The Louisiana Governor’s Safety & Health Conference was held this week in Baton Rouge. The event, which attracts safety and wellness professionals from around the state, emphasizes technical methodology and the design of safety programs. Two presentations in particular – one on “safety myths” and another on OSHA audit compliance, drew crowds and offered novel practical advice for the industry.
Duane Smith on safety – People can’t and won’t be perfect
Duane Smith, previously of Dow Chemical and currently of the Alliance Safety Council, comically titled his presentation “Safety Myths: A Presentation that May Surprise You and Get Me Fired!” focused on the major misunderstandings in the world of safety training. Smith structured his talk around the idea that participating in safe behavior consistently (a transition from rule-based to values-based) usually requires a “significant emotional event.” While this event and its intensity could differ from person to person, he claims that without it, safety is just a set of policies and procedures.
Smith’s first myth was a harsh reality check for safety pros – you are in control of your safety performance. He argued that such control is basically impossible. Instead, Smith explained, policies and procedures, culture and just pure luck combine to produce safety results. Sometimes, companies just get unlucky and accidents happen.
“Safety people always want to say, ‘Duane don’t talk about that, we’re not supposed to be talking about luck.’ Well, how many have you been out there and said, ‘Boy, that was close.’ […] You probably say that everyday at some point. Luck is a very foundational part of our safety program, and that’s a problem,” Smith said. “If you want to eliminate the luck you have to eliminate people. Why is safety the only place where we believe people can be perfect? Every other time we say people make mistakes and that’s how they learn.”
Obviously, Smith did not advocate allowing workers to “make mistakes” that lead to injury, but he did emphasize realism in safety planning and expectations. To that end, his remaining three myths – that total recordable injury rate (TRIR) is a great measure of safety, that zero is a reasonable goal and that all risk is bad – ruffled feathers but spoke to the practical concerns of management.
Smith told the audience that “the legend of zero” is troubling to him because it implies that “zero injuries” or recordables is a binary condition, which is a recipe for failure. Further, regarding the myth that all risk is bad, he opined that engineering controls can do a world of good, but that constantly providing safeguards for everything takes workers (and people generally) off their guard. Smith cited the rise of driver assistance technology in new cars (such as mechanisms that stop the car if the driver isn’t paying attention and comes too close to another car) as an example. “The more risk you take away from people,” he said, “the less responsibility people take for their own safety.”
Sheldon Primus on OSHA inspections: know your rights as an employer and have your process down pat
Working from OSHA’s most recent Field Operations Manual and from the original OSH Act (see links below text), Florida-native Sheldon Primus, who is owner/CEO of Utility Compliance Inc. and CEO of ShelBrough Safety LLC which works in the field of safety compliance internationally, brought attendees up to speed on OSHA changes as they relate to the often intimidating occurrence of an OSHA audit. Several members of the crowd said they had been audited by OSHA and shared their experiences with the group as Primus offered his tips for success.
Primus’ key rule for audits was seemingly simple, but easy to violate – nothing is off the books. “If you call up an [OSHA compliance officer] or you’re talking to them and they build a rapport and you start talking, they will say ‘you can tell me anything you want’ but what they won’t say is that it’s off the record – because they can’t and it it’s not,” he explained.
Further, Primus delineated the basis for a citation, which contains two elements – a hazard and exposure to that hazard. “You have to have both to get a citation,” he said. “Then they start establishing how bad the hazard is and how bad the exposure is.” Employers have the right to refuse an inspection in which case OSHA must get a warrant, but Primus urged attendees to think it over and have a plan.
“Warrants don’t come easily,” Primus said. “In my partner’s 27 years of experience asking, he’s gotten it one time. Am I telling you to do this, not necessarily, but I’m saying it’s your right. You’re not [refusing an inspection] to hurt your workers in any way. If they’re there for a legitimate reason they’ll tell you in the opening conference.”
Primus also distilled the Field Operations Manual for attendees, focusing on inspection priorities which are as follow:
- Imminent Danger
- Employee Complaint
- Programmed High-Hazard Inspections
- Follow-up Inspections
Regarding employee complaints, which will be cited as a reason for inspection in the opening conference, Primus urged employers to remember that due to the new rules for OSHA electronic record-keeping, companies wind up in a bind where they are “self-referring” for inspections when recordables get to the OSHA Area Director and indicate a hazard and exposure.
Primus left the audience with “six steps for surviving an OSHA audit” which he considers absolutely essential, beginning with the most obvious:
- Have a plan for OSHA audits.
- Have your written programs up to date and complete.
- Keep your OSHA recordkeeping logs up to date and complete.
- Take pictures and video whenever the compliance officer does so.
- Instantly abate whenever possible, it shows good faith which can garner substantial reductions of penalties.
- Hold the inspector to the scope of the inspection as discussed in the opening conference.
Primus also encourage safety officials to check the credentials of OSHA Compliance Officers by calling the number on their badge before allowing the inspection to proceed and to watch out for any discussion of money by the Compliance Officer. The Area Director sets penalties after the fact, so no inspection should end with values placed on citations or a request for payment.
The full conference agenda and speaker, list, social media activity and the information about past events can be found on the Louisiana Governor’s Safety and Health Conference website here.
OSHA Field Operations Manual 160: OSHA FOM effective 8.2.16