Terry McDonlad: Site Safety

Workplace safety isn't just a concern for big companies with thousands of employees. Even the smallest operation can benefit from OSHA's on-site consultation service.

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Sometimes when we talk about the importance of developing safety programs—along with manuals, equipment, signage, etc.—it can seem like we’re only focusing on big companies with hundreds or even thousands of employees. And while it’s certainly true that the more people you have on the employment roles to protect, the more important it can be to have established rules and regulations in place, the impact of an injury or lost life is profound no matter the size of a company.

The gear manufacturing industry, in particular, is made up of companies of all sizes, from your huge, international OEMs to tiny job shops with less than a dozen employees, but the safety of each and every individual matters equally. And if you think about it, employees in smaller companies might even have more exposure to potential injury because they might be handling a heavier workload, or be assigned to multiple tasks, due to the shortage of manpower. Smaller operations often don’t have the resources that allow people to specialize in a single area, and employees might even be working longer hours in order to meet client expectations when a big order comes through, which might result in being tired and a little distracted. So these are just a few of the reasons why small businesses need to be as aware of safety-related issues as any other company. Plus, while larger companies can absorb the cost of a lawsuit or OSHA fine related to a violation or injury, it could cripple a smaller business, or even do it in.

Any business owner has a responsibility to protect his or her employees, especially in the manufacturing industry, and although there are templates for safety programs available, the best approach is to develop a plan internally that is tailored to address the company’s specific activities. A heat-treating operation would have different concerns than a shop devoted specifically to hobbing or grinding, for instance. And while it doesn’t really cost anything to develop such a program, it will take some time out of your schedule, but in many ways it’s just as important as any other responsibility—it’s not extra, in other words, it’s central to the job of any business owner.

The good news is that resources are available, and one you might want to look into is the OSHA Consultation Service. This service helps employers identify potential workplace hazards, also providing safety and health training and technical assistance. This service is free, and the consultation—which has no connection to the agency’s inspection activities—is performed by state government agencies, using trained safety and health professionals. Once a visit has been scheduled it begins with a conference between the consultant and the employer, followed by a tour of the workplace. On the tour’s completion, the only resulting obligation is to correct serious hazards that have been identified. According to the OSHA Web site, what the on-site consultant will do is:

• Help you recognize hazards in your workplace;
• Suggest general approaches or options for solving a safety or health problem;
• Identify kinds of help available if you need further assistance;
• Provide you a written report summarizing findings;
• Assist you in developing or maintaining an effective safety and health program;
• Provide training and education for you and your employees;
• Recommend you for a one-year exclusion from OSHA programmed inspections, once program criteria are met.

What they will not do is issue citations or propose penalties for violations of OSHA standards, report possible violations to OSHA enforcement staff, or guarantee that your workplace will “pass” an OSHA inspection. So don’t let concerns about being penalized keep you from doing the right thing, because this service has been developed to help you do just that. Once you’ve begun the process by identifying potential danger spots, they will be easier to address, and you’ll have the information you need to begin crafting an effective safety program that will help keep your employees on the job, and your products shipping out to your customers on time. Learn more by visiting OSHA’s Web site [www.osha.gov] and clicking on “small business.”

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is partner and manager of Repair Parts, Inc., and a current member and past–chairman of the American National Standards Institute B11.11 Subcommittee on Safety Requirements for Construction, Care, and Use of Gear Cutting Equipment. McDonald writes this monthly column specifically for Gear Solutions magazine, and he can be reached at (815) 968–4499 or rpi@repair–parts–inc.com. The company's Web site is [www.repair–parts–inc.com].