Voluntary OSHA Compliance

A conversation about how to get OSHA's help in bringing your shop into compliance with safety rules without getting fined. October 27, 2008

What do I have to do to keep OSHA off my back? Our shop needs to work on this to avoid falling foul of the powers that be. I'd like to be fully compliant within six months.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor D:
There are businesses that specialize in this type of thing. A Google search would probably turn up a few names.

From contributor J:
In the fall of 2004, I called the LLR in my state for a voluntary OSHA inspection. They sent an inspector and evaluated my shop. While they did find items that would have lead to fines under any other circumstances, they could not fine me under a requested inspection. I was required to become compliant and it took two or three 30 day extensions, but it was worth it! They were very helpful and respectful of my desire to be safe (makes their job easier!). I have a large file showing compliance and this has always led to correction time being granted for any subsequent inspections.

From contributor V:
Whether we like OSHA or not, it only takes one pissed off intelligent employee to call OSHA to create a situation that can quite possibly cause you to lose your business. Between fines imposed and money needed to meet requirements and lost time, it happens more than you think.

From contributor W:
Amen - request an inspection every year or two.

From contributor J:
Well, now that the cat is out, the reason I called OSHA was an employee on his way out the door made that famous statement! I like the safe feeling of knowing that anyone who made that move would be met with, "well, the shop is in compliance" by the people at OSHA.

I'd love to tell you guys that I was smart enough to figure this out on my own. Truth is it took the employee situation to wake me up. The effort to get compliant was an interruption at times, but nothing compared to another local shop that was fined some 45,000. While some of the fines were reduced, with all of the closings he went through and the followup inspections, it could not have been profitable. Further, with the Salisbury NC fire recently that killed two firefighters we took a half day and did a double check within the shop.

From contributor V:
Good move. You were fortunate that the employee had a big mouth. If he had been silent and just made the call... As they say, the rest could be history.

Labor laws are much the same way. I have done extensive study. Most employees do not know what it says. And most employers, especially of smaller shops, have no idea either. But their arrogance can cost them dearly. I know of one city that made up its own policies. They were reported and the feds came in, told them they would pay overtime to all employees and would do so for 2 years prior, whether active or terminated. Which is what the law requires. City promptly refused, feds said no problem, you will receive absolutely no federal funding, period, including highway funds. City promptly changed its mind and complied. So just imagine if you were a small shop and an employee turned you in... Can you afford to go back and pay every cent of overtime owed for the last 2 years? Contract/self-employed labor that most shops try to do is not legal either. There are strict guidelines for that and if they are not met, guess what, bam again.

From contributor Y:
Call OSHA and get the inspections yearly. Hire a safety consultant that is familiar with OSHA's guidelines. The safety consultant will inspect your shop also and find a majority of the problems. He will not find them all but with an added inspection by OSHA, you should be on the right path. Also if you get a new piece of equipment have OSHA come in and check it out after it's installed. A few years ago my former employer bought a new Thermwood CNC and had OSHA come into look at it. They found a piece on the side that was a pinch hazard. All machinery isn't fully compliant so it would be safe to have them check it out. Work with them and they will work with you. Don't be afraid of them, they're there to help.

From contributor E:
Yes - great thread. Safety is often overlooked in stuff that is considered easy or routine. Not wearing goggles because "it's only one cut," "it's only a bandsaw," etc. We've all seen (and probably done) it before. OSHA inspections help create an environment where safe practice is simply expected of everyone. And that attitude has to start at the top. Requesting inspections isn't just good physically, but motivationally as well.

From the original questioner:
Thanks - some great input. I didn't realize there was as much to this. It would seem that there are many areas that need addressing. Safety, MSDS, fire, appropriate training to name but a few.

From contributor B:
I know of a shop that got inspected after an accident had occurred - they were fined $1,000 per fire extinguisher for not signing the back of the tag each month. If an inspector comes in, do not offer them an air nozzle to blow themselves off - that cost another $750.00.

From contributor V:
Why no air nozzle?

From contributor B:
In blowing yourself off, there could be something in the air hose that could penetrate your skin.

From contributor I:
Does anyone know of a list of things that OSHA would look at? I'd like to see how compliant I am.

From contributor Y:
Everything! To name a few of about 10000... ear plugs, electrical boxes, blade guards getting used, no extension chords, first aid kits, good housekeeping, employee knowledge of where MSDS's are stored, confined spaces, hazardous chemical storage, trip hazards, pinch hazards, slip hazards, emergency plans. There is no way you can find everything - just hope you find the problems that are listed as a major violation. I have seen OSHA inspectors miss items for 2 or 3 visits only to find it on a later visit. Make sure your books are up to date as far as accidents. If an employee takes a bandaid or uses a tweezers to take out a sliver of wood, then this must be recorded. If they look in the first aid kit and there is something missing, yet you have no record of someone using it, then it is a violation. Record everything.

From contributor R:
I'm a safety guy who loves woodworking. Here is a link to Federal OSHA's eTool made specifically for the woodworking industry.


Another good link for "small" businesses is included below: