For those who doubt: Multiple cases point up the frequency of electrical hazards

When safety violations and citations are looked at separately, it’s easy to assume that they don’t happen very often. But that’s not necessarily the case.

In fact, a handful of citations announced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) during a three-day period in May indicates that safety violations happen quite often, and it’s not always the scofflaws who are cited. The point is that every company – even those that think they are doing a good job in regard to workplace safety – needs to pay close attention to details.

Case in point: Suburban Propane Partners, Ft. Worth, Texas: Suburban Propane is of the nation’s leading marketers of propane gas, fuel oil, and related products and services. One would think that a company whose primary business is dealing with a highly flammable material would know that allowing electrical hazards in a propane-filled environment is a bad idea. Even so, OSHA cited Suburban Propane for using temporary electrical cords as permanent electrical wiring and for several other electrical wiring violations. Proposed fines: $114,000. OSHA News Release: http://1.usa.gov/1Hv4tBN

Case in point: Allied Metals, LLC, Miami, Florida: Allied Metals was cited for 17 serious safety violations, including exposing workers to hazards such as electrocution, and to amputation hazards from cutting machinery that lacked guards. Other violations included exposing workers to electric shock from improperly spliced power cords. Proposed fines: $57,600. OSHA News Release: http://1.usa.gov/1KYUHqm

Case in point: Sifco Industries Inc., Cleveland, Ohio: Sifco, which makes products for the aerospace and energy industries, was cited for failing to conduct annual inspections and testing its procedures to keep machines from starting unintentionally, failing to install safety guards on presses, and failing to develop specific procedures to prevent machines from starting unintentionally during service and maintenance. This latter violation included failure to attach locking devices when workers change mechanical parts. Proposed fines: $118,400. OSHA News Release: http://1.usa.gov/1GAd9b7

Case in point: Recycling Revolution, LLC, Unadilla, Georgia: Recycling Revolution is a solid waste collection and processing company. They were cited by OSHA for 14 repeated and 12 serious violations, including not establishing procedures to protect workers from accidental machine startup while performing maintenance and services. Proposed fines: $78,078. OSHA News Release: http://1.usa.gov/1Tdm7yw

Case in point: Alfa Laval, Inc., Broken Arrow, Oklahoma: A global provider of heat transfer, centrifugal separation and fluid handling products, Alfa Laval was cited in part because it had no procedure to prevent machines from starting during maintenance or service. Alfa Laval was severely penalized, because an OSHA inspection found dozens of serious workplace safety violations – five of which were identified in previous inspections. Proposed fines: $477,900. OSHA News Release: http://1.usa.gov/1B8xIsM

In each of these cases, the employers were cited not because there was an accident, but because of their failure to take proactive steps to prevent an accident. It’s interesting to note that these citations were among nearly 30 announced by OSHA between May 18 and June 8, 2015. Several others included violations related to electrical safety, but every one reflects some degree of failure on the part of an employer. It’s also interesting to note that the companies cited were both large and small, well-known and not well known, and they are located all over the country. While OSHA reports that some of these employers are repeat violators, it’s probably safe to say that most of them did not willingly – or in some cases knowingly – violate safety procedures.

Even in the most innocent of cases, however, OSHA is very clear, so there should be no mistake: The employer is – without any shadow of a doubt – responsible for ensuring that workplace safety standards and procedures are in place. Employers have been cited even in cases where employees willfully ignored safety procedures, because of their failure to enforce those procedures.

As a CEO, facility manager or plant supervisor, you can stick your head in the sand in an attempt to avoid these issues, or you can deal with the issue proactively. Either way, you’re going to have to deal with it. I would argue that it’s better to do so on your own terms rather than OSHA’s.

Do you have questions about workplace safety? We’re experts. Call us at (502) 682-8491.

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