One of my favorite types of projects is working with clients who have found themselves in trouble with OSHA. They usually call me after they’ve received an OSHA fine ending with four or five zeroes.
I enjoy helping those companies to navigate their way out of the mess. This usually consists of learning about the company, the OSHA inspection itself, developing a strategy to contest the citations, and finally helping the company to make sure this never happens again.
In the spring of 2017, I received a call from a business owner in Florida. A disgruntled employee had filed an OSHA complaint, and when OSHA arrived, they found a company with no safety training, programs, records, etc. Implementing a safety program was something this business owner had always meant to do, but there was always something more pressing.
He called me after the inspection, but before the citation arrived. From his description of the inspection, I knew that he was going to get many citations and there wouldn’t be much to argue or contest. Since we knew we wouldn’t be able to argue much, we knew we would have to throw ourselves on the mercy of the court – so to speak. But to do this, we would have to demonstrate an exceptional amount of good faith. We would have to go beyond bare minimum requirements and start addressing safety issues that weren’t even cited. We needed to show that we were good corporate citizens who had seen the light.
We wrote a complete safety manual over the course of 3-4 video conferences. I flew to Florida and we trained employees. We started a record keeping system. We started a housekeeping system, we ordered new machine guards. We went well beyond what we were required to do.
Then, in the fall, the citation arrived. It was about what we expected it to be. So we sat down and analyzed each item. We found a few items that likely should have been grouped together with one fine, rather than 2 or 3. We found citations for items that were no longer in use. We planned for the specific messages and requests we wanted to convey during the conference with OSHA. Most of all, we demonstrated that we had learned our lesson and that OSHA would never find the company in that condition again.
OSHA heard our message loud and clear. They vacated (deleted) items, they grouped the items we wanted them to group. They offered a significant reduction on the remaining items. They did this because we showed them that we deserved a break. When it was all said and done, the company’s $3,000 investment in consulting services netted them a $30,000 reduction in fines.
Most importantly, this company is now a much safer place to work. Most of their savings on the penalties will be reinvested in the safety program.