Know How: Video


Part I: OSHA Issues in the Workplace



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Hi, my name is Dave Dick. I’m a labor and employment attorney here at Steptoe & Johnson. What you’re about to see is a video clip, one in a series of video clips, that we’re making to try to aid the employer community out there to deal with legal areas you may not be as well aware of as you should be. In this instance, to try to avoid some risk that you might otherwise want to take. As many of you know, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is charged with regulating and enforcing workplace safety health laws, and OSHA recently has been on a bit of an aggressive stance in enforcing those laws. So today, I want to talk to you about some of those things that I see happen in a number of employers workplaces that create risk of fines, citations that simply aren’t necessary if you have a better understanding of what you’re required to do.

So starting with the first one, the first one would be to do a personal protective equipment assessment, what we call PPE, personal protective equipment. PPE is things like hard hats, steel toed safety shoes, eyeglasses, work gloves – things to protect the employees from hazards in the workplace. Each employer is required to do a written hazard assessment. That written document has to be certified by the employee who did it which means signed off, it has to be dated, and it has to show what in the workplace the employer assessed to determine if in fact, there are risks to employees that personal protective equipment would alleviate. Now, you’ll also not only have to identify those particular things that would prevent harm or injury to an employee, you have to train employees in the use of that equipment; you have to show them how to care for it and clean it; you have to show them how to inspect it; and you must provide them with information that allows them to understand the useful life of that equipment. As an example, if you have hearing protection, and you require employees to wear earplugs, those earplugs are only good for so many uses, and there are ways in which you would clean them; there are ways to properly insert them, and all of that training must be given and you should document that so you can prove that you did it. But critically, that hazard assessment, that written document that must exist – if you don’t have it, you’re gonna get cited for it, and you’re not gonna have a defense.

The second topic I would like to cover with you is the use of fire extinguishers. Most of us take advantage of the fact that we simply have fire extinguishers in our workplace. But there is way more to it in the sense of what you’re obligations are in the use of fire extinguishers and how you train employees in the use of those. If you’re an employer and you have a written evacuation plan, where an alarm sounds and the employees are simply required if there is a fire or an emergency in the building to leave the building, then you’re not required to have fire extinguishers – you’re not required to do training in the use of fire extinguishers. But most employers don’t have that, and as a consequence, what you have probably because of fire codes or insurance reasons, are fire extinguishers in your workplace, but the detail you’re required to take to ensure that those fire extinguishers are available and ready for use and the employees know how to use them, is significant. For example, you have to have fire extinguishers located every 50 – 75 feet within employees for them to access them. They must be mounted at a certain height, they can’t be placed on the floor or somewhat hidden or available to be scattered anywhere and everywhere. They have to be the right type of extinguisher for the type of fire to be fought. If you have electrical or flammable liquids – those require a Class B type of extinguisher. If you’re only fighting a water/paper fire, that’s a Class A extinguisher. You have to select the right extinguisher, and there are others of course, for things like metal fires – so you have to select the right extinguisher, you have to locate it properly, and you have to train employees. An initial orientation or when they’re hired – you have to train them annually thereafter if you in fact you require them to use a fire extinguisher to fight an initial or insipient stage fire. However, you don’t have to do that. You may tell employees that you are not to use an extinguisher. I’ve seen employers cited for this time and time again when they can’t prove they either did the training or they’ve told employees you are not to touch an extinguisher. You can also, as an employer select certain individuals, let’s say supervisors, to use fire extinguishers only, but it has be clear, and again preferably in writing, if that is the limit you want employees to engage in.