Keeping A-OK with OSHA

Section 5 (a) (1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), states that each employer is responsible for providing “a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” Unfortunately there is no neat checklist of OSHA-stipulated regulations for catalog distribution centers.

“When you look at the OSHA standards,” explains Rick Kaletsky, a Bethany, CT-based workplace safety consultant and former OSHA inspector, “there is not just one section for warehouses. There are sections on exits, forklifts, and chemicals, but nobody can pick up a workbook [of OSHA rules] and go to ‘w’ for ‘warehouse.’”

That lack of specificity, of course, wouldn’t prevent an OSHA inspector from finding violations during a random visit to a warehouse. And according to the OSHA Website, an inspector — or compliance officer, in OSHA parlance — could stop by unannounced at any time.

OSHA violations fall into four categories. The most minor, known as on-the-spot corrections, can be corrected during the inspector’s visit (a light bulb needs changing, for instance) and therefore doesn’t incur a fine. An “other-than-serious” violation is one that “has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm,” such as pallets or skids lying out on the warehouse floor where someone could trip. This category of violation comes with a fine of up to $7,000.

A “serious” violation is a safety hazard in which “there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard,” such as a blocked fire exit. A fine of up to $7,000 is also assessed for this type of violation.

A “willful” violation indicates a violation that “the employer intentionally and knowingly commits, or a violation that the employer commits with plain indifference to the law,” such as deliberately misleading employees as to the toxic nature of the chemicals they are working with. These violations come with a penalty of up to $70,000.

To avoid incurring violations should an OSHA inspector visit, Kaletsky recommends conducting annual, if not quarterly or monthly, safety audits. Though not legally required, safety self-exams can head off injuries waiting to happen. These inspections should be conducted by an employee who is familiar with the OSHA standards as well as with the area he is examining. What’s more, the worker charged with conducting the inspection must be “be ready to crawl and get dirty,” says Kaltesky, whose book OSHA Inspections: Preparation and Response, discusses such inspections in detail.

Keep your eyes peeled

What sort of things should you look for when conducting a safety examination? The state of your warehouse equipment, for one. And that includes not just forklifts and sorters, but also the compressors, which pump air to the other equipment. Compressors, Kaletsky says, often have power transmission drives that need to have a safeguard in place over them so that the machinery doesn’t get turned on accidentally and injure an unsuspecting worker.

You should also check the condition and location of fire extinguishers, which must be conspicuously located so that workers do not have to search to find them. Kaletsky recommends testing the fire extinguishers at least annually. The gauge on the extinguisher should indicate that it has been properly charged; you must also be sure workers have been trained how to use them.

Exits should always be unlocked, and companies need to label any door that looks like an exit but actually leads to another room or another area of the building, such as an enclosed corridor, that a person would not want to be in should a fire break out. Any such misleading doors or entries should be labeled “Not an Exit.”

All electrical cords should be checked to make sure the wire hasn’t been worn down to the copper coating. “It is extremely important to make sure that insulation is not stripped, split, gouged,” says Kaletsky. The electrical plugs of portable tools need to be grounded with a third prong (unless they are double-insulated and labeled as such).

These are just a few of the myriad things to look for. The OSHA Website can provide you with more information, including links to compliance assistance specialists and resources.

Team effort

Tipton, PA-based manufacturer/marketer New Pig Corp. specializes in industrial clean-up supplies, so it’s no surprise that the company is aggressive in maintaining a safe workplace. The cataloger, which has 330 employees, last year recorded only seven on-the-job injuries, two of which occurred in the call center or the warehouse, says environmental and safety director Chris Iuzzolino.

Iuzzolino inspects each of the four buildings on New Pig’s campus at least once a quarter. These “walk-throughs” are cursory; Iuzzolino is primarily looking for obvious OSHA infractions such as blocked exits, as well as following up on employee reports of on-the-job hazards.

For more in-depth inspection, New Pig relies on its 12-person workplace safety team to conduct monthly inspections. The team consists of representatives from each division within New Pig, including the distribution center, the manufacturing department, the call center/sales group, and the catalog marketing/administration division. Six of the 12 are managers while the other six are nonmanagerial employees such as reps.

