Safety Gear and OSHA Inspections

Shop owners compare perspectives on how to be ready when OSHA drops by. March 3, 2010

As almost every shop has done, we have removed the saw guards from our table saws or not installed them in the first place. I have never had a visit from our state workers insurance board, and have heard that they will overlook this or make note of it with no penalties. Does anyone have any experience with this? What is the best way to prepare for such a visit in regards to saws and their guards?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor U:
The reason for not installing the guard, is what? When and if an accident occurs, you get the injury treated and fill out an accident report. The health care provider submits the claim to your workmanís comp carrier and then the real "fun" will begin. If OSHA shows up and that's a real possibility sooner or later, the first question will be to see your Form "300" and any accident reports. Good luck in establishing why the guard was not in use.

Secondly, the inspector will be even more interested in your entire facility. Because you failed to even install the most common guard against injury, expect them to find even more infractions in both health and safety areas. Finally, not using the guard and having an injury will earmark your organization as one that could receive even more frequent visitation from the inspector and an increase in workmanís comp premium.

The idea that the inspector will overlook the missing guard must be in a state or locale that is totally different from Indiana. Not having one on a saw around here results in a sizeable fine.

Why in the world would you open yourself up to this kind of scrutiny, potential cost and maybe most importantly, the wrong message on safety being communicated to employees?

From contributor W:
I have managed plants as large as 100 personnel. We successfully passed federal OSHA inspections twice, state inspections twice and corporate inspections regularly. None of the federal or state inspections were the result of incidents - we simply came up on the wheel of fortune.

One of the federal OSHA inspections resulted in no violations documented whatsoever. It was the first time any of the inspectors had been able to claim that. There were two comments about potential improvements and that was it.

I mention this in order to provide backup to what I am about to say now Ė put the guards back on the blades. There is no excuse to operate a table saw (or any other kind, really) without blade guards and anti-kickback pawls in place. Yes, folks will complain about not being able to work. You will get the same stuff if you attempt to enforce safety glasses or seat belts on the forklifts or any other safety rule that requires a bit of thought or effort. But, at the end of the day, you cannot replace an eye and you cannot put back a finger or hand (with any satisfactory result). You sure as heck cannot bring anybody back to life, and no cabinet or piece of furniture we ever made was worth the pain and misery any of those incidents can cause. We ran profitable shops that never experienced a significant injury during my tenure and after 30 years of woodworking I still have all my fingers.

From contributor W:
What is the cost of operating with saw guards? The amount of the fine will vary according to the state you are in and whether the inspection is state or federal. I know for a fact that the fine for allowing a saw to be used without a guard is up to $10,000. However, you also need to consider that if anyone is injured by one of these saws without a blade guard, your workmanís comp is going to go up, and you will find it a lot more difficult to get coverage due to the willful violation of common safety practice.

From contributor D:
In regards to the guards, here is a situation that occurred about six years ago or so. We came up on the wheel of fortune for an inspection from OSHA. The inspector visited our veneer processing area. He was looking at the splicer, and mentioned that there was no guard protecting the operator from the pinchpoint at the infeed of the Diehl VS81. I sort of blew the guy off, and said that the machine (circa 1950's) didn't come from the factory with a guard. Long story short, the three plants on our complex all retrofitted these machines with Plexiglass guards. Different inspectors all have their own pet peeves when doing inspections. This one's was pinch points/machine guarding. My advice to you is, put the guards back on. It will save you from having to explain why you didn't use them in the first place.

From contributor J:
I have no insight to what your particular states insurance board would do, but as others have said I'd be more worried about OSHA coming in. I know in my state guards must be in place. If you have a specific operation requiring there removal they must be put back on as soon as it's completed. Further if you have a saw with a malfunctioning or inoperative guard, say like on a chopsaw, it must be locked out of service until it's fixed.

From contributor W:
One of the commenters here mentions the fact that you don't have to let inspectors in if they arrive with no notice, and this is true. However, based on my experience, I can tell you that it is much easier to stay on top of things like this on a continual basis, instead of the approach of waiting until you are under pressure from the agencies.

While they would never admit it in an open forum, putting an inspector off until a more convenient date is going to raise their suspicions and raise the likelihood of a more stringent inspection on their return.

If there is a highly visible infraction that is obvious to the inspector while they are there (like a missing saw guard) they are free to cite you for that, since it is an obvious violation in full public view. What that means is that you cannot operate that machine until it is brought into conformance. In plain English, it is less expensive to simply run a compliant shop.

From the original questioner:
My cabinet shop is compliant. I used to not have a guard on the table saw but I have since purchased a Saw Stop, and all other machines and dust collection is safe and up to date. My finishing department is impossible to be 100% with all the regulations. My point is that I think itís rude to think you can march in and bring everything to a halt and request to see the shop floor, documents, msds sheets, daily finishing materials logs, etc. My day is fully scheduled, should I call my next appointment and try to reschedule because of an impromptu inspection? Don't think so. I honestly think that I get their respect because they know they can't run over me. I am always courteous; all smiles, even joking a little. It's just business.

From contributor O:
"But my point is that I think itís rude to think you can march in and bring everything to a halt and request to see the shop floor, documents, msds sheets, daily finishing materials logs, etc." Either that or invite them in and set an appointment on your calendar - whichever you prefer. Ignoring OSHA won't make them go away!

From contributor R:
I know for a fact that saw guards need to be in place even while working on a job site. I had an inspector drop by a site I was on and I was doing touch up work and he noticed the carpenters saw guard wasnít installed. He got a warning about it and said he would attach it. He didnít and the same inspector came back a few days later and tossed him off the job site. I happened to be in the office later in the day when a phone call came through from the inspector who was on the job. He read the riot act to the shop foreman who in turn called a shop meeting and read everyone the riot act.

From contributor L:
We just had a surprise OSHA inspection. We were cited for three things: an extension cord with a steel outlet box, fine $375; a missing plastic snap in cover that had electrical tape over the opening in a circuit breaker panel, fine $375. Our employees had been through a refresher training session with written test last January for the forklift. When employees were interviewed they were not carrying certification cards for operating a forklift. The training was entered in our safety binder but still we were fined $350 for this violation! After all OSHA is funded only by the fines it imposes.

The inspector looked at the overarm guard and splitter on our slider. The guard was about 4" above the table (saw not being used). He wanted to know if the guard was normally kept that high. He also looked at the guards on the radial arm (checked for auto head return too) and checked the guard on the Whirlwind upcut and noted that we had added an additional infeed guard. He looked at the guard on the SawStop table saw, which one of my clever employees had put on while the inspector was in the other part of the shop. I had replaced our Unisaw with the SawStop saw a couple of years ago because every time I turned around the stupidly designed guard on the Unisaw was off. The inspector also looked at our 12/14" saw and asked if we ever ran it without the power feed that is installed. He looked closely at the anti-kick backs and guard on the SL ripsaw. The inspector went through our paperwork more than through the shop.