The Best Defense Against OSHA

July 2, 2015 No Comments

The best defense against an OSHA citation is “proper documentation”.  OSHA does not recognize that something occurred unless the employer can prove it through documentation.  The burden of proof is on the employer to prove that they were in compliance.

What safety records should you keep?  When I was a corporate safety manager the following were the documents that I archived:

  • sign in sheets for training meetings
  • details of the training provided (PowerPoints/videos used, test/quiz score and questions, handouts)
  • equipment maintenance and repair records (e.g. inspections, preventative maintenance, safety related repairs)
  • new hire training (orientation checklist, policy acknowledgement form)
  • departmental safety meetings
  • safety agenda items in management meetings
  • completed change approval forms
  • change training ( new – chemical, machine, process)
  • policy training
  • OSHA required training (new hire, refresher)
  • at risk employee training (repeaters, near misses, post accident)
  • task/job training
  • ad hoc training (e.g. work floor training using an iPad)
  • disciplinary action taken for safety infractions
  • safety walk around inspection reports
  • daily equipment tests
  • period machinery safety surveys
  • safety rules (past and present)
  • JSA’s (aka JHA’s)
  • computer based training programs
  • safety committee minutes
  • safety recommendation follow up
  • third party inspection reports (fire department, insurance company, OSHA,  consultants)
  • current and prior safety policies
  • employee safety suggestions and their follow up
  • industrial hygiene air testing
  • noise surveys
  • employee biological testing (e.g. blood lead, audiograms)
  • behavioral job observations
  • accident investigation reports (and follow up action taken)
  • confined space entry permits
  • before and after safety photographs
  • risk assessments

Don’t forget that all safety documents should be “dated” and “signed”.  This is pretty basic, but you would not believe the number of safety documents I’ve seen over the years that were either not dated or not signed by the person who completed it.

Is it acceptable for a document to be “hand written”?  While hand written records are acceptable, I have found that often they are unreadable either because they were completed in a hurry, or because the writer had horrible penmanship.  If a safety document can not be typed, then make sure it’s completed by an employee with good penmanship.

Should your records be hard copies or computer documents?  OSHA will accept either.  Computer records are much easier to organize, copy and store.  Be sure to keep at least one up-to-date backup copy of all safety related records at a remote location.

How long should records be kept?  My policy is to keep all safety and OSHA compliance related documents forever.  Computer memory is cheap.  Keeping a document forever simplifies things and eliminates the chance of someone accidentally deleting an important file.

If OSHA visits your company to investigate an on the job fatality, documentation will be a key factor in determining if you get cited, the amount of the fine, and even if criminal action will be taken against your management.


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