The Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) is the federal agency responsible for overseeing workplace safety. On the federal level, OSHA conducted 24,333 inspections in 2021. Of these 24,333 inspections, 10,584 (about 43 percent) were programmed inspections that focused OSHA’s enforcement resources towards industries and operations where known hazards exist.
If a violation is discovered during the course of an inspection, a citation may be issued. Citations serve as warnings, signaling the employer to take action to resolve the violation. When an employer receives an OSHA Notice, they must either post it, or a copy of it, at or near the place where each violation occurred as to make employees aware of the hazards to which they may be exposed. The OSHA Notice must remain posted for 3 working days or until the hazard is abated, whichever is longer. (Saturdays, Sundays and Federal holidays are not counted as working days).
Enforcement of machine guarding regulations is part of OSHA’s mission. OSHA requires that “any machine part, function, or process that may cause injury” be addressed as to eliminate or reduce risk based on hazardous exposures. In addition to the primary hazardous point-of-operation exposure, different functions, componentry, and processes sometimes need to be addressed on a single machine, or within a single manufacturing process, as well. OSHA may also require secondary safeguarding devices, such as lighted beacons, audible alarms, and perimeter-style barrier guarding in some instances.
Despite regulations outlined in OSHA 1910.212, and the serious dangers posed by industrial equipment, machine guarding violations remain one of the top ten most common OSHA citations. Machine guarding violations also holds the dubious distinction of making the list of OSHA’s largest monetary penalties.
In this blog, we will discuss what a citation is, and how Rockford Systems can assist you in the event you are issued one.
WHAT IS AN OSHA CITATION?
An OSHA citation is similar to a complaint filed in court. That means it contains allegations of a violation, not conclusive findings. And while an OSHA citation may certainly look like a final ruling, sometimes including an invoice and a notice of debt collection, it is not a final legal document. The citation only becomes final after the employer:
- Agrees with the citation or some modification thereof through a settlement.
- Fails to contest the citation within fifteen working days.
- Contests the citation, but loses during the administrative litigation process.
By law, OSHA must conduct an investigation before issuing a citation, most likely after an OSHA Compliance Safety and Health Officer conducts an on-site inspection. An investigation file will likely exist that contains evidence that supports OSHA’s citation. Unless the employer contests the citation and proceeds to the administrative litigation process, it’s possible that they are unaware as to exactly what is in an investigation file.
An OSHA citation should never be ignored. If an employer is not sure if they want to contest the citation, they can schedule an informal conference with an OSHA area director, a practice that OSHA encourages. An extension of any amount of time beyond the fifteen working days will not be granted unless the employer submits a Petition for Modification of Abatement showing the steps it has taken to achieve compliance. If the employer fails to remedy the situation by the abatement date, the citation becomes final and its fines must be paid. Simply paying the fine, however, does not get the employer off the hook. An employer still must correct the violation or could be cited for either a repeat, or possibly even willful violation in the future. OSHA also has the right to shut down the worksite to protect employees.
Let’s now explore three words that are extremely important to an OSHA violation: repeat, willful and serious.
- Repeat violations are where OSHA determines that there have been similar violations within the last three years.
- Willful violations are committed voluntarily or with indifference or disregard to the law.
- Serious violations refer to situations where an employer knows that there is a hazard present that could result in either injury or death. OSHA uses another term, “other-than-serious” violations, for situations that likely will not result in injury or death but still may compromise health.
Maximum penalty for a serious violation is currently $14,502 per violation, while willful or repeated violations can result in penalties up to $145,027 per violation. OSHA does not fine employees for workplace and jobsite safety violations, only employers whos’ duty it is to provide a safe working environment compliant with OSHA regulation. Any possible reduction in penalty is at the discretion of the OSHA Compliance Officer, and factors such as size of the company, safety history, and good faith of the employer can all weigh in as to penalties assessed.
CONTESTING A CITATION
If an employer agrees to the citation, they must pay the fine within fifteen days, along with correcting the violation by the abatement date indicated on the notice.
An employer has the right to contest part or all of any notice that they receive. If only part of the notice is contested — such as the abatement date, penalty amount, or certain violations listed in the citation — than the employer still must correct the corresponding violations and pay the fines for the other parts of a notice that they are not contesting.
In contesting a citation, it is highly recommended that you enlist an experienced, knowledgeable safety professional to join you at both the informal and formal administrative hearings. An outside expert can also help guide an employer’s on-site investigation, and conduct a machine safeguarding audit with specific recommendations as to corrective actions and equipment.
During an OSHA hearing the employer should be prepared to share:
- A detailed, written safety policy that addresses common or uncommon machinery hazards an employee may encounter.
- Accurate records of all workplace accidents, injuries, illnesses, and deaths.
- Classroom and field training schedules that teach employees proper safety procedures for both everyday work and in case of an emergency.
- Administrative records demonstrating enforcement of company safety rules.
- Up to date machine safeguarding audit records and documented corrective actions taken, if any, since the citation was issued.
OSHA fines can be costly, and the process of contesting a machine guarding citation can be lengthy. The best way to avoid having to spend both time and money on an OSHA citation is to prevent one in the first place. Rockford Systems offers several services that will keep your employees safe and your business, including:
- Safeguarding Policy Development: After conducting a baseline compliance evaluation and report, Rockford Systems will create the written program with a strategy for implementing any shortcomings in machine safeguarding. Employee training, ongoing safeguarding improvements, and an annual audit program round out the policy.
- Machine Risk Assessment: Leveraging an experienced team of safeguarding specialists, all of whom have dedicated OSHA regulation and ANSI/NFPA 79 standards expertise, a Risk Assessment may provide an organization with a thorough understanding of its machine hazards. It is a proven, methodical tool to identify and document the hazards, as well as quantify and prioritize risk reduction efforts according to an associated risk score. A risk assessment will help you to identify hazards, but may not necessarily lead you to a solution in eliminating or reducing hazard in all cases.
- Machine Safeguarding Assessment: This style of assessment is designed for companies who need safeguarding solutions and associated costs. It uses an organization’s machine list, machine task and hazard data gathered during the assessment, electrical schematics and our proprietary RSXpress™ mobile inspection tool that allows our safety professionals to perform a full assessment in determining compliance with OSHA regulation and ANSI/NFPA 79 standards.
- A Machine Safeguarding Assessment is delivered with a complete compliance report and machine safeguarding project proposal.
Finally, Rockford Systems offers an Emergency Response service that can be scheduled for the same or next business day following an unplanned downtime incident or employee accident, depending upon the severity of the situation. Upon completion of the Emergency Response Assessment, Rockford Systems provides customers with a quick-turn, high-quality, comprehensive safeguarding report and proposal that outlines findings, suggesting ways to reduce risk and become compliant. Professional recommendations are provided in the areas of guards, devices, awareness barriers/devices, safeguarding methods and safe work practices, all referencing applicable OSHA regulations and ANSI/NFPA standards. In some cases, OSHA officials may even grant companies time extensions if it has demonstrated “Good Faith” efforts, such as hiring an outside expert to conduct an emergency response assessment.