OSHA Paperwork Compliance

By Joe O'Connor | Apr 15, 2006
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In previous years, the horror stories of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) paperwork violations were overwhelming. For example, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) citations to contractors for simple items such as rebar and dishwashing liquid went missing.

OSHA recognized the futility of this and released a revised paperwork compliance directive on Nov. 11, 1995. Although the directive was a positive step, it did not alleviate the burden on employers. Numerous recordkeeping and written program standards remain in effect. In addition, paperwork is often needed to prove compliance even when it is not called for by a standard. A better understanding is needed of paperwork standards, the directive and hidden paperwork requirements.

There are two major categories of OSHA paperwork compliance: injury and illness recordkeeping standard and written programs. The written program is the heart of a number of paperwork standards. It also directs the maintenance of many other documents, such as MSDS, which are a major paperwork burden and a part of the Hazard Communication Program. There are other incidental paperwork requirements in various standards, but they are few in comparison to those in the categories above. They include posting the OSHA notice and maintaining inspection records for cranes, chains used in rigging, etc.

Injury and illness recordkeeping

The most significant set of records maintained by an employer are work-related fatalities, injuries and illnesses (1904 Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness). These records identify hazardous industries, employers with poor safety performance, and injury and illness trends. OSHA uses the records to direct its safety intervention strategies (e.g., compliance assistance, inspection priorities, etc.).

All electrical contractors with more than 10 employees on the payroll (at any point during the year) must maintain these records. The Log of Work-related Injuries and Illnesses (Form 300) is used to classify the injuries and illnesses and their severity. When an incident occurs, the details are noted on the log. At the end of the year, a summary showing the totals for the year in each category must be posted in a visible location so employees are aware of the company’s record. The posting period is Feb. 1 through April 30.

Work-related injuries and illnesses that must be recorded are those that result in death, loss of consciousness, days away from work, restricted work activity or job transfer, or medical treatment beyond first aid. Additionally, cases involving a cut from a sharp object that is contaminated with another person’s blood or other potentially infectious material, medical removal as covered by another standard, tuberculosis, or changes in the employee’s hearing ability need to be recorded.

To figure out if an injury or illness is work related, where the injury or illness occurred and whether or not the hazard existed in the workplace to cause it must be determined. If an event or exposure occurred in the work environment and caused or contributed to an employee injury or illness, it is work-related. It is also work-related if the event or exposure significantly aggravated a preexisting condition. The standard should be consulted for special considerations for what is considered the work environment. There are also other special requirements regarding privacy, multiple establishments and fatality reporting. A fatality must be reported to OSHA within eight hours.

Written programs

In developing standards to address a given hazard, OSHA often adds a requirement for employees to document compliance. The concept is for employers to certify action taken. The basic design of a written program is the purpose, the hazard analysis, a description of the controls implemented and an ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of the program. Employee involvement in the program has also become a key element.

The purpose is simple. Each program should begin with why the employer developed the program. The hazard analysis is critical. Depending on the hazard, it includes a record of inspections, monitoring or other tests to determine the level of exposure. This is followed by the controls needed. Controls may be engineering, administrative or the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The engineering controls include ventilation, equipment used to modify the environment, chemical substitution, etc. Administrative controls are the operating practices and procedures, training, and emergency response or first aid. If needed, PPE use must be addressed in the program. PPE alone may require a written program. The ongoing evaluation component usually takes the form of an annual program review.

Programs that all electrical contractors must develop include an Accident Prevention Program (1926.20(b)), Emergency Action Plan (1926.35) and Hazard Communication Program (1926.59.) The Emergency Action Plan requires an analysis of possible emergencies that may occur. It must also describe the controls, such as the method for notification of an emergency, escape procedures and training. The Hazard Communication Program requires an inspection of the workplace for hazardous chemicals, labeling of chemicals, MSDS to identify the chemical’s hazards and to provide procedures for controlling them, and training on handling. All of this must be described in the program.

Other written programs that electrical contractors may be required to develop are based on the type of operation and the presence of a given hazard.

For example, a respiratory protection program (1926.103) is needed if there are airborne hazards. The program must contain a description of the analysis performed, medical test records that ensure employees are capable of wearing the respirators, fit-test records, procedures for use and maintenance of respirators, etc.

Another common program is the hearing conservation program (1926.52.) It is needed in writing if maintenance work is performed and noise exists above 85 decibels. Hearing protection must be worn at 90 decibels.

It should be noted that the need for a written hearing conservation program was qualified with the operation being performed as well as the hazard. The construction regulation addressing noise calls for a program, but doesn’t state that it needs to be written. A similar standard (1910.95) in the general industry regulations requires the program to be in writing. In either case, the protections must be in place. If the job is performed by a general industry employer or by a contractor as a maintenance operation, the program must be written.

Similar written program standard comparisons exist for Permit-Required Confined Spaces (1910.146), Personal Protective Equipment (1910.132), Controlling Hazardous Energy—Lockout/Tagout (1910.147) and Bloodborne Pathogens (1910.1030). It would be wise for electrical contractors to put practices into a written program for regulations that have a comparable general industry requirement.

Each should be reviewed to determine the analysis and controls that should be described in the written program. The same applies to practices for which a census standard may have a written program or documentation requirement. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace contains documentation requirements. Documentation for OSHA programs or other standards helps to demonstrate compliance.

OSHA paperwork compliance directive

The Paperwork Compliance Directive of 1995 describes OSHA’s intent for paperwork and employer compliance. The premise is whether or not the violation is merely “paperwork deficiencies” or represents practices that will have “a significant adverse impact on employee safety and health.” The OSHA notice provides the best overview of this concept. All employers are supposed to post the notice at each job site. No citations are issued when employers fail to do so unless there is a repeat violation or a disregard for its purpose (e.g., making employees aware of their rights).

Citations for the OSHA injury and illness record deficiencies are based on their relevance. If no log is maintained or posted and there are no fatalities, injuries or illnesses, no citations are issued. If any did occur, a citation will be issued. Deficiencies in the details of log entries will only be cited if they “materially impair the understandability of the nature of hazards, injuries and illnesses in the workplace.”

With respect to written programs, the citations address the evaluation, existence of the hazard and the relationship between the existence of the written word and the protective measure in the workplace. If a standard calls for an evaluation and no hazard exists, no citation is issued.

When the written program is missing or deficient, but the employer has complied completely with the standard (e.g., evaluation, protective measures, training, etc.), no citation will be is issued. If the program is deficient and a protective measure is not in place, a serious violation will be issued. If the program is deficient and the protective measure is in place, an other-than-serious violation may be issued. It should not be associated with a penalty.

However, two factors must be considered. The guidelines offered by the directive require the “...informed professional judgment on the part of Compliance Safety and Health Officers...”. The decision to cite or not rests with the individual. It is also often easier to implement practices as well as to demonstrate they are in place when supported by documentation.

OSHA’s desire to focus on practice rather than paper is a positive. Unfortunately, paper is part of the communication needed. Compliance safety health officers have been unable to prove an employee was trained through questioning. In the absence of a training record, the employer cannot prove his effort to comply. The same is true of inspection records and other actions taken.

Regardless of the directive or a paper requirement in a standard, there seems to be a need for more documentation. Electrical contractors should take care in documenting compliance. The National Electrical Contractors Association’s (NECA) Safety Expert System will simplify recordkeeping and compliance with written program standards. It contains databases for tracking required records and contains the written programs needed. For more information visit the NECA Store on the Web site or call 301.657.3110. EC

O’CONNOR is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or [email protected].



About The Author

Joe O'Connor is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or [email protected].





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