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OSHA’s Top 10 most-cited violations for fiscal year 2017

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Q & A with OSHA's Patrick Kapust

Preliminary data for OSHA’s Top 10 most cited violations for fiscal year 2017 was announced Sept. 26 at the National Safety Council Congress & Expo in Indianapolis. That day, Patrick Kapust, deputy director of OSHA’s Directorate of Enforcement Programs, sat down with Safety+Health Associate Editor Kevin Druley to talk about the list – and how several recent initiatives have helped the agency track and target the most frequently cited violations.

 

Safety+Health: What’s the most important message that you’d like to send to employers regarding the Top 10?

Patrick Kapust: The Top 10 is a great place for the employer to start if they don’t know where to start. The list identifies some of the major hazards out there. Take that list and see how it may apply to your workplace. It covers a broad range, from fall protection, machine guarding, powered industrial trucks – these are common themes in a workplace, particularly a manufacturing or construction workplace. It offers you a tool to start that find-and-fix program, so that you are able to readily identify the hazards and turn around and correct them quickly.

If you noticed in the Top 10, many of these standards have training requirements associated with them. And, as we were talking [during the Top 10 presentation] about some of the deficiencies that we were finding, the training aspect was one of the ones that I brought up quite frequently. Important questions to ask are, “What’s happening with my training programs? Are they covering what they should?” Hazard Communication, Respiratory Protection, Lockout/Tagout, Powered Industrial Trucks – all of those require specific training programs. Look at your programs in these areas, because many of the deficiencies we find involve training.

S+H: You addressed the growth of the Fall Prevention Campaign last year. Is OSHA pleased with the progress of the campaign? Are there plans to launch campaigns to address other safety issues that are part of the Top 10?

Kapust: We are very pleased with the progress of the campaign. We think that this cooperative effort has been one of OSHA’s most successful outreaches to date. It’s estimated that we have reached out to more than 5 million workers through the National Fall Prevention Stand-Down since this project began, as well as countless others who didn’t register on the website. The stand-down does ask construction contractors and their employees to take some time from their workday to discuss, reflect and talk about ways to implement and improve fall protection measures on the job, as well as other construction safety and health topics. Many of those topics are found in the Top 10, so those are being covered through these discussions.

Also, many stand-downs are done for particular topics, such as personal protective equipment, and a safety and health management system – implementing that into the workplace. So the campaign has triggered other events, and it’s a convenient, easy mechanism to get the message across. We are looking at other ways to expand on that impact using other topics, where appropriate. It’s just that falls … it is a common hazard many workers are exposed to.

S+H: If an employer receives a visit from an OSHA inspector, what are some things that it can do to help the process go smoothly?

Kapust: Well, one thing the employer can do first is go to our website and become familiar with OSHA’s inspection process. We have fact sheets on OSHA inspections available on our website. But if a compliance officer shows up, I can’t emphasize this enough: Ask questions. There basically are three phases of an OSHA inspection: the opening conference, the walk-around and the closing conference.

During the opening conference, the compliance officer will tell the employer what the scope of the inspection is going to be and what they’re going to cover. If it’s a complaint, the certified safety and health official will provide a list of the alleged hazards. So, you’ll be able to look through that. If it’s a programmed inspection under an emphasis program, the compliance officer will state that this is a programmed inspection and it is under an emphasis program such as amputations. So he or she will be looking for amputation-type hazards as delineated in that national emphasis program. If the employer has questions about the program, ask them.

The next phase of the inspection is the walk-around. During this phase of the inspection, the CSHO will walk around the workplace and observe the conditions in order to address any hazards. The CSHO may take measurements and will talk to employees and ask questions as appropriate. While you’re walking around with the compliance officer – and I encourage you to accompany the CSHO – when the CSHO is addressing hazards, answer any questions he or she may have, but also ask questions if you need to: “What can I do to abate this? How do I correct this condition?” That way, you’ll get the insight about abatement from the CSHO while he or she is there, so at least you have a starting point before you even have the closing conference. Take advantage of that resource while he or she at your worksite. And that’s the same thing with health hazards.

When our industrial hygienist CSHOs go out to the workplace, part of their walk-around is to conduct air or noise sampling to investigate any health concerns that may be in the workplace, such as lead or noise. While they’re sampling, ask them about controls – “What controls or ventilation would be effective?” They can offer recommendations on methods that have worked in in the past. No, they can’t design or fix it for you, but they can give you some ideas, because the goal is to assure that the workplace is safe. That’s why the CSHO is there.

The last phase of the inspection is the closing conference. The CSHO will discuss with you what the observed violations were and how long you have to correct them. The CSHO also will explain what your rights and responsibilities are after the inspection and if you are receiving any citations. This is another opportunity to ask questions on the process and what you may need to do to comply.

S+H: What would you say to employers that may recognize they need compliance assistance but are reluctant to contact OSHA?

Kapust: OSHA does have an onsite consultation program that offers free and confidential safety and occupational health advice to small and medium-sized businesses nationwide. The consultants help employers identify workplace hazards and provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards, as well as help in establishing an injury and illness program. They do kind of the same thing that a CSHO would do – except it’s not under an enforcement umbrella – and we keep those two programs separate. Consultation is state-run, and its priorities are smaller employers in high-hazard industries. So, I encourage employers to go that route.

Also, you can call your local OSHA area office. Not all OSHA offices have compliance assistance specialists, but some do. Where they do have them, they are able to do things such as – if you’re part of an industry group – conduct training or give presentations.

Regardless of whether the office has a compliance assistance specialist or not, there are folks there to answer questions, and many times that will be a compliance officer. So you can ask them questions over the telephone. You don’t have to give your name, you don’t have to give your company name or address. You can say, “Hey, I have this question,” and you remain anonymous. We don’t trace calls and try to figure out who’s calling. So, I’d encourage employers, if you have a question, take the time to call the area office and see what help it can provide.

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