OSHA Fines: Got a Million Dollars to Spare?

OSHA Fines: Got a Million Dollars to Spare?

In September, OSHA handed out $898,682 in proposed penalties to four Idaho Dollar Tree Stores – fines that auto shops could receive if an inspector were to find the same violations.

Can you imagine facing an unexpected expense of $1 million and what it would do to your business?

In September, OSHA handed out a whopping $898,682 in proposed penalties to four Idaho Dollar Tree Stores for exposing employees to unsafe storage of merchandise, as well as blocked walkways and exit routes.

At each of the four stores, inspectors found boxes stacked improperly, often with heavier boxes on top of lighter ones. Aisles were blocked and exit routes did not have a clear path. Employees were getting injured because boxes were falling on them. In one inspection, while the inspector was shooting video, a stack of boxes fell and nearly injured an employee.

Ultimately, the company was cited for violations related to blocked aisles and exit routes, unsafe storage and stacking of boxes, blocked electrical panels, improper ladder use and exposing workers to falls from heights. In more than one instance, the citations were for repeat violations.

Knowing the Rules

Automotive shops and dealerships would be subject to these same violations and fines if an inspector were to visit and find these issues. It seems like common sense, but let’s review OSHA’s regulations in these areas:

29 CFR 1910.37(a)(3): Exit routes must be free and unobstructed. No materials or equipment may be placed, either permanently or temporarily, within the exit route. The exit access must not go through a room that can be locked, such as a bathroom, to reach an exit or exit discharge, nor may it lead into a dead-end corridor. Stairs or a ramp must be provided where the exit route is not substantially level.

Keep in mind also that exit routes must be kept free of flammable furnishings or other decorations; must be arranged so that employees will not have to travel toward a high hazard area, unless the path of travel is effectively shielded from the high hazard area by suitable partitions or other physical barriers; and lighting and marking must be “adequate and appropriate.”

29 CFR 1910.176(b): Secure storage. Storage of material shall not create a hazard. Bags, containers, bundles, etc., stored in tiers shall be stacked, blocked, interlocked and limited in height so that they are stable and secure against sliding or collapse.

In the case of Dollar Tree, employees were repeatedly subjected to struck-by and trip and fall hazards while working in storage rooms.

29 CFR 1910.303(g)(1): Space about electric equipment. Sufficient access and working space shall be provided and maintained about all electric equipment to permit ready and safe operation and maintenance of such equipment.

In the case of the Dollar Tree citations, boxes of merchandise were stacked and blocking electrical control panels, preventing employees from accessing those panels and shutting down the facility in the event of an emergency.

29 CFR 1910.23(b)(8): Ladders are used only for the purposes for which they are designed.

29 CFR 1910.23(c)(11): Portable ladders used to gain access to an upper landing surface have side rails that extend at least three feet (0.9 m) above the upper landing surface.

In several instances, Dollar Tree employees were exposed to fall hazards greater than eight feet while accessing an extension ladder that was drilled and bolted to the exterior wall of a restroom. That ladder did not have side rails that extended at least three feet above the landing.

29 CFR 1910.28(b)(1)(i): The employer must ensure that each employee on a walking-working surface with an unprotected side or edge that is four feet (1.2 m) or more above a lower level is protected from falling by one or more of the following: guardrail systems, safety net systems or personal fall protection systems.

Following Through

Simple enough, right? But how many times have you received a delivery of parts or other materials and someone either wasn’t available to put the materials away or was too busy to do the job at that time? In that situation, your exit routes may have been blocked and employee egress impeded. In an emergency, there could have been injuries.

Have you walked through the shop lately to see if your exit routes are clear and your storage areas are safe for employees? OSHA recommends doing a walkthrough of your workplace regularly, which allows you to intercept these types of problems before they become worse or cause injury.

In addition, don’t forget to train your employees to recognize violations or unsafe situations and report them. When an accident or injury happens, it is too late to train. Safety is everyone’s job in the shop, so make sure your employees are provided with the tools they need to succeed. BSB

Kyle Holt is the president of S/P2, an online safety and pollution prevention training system for the automotive, heavy-duty/diesel, welding, construction, cosmetology and culinary industries. He can be reached at [email protected].

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