Ensuring workplace safety is no easy task, especially in industrial environments with the potential for many hazards. Depending on the industry, workplaces have risks of slips, falls, dangerous equipment and machinery or toxic chemicals. Even though establishing a safe workplace is a complicated undertaking, providing the right safety equipment is less expensive than coping with injuries in the long run.
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The costs of an unsafe workplace
Providing personal protective equipment may be costly, especially for organizations that have large staffs. The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has strict standards for workplace safety, and violations quickly add up. These are the different types of OSHA violations and the costs for each:
- Serious: OSHA issues serious violations when an employee suffers a severe injury or dies on the job. Typically, these violations occur when the employer reasonably could have known about the risk. OSHA may issue mandatory penalties of up to $7,000 for each serious violation.
- Other than serious: This type of violation stems from hazards that have a direct relationship to workplace safety and health but probably do not have the ability to cause a serious injury or death. Other-than-serious violations come with a $7,000 discretionary fine.
- Willful: Willful violations are when employers know they are in violation of OSHA’s standards. Companies know there are hazards but do nothing to fix the situation. Fines range from $5,000 to $70,000 for each violation. In addition, if a willful violation caused a death, employers may be subject to court-imposed fines or even imprisonment. Criminal convictions may result in a $250,000 fine for an individual or a $500,000 penalty for an organization.
- Repeat: After OSHA cites companies for any of the above violations, failure to fix the issue may result in a repeat violation. In addition, employers may be cited for similar hazards, not just the same problem. These violations cost up to $70,000 per citation.
“Rather than pay for violations, employers should take the steps to enable a safer workplace, including providing PPE.”
Clearly, the costs for noncompliance are steep. The costs of criminal convictions for willful violations have the potential to put companies out of business. Rather than pay for violations, employers should take the steps to enable a safer workplace, including providing PPE.
PPE guards against chemical burns, which carry hefty fines from OSHA. Safety News Alert reported on two companies that received OSHA fines for chemical hazards, totaling $40,500 and $50,785 respectively. The company with the larger fine failed to utilize the appropriate PPE. Chemical burns cause serious injuries that may also require workers compensation. Providing aprons, sleeves, bouffant caps and other PPE reduces the risk of these workplace hazards and other threats.
Selecting PPE to reduce exposure to workplace hazards
PPE minimizes exposure to chemicals, radiation, electricity, machinery and other workplace hazards. PPE includes gloves, safety glasses, face masks, coveralls, hair nets, bouffant covers, shoe covers and sleeves. All PPE should fit well and be comfortable to wear for work, which will encourage its use. Poorly fitted PPE may lead to workplace injuries or illnesses because an employee could be exposed to dangerous conditions.
If PPE is being used, employers need to establish a program to ensure compliance. Simply providing the equipment will not necessarily guarantee employees will use it on their own. A strong PPE program addresses the existing workplace hazards and trains employees on when PPE is necessary, what types they need to use, how to properly don and doff it and the lifespan of each piece of equipment. It is also important to discuss the limitations of PPE so employees are more aware in the workplace.
June is OSHA and the National Safety Council’s (NSC) National Safety Month. The NSC provides free resources on improving workplace safety and enhancing emergency preparedness to help employers build and improve their PPE programs. Safety is a a paramount concern for all employers, especially with the high financial risks of noncompliance. June is a great time to evaluate safety equipment and increase training for employees to create a culture of workplace safety.