would consider these violations rather mundane. For example, OSHA personnel found that something as ordinary as an industrial fan was not grounded properly, and electrical power taps were not used in accordance with manufacturer’s specifications. In addition, other “serious” violations involved the use of unapproved electrical equipment, improperly spliced power cords, and not providing strain relief for all electrical cords.

Here’s the bottom line: This is an example of highly dangerous – but rather innocuous – electrical safety violations in a U.S. Government facility. These hazards may have been in place for years without notice and without incident. But it would take only one incident to severely injure, maim or kill an employee.

We all know it’s the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace. We all know it’s the employer’s responsibility to provide training. We all know it’s the employer’s responsibility to enforce policies and procedures aimed at protecting employees from hazardous situations. And we all know it can happen to us. It’s all about responsibility.

The risk of financial penalty is one reason to protect your facility from such citations. But the real, overriding, most compelling reason to do so is the well-being of your employees. Do you really want to be responsible for a fatal accident? That’s why you need to let Mitchell & Lindsey conduct a safety audit of your facility. Call us today at (502) 682-8491 for a free consultation.

OSHA Cites Four Firms for Safety Violations

What do Alabama, Illinois and New York all have in common? All are states where companies have been cited in recent months for workplace safety violations, including the employers’:

  • failure to train employees in safety procedures;
  • failure to require employees to adhere to safety procedures;
  • encouraging employees to ignore safety procedures;
  • failure to properly label electrical equipment;
  • failure to conduct annual safety inspections; and
  • failure to exercise appropriate energy control procedures that would prevent the unexpected discharge of energy, including lockout/tagout of machinery.

The citations were issued by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), after inspections that resulted from deaths, injuries or employee complaints. They serve to remind all employers – and to put them on clear notice – that workplace safety is not something to be ignored or downplayed.

Mitchell & Lindsey specializes in workplace safety, providing inspections, arc flash analysis, safety training and other related services. To schedule a free initial consultation, call Mark Mitchell at (502) 682-8491 or visit our website, www.MitchellandLindsey.com.

The following is a summary of the cited companies, the circumstances of their citations and the amounts of the proposed fines against them:

Attention: The internal data of table “2” is corrupted!

The Importance of Lockout/Tagout

We frequently use our blog to highlight OSHA citations resulting from accidents and injuries related to problems with electrical safety. Many of the incidents we have highlighted in this space could have been completely avoided. Unfortunately, they occurred because employers failed to follow, or failed to require that their employees follow, some fairly simple safety procedures.

In this post, I want to highlight OSHA’s “Standard for The Control of Hazardous Energy” (Lockout/Tagout) (29 CFR 1910.147), which outlines measures for controlling electrical hazards, and I will then – once again – cite specific examples where employers failed to adequately protect their employees.

Free! Download our Arc Flash PPE Poster for 2015!

According to OSHA, failure to control hazardous energy accounts for nearly 10 percent of the serious accidents in many industries. Employers can reduce the likelihood of an incident – and therefore their risk and potential financial liability – by providing training about and requiring the use of, proper lockout/tagout (LOTO) practices and procedures.

The need to lockout/tagout equipment is often overlooked during servicing and maintenance of machines and equipment. To be blunt, it is downright stupid to think that one can safely service an energized machine. Even the simple, 90-second task of manually clearing out an obstruction can result in electrocution, amputation or death if a machine is not properly de-energized for the task.

If you’ve read enough and want Mitchell & Lindsey to help protect you, contact us. Otherwise, keep reading!

So, what does the Standard require of employers? Rather than attempt to highlight its main points here, I’ll direct you to the OSHA Fact Sheet on the issue, since it does a great job of summarizing and simplifying the standard. If you wish, you can read the entire document.

The bottom line is that the burden rests on employers to: a) have policies and procedures in place; b) train their employees and temporary workers in those policies and procedures, and c) ensure that all personnel adhere to those policies and procedures. Employers who fail in any of these are subjecting themselves to potentially large penalties and, ultimately, great legal liability.

Now for some of OSHA’s recent citations:

Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc.
Earlier this month, OSHA proposed fines of more than $1.7 million against Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc., for more than 1,000 worker injuries in the past three years. While not all of the injuries were electrical in nature, Ashley was cited numerous times for failure to implement electrical safety procedures that could have kept machines from starting while being serviced.

For example, one citation reads, “energy isolation devices are not utilized while the machine operators perform servicing tasks including but not limited to cutting head changes and job setup.” Another says, “lockout or tagout devices are not applied to isolate all energy sources while the machine operators perform servicing tasks including but not limited to cutting head changes and job setup.” And another refers to Ashley’s failure to train employees: “…employee(s) do not receive training in the recognition of applicable hazardous energy sources, the type and magnitude of the energy available in the workplace, and the methods and means necessary for energy isolation and control.” Each of these examples points up the need for employers to lead their employees in every area of workplace safety.

As a result of its repeated violations, Ashley Furniture has been added to OSHA’s Serious Violator Enforcement Program. Read the OSHA news release. Read the entire citation.

WKW Erbsloeh North America, Inc.
In January, OSHA – which inspected a facility after a worker fell into a tank filled with acid – proposed fines of $177,000 against WKW Erbsloeh North America Inc. of Pell City, Alabama. During its investigation of the acid incident, OSHA found two electrical violations: failure to ensure that machinery would not start up while workers performed machine maintenance and service, and failure to train workers on how to prevent accidental startup.

WKW was cited previously for similar violations in March 2010, meaning these were both repeat violations. Read the OSHA news release. Read the entire citation.

Employers should heed the warning: If an incident – whether electrical or not – were to happen in your facility, you can rest assured that OSHA will come knocking. And they will find other violations if they exist. Better to prevent the issue altogether by implementing a comprehensive workplace safety plan than to deal with the effects of negligence. Ignorance is no excuse.

Mitchell & Lindsey can help. Give us a call today for a free consultation.