When OSHA Comes Knocking

Features - Safety Focus

Recyclers may want to keep this advice in mind the next time OSHA conducts an inspection.

March 12, 2013
John E. Schumacher, CSP

Every scrap and recycling operation in the United States is subject to an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection. Some may fear the inspection process and not know what to expect.

The reasons employers receive OSHA inspections vary. OSHA does not have enough personnel to effectively inspect all businesses that are under its jurisdiction. Therefore, a basis for priority has been established to help focus the agency’s limited resources. The most common reasons why OSHA might conduct an inspection at a scrap recycling operation include:

  • Fatality inspection – As a priority, OSHA will investigate all workplace fatalities. The scope of the inspection will generally be limited to the operation where the fatality occurred. (Remember, OSHA must be contacted within eight hours if a fatality occurs.)
  • Employee complaint – Employees have the right to contact OSHA to make a complaint for issues related to workplace safety and health. The complaints are taken seriously and will lead to an inspection if the complaint is credible. The most effective way to avoid an employee complaint is to have a well-implemented safety and health program and to maintain good communication related to safety issues with employees.
  • Referral – Other entities may report a workplace safety and health issue to OSHA, which may result in an inspection. In many cases, an ambulance company that responds to a serious injury at a workplace will report the injury to the local OSHA office. Other entities, such as building inspectors, fire department and police departments, may report safety issues they observe to OSHA.
  • Scheduled – OSHA inspections may be “scheduled” based on local emphasis programs. Some OSHA jurisdictions have focused on recycling operations based on potential for serious injury.

Focus Items

During an inspection, the OSHA compliance officer will communicate the reason for the inspection and the areas he or she plans to focus on. Some of the common issues that will be evaluated are:

  • Administrative safety – This is a fairly broad topic related to documentation indicating that safety and health issues are being managed. Some of the basic areas include:

– Safety training documentation (All employees should receive some form of initial and ongoing safety training.);

– OSHA Form 300, “Log of Work- Related Injuries and Ilnesses,” docu- mentation for the past five years;

– Proof of completing frequent and regular safety inspections; and

– Written safety policies.

  • Machine guarding – Depending on the type of equipment in operation, machine guarding may be a focus of an OSHA compliance officer. Any moving parts within 7 feet of ground level are required to be guarded. Common pieces of equipment may include conveyors, chain and sprocket drives or shears. An internal safety inspection program can be valuable in preventing unguarded equipment.
  • Heavy equipment operation – Most scrap recycling operations use heavy equipment. Employee/heavy equipment collision is a very serious safety issue and requires a prevention plan. OSHA will evaluate whether employees are exposed to “struck by” hazards by heavy equipment. Use of high visibility clothing and managing employee access to the swing radius of heavy equipment, truck activity or overhead loads is very important.
  • Lockout/Tagout Programs – The implementation of a formalized lockout program likely will be evaluated in the event of an OSHA inspection. This is a common exposure that can be effectively managed by implementing a formalized lockout program and by providing related training for employees.
  • Personal protective equipment – Virtually every scrap recycling operation has a need for personal protective equipment (PPE). A “PPE assessment” is needed for each location. This is a written program outlining what PPE is needed based on the hazards of the operation. Enforcement of PPE use is essential to the safety of every operation. Most common PPE includes:

– Hard hats;

– Safety glasses;

– Protective footwear;

– High-visibility clothing;

– Hearing protection; and

– Respirators for welders or cutters.

  • Industrial hygiene issues – Many recycling and scrap recycling operations have potential issues with air quality and noise levels. Depending on the type of scrap handled, different health issues may be present. Each location should receive an initial noise level and air quality test. The results of the initial tests will help determine frequency of future testing and also will indicate if additional safety programs or PPE are needed. OSHA inspectors expect to see copies of industrial hygiene reports and will evaluate if the necessary precautions are in place based on the reports.

Receiving Citations

If citations and fines are issued, this will be done within several weeks following the inspection. The citations will list the alleged violation, classification of citation and penalty or fine amounts.

Penalty amounts vary based on classification. The maximum penalty amount is $70,000 each for willful violations.

In most cases, an “informal hearing” is recommended and provides an opportunity for a company representative to contest the citations with an OSHA representative. If an agreement cannot be reached, the company will have other opportunities to contest the citations in a formal process. In many cases, working with a safety professional and attorney that is familiar with handling OSHA cases may be helpful.

Last Word
The best defense against OSHA citations is to have an effective safety program that is well-implemented. An effective safety program will address the vast majority of OSHA standards and also will improve safety at your facility.


John E. Schumacher, CSP, is an insurance and risk management professional with more than 20 years of experience helping organizations develop strategic approaches to reducing losses and managing insurance costs. He can be contacted at jschumacher@assuranceagency.com or at 847-463-7224.