The safety team divides into groups of three, with each group inspecting one of the four buildings. Using a 30-point checklist, the team members make employees aware of violations such as electrical cords protruding from workstations and exit sign lights that are out. They also ensure that broken machinery has been locked to prevent it from getting switched on and tagged to alert other employees not use it.

Ongoing violations of company safety policy that are not cleaned up after a warning has been issued are reported to a safety oversight committee composed equally of New Pig managers/executives and nonmangerial employees. The committee has the authority to make changes to company policy and budget power to make safety improvements that will cost money.

“It’s a combination of efforts,” Iuzzolino says of the support his own inspections receive from the safety team and the safety oversight committee. “It’s staying on top of things, and if something becomes an issue, acting on it immediately.”

Food for thought

Marshfield, WI-based food gifts cataloger Figi’s uses an awards program to encourage its employees to maintain a safe work environment, says facilities manager Rod Weiss. “Our biggest challenge is keeping people thinking about safety, so that they don’t become complacent and take shortcuts,” says Weiss. “That’s how you get hurt.”

Several years ago Figi’s began holding “safety lunches” for workers every 60 days. The quality of the meal depends on how many safety infractions that were recorded by that particular group of employees. Staff from each of the company’s 12 facilities, which include multiple call centers, distribution centers, and manufacturing plants, participate in the program.

For every safety infraction — such as a worker cutting himself and finding the first-aid kit missing the proper bandages, or an employee an using improper procedure to clean up a toxic chemical spill — the employee group in violation gets up to a dollar per meal taken away from their lunch, says Weiss. Several violations can mean the difference between a lunch of hot dogs and a meal of grilled chicken breast. Following the lunch, Weiss gives a five-minute talk addressing at least one of the employee group’s most recent safety violations.

Get workers off to a safe start

Employees can’t follow proper safety procedures if they don’t know what they are. Wittenburg, WI-based food marketer Nueske’s Hillcrest Farm handles that responsibility by providing new employees with a detailed PowerPoint presentation.

Workers are instructed to report to their supervisor any safety shortcomings on the company’s part, such as equipment that needs to be replaced, says direct response operations manager Art Dupree. They also receive information on safety hazards that they can prevent themselves, such as laying unused pallets flat for storage instead of leaning them upright against the wall.

Other topics touched on include the necessity of keeping walkways clear so that all employees could evacuate in a timely manner in the event of a fire, and the proper way to operate machinery such as manual pallet jacks, which are used to hoist the pallets onto trucks or the conveyor belt. Workers also learn how to lift heavy objects without injury.

What’s more, Nueske’s follows up on the safety instructions with employees each year. Four managers trained in safety protocol give the workers a refresher course and field questions.

Dupree says that in the company’s 71-year history there have been no injuries more serious than minor bumps and bruises requiring no medical attention. Still, he notes, “The fact that there haven’t been any serious injuries doesn’t mean that we’re not prepared for them to come at any time.”

Staying in Touch with Safety in the Call Center

The distribution center, with its potentially dangerous machinery and heavy boxes, seems like the most likely place for injuries to occur. But the call center, with the repetitive motions it requires of reps, can be just as much of a breeding ground for injuries.

“The cost of even a single injury claim can far exceed the price of ergonomic enhancements for an entire call center, so an early proactive stance to prevent work-related injuries can save substantial dollars,” says Penny Reynolds, senior partner of Lebanon, TN-based consultancy The Call Center School and author of Business School Essentials for Call Center Leaders.

Reynolds suggests the following equipment to ensure an ergonomically correct call center workstation:

  • an adjustable chair, a keyboard, a computer screen monitor, and headsets
  • wrist- and footrests
  • antiglare screens, which fit directly over computer screens, to prevent eyestrain
  • document holders or stands

Reynolds also recommends that companies choose the lighting with care. A call center “requires two separate, but complementary lighting systems, including uniform ambient lighting for video display terminals and task lighting for paperwork at the desktop.”

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