Safety Documentation - What Needs to Be in Writing?

In safety, one of the most frustrating experiences is to receive a citation for a paperwork violation. Even the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognizes “in some situations, violations of certain standards which require the employer to have a written program to address a hazard, or to make a written certification (e.g., hazard communication, personal protective equipment, permit-required confined spaces, and others), are perceived to be ‘paperwork deficiencies’ rather than ‘critically important implementation problems.’” Let’s review OSHA’s compliance directive on paperwork citations (CPL 2.111 Citation Policy for Paperwork and Written Program Requirement Violations) and analyze the need for records that this directive doesn’t address. A minor technical violation with no adverse effect on an employee’s safety and health undermines OSHA’s mission. Employers can avoid citations by proving performance without using documentation. This philosophy specifically addresses the following paperwork requirements: 1903 Posting of the OSHA Notice, 1904 “Recordkeeping,” and written program requirements in standards, such as 1926.59 “Hazard Communication” or 1926.103 “Respiratory Protection.” For years, failure to post the OSHA Notice was an automatic citation. Applying the new philosophy, OSHA will provide a copy of the Notice and notify electrical contractors of their obligation to post it. A warning of the consequences will also be given. However, a citation may be given if general site conditions show an unsafe job site, interviews with employees reveal that they are unaware of their rights, or if OSHA made a previous citation or advisement of the posting requirement. Injury and illness recordkeeping citations of old were often given for such trivial deficiencies as failure to write the company name on secondary pages of multiple-page logs. Today, OSHA will not cite for failure to keep the records if employee interviews determine no injuries or illnesses occurred. A citation will be issued if there has been a need to record. This applies to keeping the log or to the failure to report an individual injury or illness. Failure to record a missed detail on the log will be evaluated to determine if the missing entry makes the log too confusing. (For example, if they fail to identify a hand injury was a laceration or a musculoskeletal disorder, it would impair their ability to classify the hand injury.) If so, a citation will be issued for the missing information. For written program requirements, each contractor must evaluate hazards and review applicable OSHA standards. Both General Industry (1910) and Construction Standards (1926) should be included. Certain operations, such as activities performed under maintenance contracts, allow OSHA to apply the 1910 rules to a contractor. First, the hazard addressed by the standard must be present. Next, the employer must have failed to implement the protective measures, thus exposing employees to harm. If protective measures are in place and the lack of a written plan will not result in harm to the employee, an other-than-serious citation will be issued. Usually, no penalty will be assessed. OSHA will provide literature to assist it in developing a written plan. Plans that lack a specific element are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. A citation may be given for a single missing element. When a standard requires certification of a particular activity, the employer must be able to demonstrate the action occurred. For example, standard 1926.503 requires employers to certify training. If employee interviews and actions prove adequate training was performed, no citation will be issued. Local OSHA offices offer implied written requirements and interpretations, which call for additional documentation. The Occupational Noise Exposure standard (1926.52) requires a continuing, effective hearing conservation program. The 1910 standard states the program must be in writing. A local OSHA office told an electrical contractor it could not determine a program’s effectiveness if it was not in writing. Similarly, the “1926.20 General Safety and Health Provisions” standard identifies Accident Prevention Responsibilities, which includes maintaining programs that may be needed. I recommend electrical contractors develop a basic written program. Other documents specifically required or implied fall into training and equipment records. The “Cranes and Derricks” standard (1926.550) requires maintenance of inspection records. For protection against citations, inspection records of other equipment, which may result in accidents when improperly maintained, should be kept. All training should be documented in case employee interviews fail to demonstrate that the action occurred. O’CONNOR is with Intec, a producer of software for contractors, including the “NECA Safety Expert System.” Based in Alexandria, Va., he can be reached at (703) 628-4326.

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