Workplace injuries are a serious concern for any business. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2022. When an injury occurs, it's not just the physical and emotional toll on the involved workers; there are also substantial legal and regulatory considerations, including attracting the attention of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
OSHA typically gets involved after a severe workplace injury, which can result in a rigorous investigation process, potential fines, and a public record of safety violations. These consequences can damage a company's reputation and financial standing. However, by effectively managing these situations, it's possible to minimize or avoid OSHA intervention.
When Can OSHA Make An Inspection?
Under OSHA, employers must provide a safe and healthy workplace for their employees. This encompasses broad safety guidelines and specific regulations tailored to various industries - all of which need to be followed to the letter. Failure to comply with OSHA standards can lead to hefty penalties and legal issues that can take months to resolve.
OSHA inspectors carry out several types of inspections, including:
- Severe injuries and illness: These inspections occur when a workplace incident results in a fatal or severe injury.
- Imminent danger: These can be triggered at any time and occur when practices or conditions are life-threatening.
- Complaints-based: Employees can contract OSHA anytime to report a workplace violation or safety concerns.
- Targeted: Highly hazardous industries or facilities that experience high rates of injury and illness are subject to targeted inspections.
OSHA has the authority to perform inspections virtually any moment, making it crucial for you to implement proper safety policies and procedures. This is essential not only to ensure the health of your team but also to maintain compliance with OSHA standards.
In the moments that follow a severe workplace accident or fatality, it can be challenging to make the right calls and ensure not only that your team is getting the assistance they need but that you remain compliant with OSHA regulations. That’s why having a plan in place is vital. Many small businesses partner with professional employer organizations (PEOs) like GMS to use as a resource and navigate OSHA regulations.
Following the immediate response to the injury, your team should:
- Conduct a thorough investigation: This should include an examination of equipment, witness interviews, and a review of workplace safety protocols.
- Contact OSHA: Be proactive and don't wait for OSHA to initiate. Report the incident and findings of your internal investigation as soon as possible. Fatalities must be reported to OSHA within eight hours of discovery, and inpatient hospitalization, amputation, or eye loss must be reported within 24 hours.
- Implement corrective measures: Update any safety measures, provide additional training, and make necessary changes to your equipment or processes.
- Documentation: Keep detailed records of your actions and communications. There is a record-keeping standard for each kind of workplace incident, but generally, you must keep documentation for at least five years. Proper record-keeping can safeguard your business if, down the line, any issues arise.
Lastly, you should follow up and iterate on your health and safety policies. Safety isn’t a one-time review process. You need to stay proactive and regularly review and update your protocols. Conduct safety audits and regular training sessions for your team. In addition, create channels for employee feedback so they can assist you in developing a safer workplace.
Learn how GMS got OSHA to complete an investigation without coming on-site or issuing a citation after a notable workplace injury.
Responding To A Workplace Injury: Real-Life Example
The incident in question started with a seemingly routine delivery for a driver. The driver finished sweeping out the back of his truck when he went to rest his left hand on the side of the truck as he prepared to jump to the ground like he had done countless times before. Unfortunately, his wedding ring got stuck to the edge of the truck on this particular day. As he jumped to the ground with his arm fully extended, his finger was unable to handle the resulting force and was ripped off before his feet hit the driveway.
This freak injury led to a panicked call to GMS from an Office Manager trying to figure out what to do next. The first step was to check on the employee and ensure he was taken care of and received the necessary medical attention for his injury. After that, it was time to follow the letter of the law.
As mentioned, amputations must be reported to OSHA within 24 hours. After calming the Office Manager’s nerves, GMS walked her through the reporting process and had her leave a message on OSHA’s hotline. Next, a GMS Safety Coordinator conducted a thorough investigation at the scene of the injury and made the following recommendations to prevent this type of accident in the future:
- Prohibit employees from entering the bed of the truck until the installation of permanent ladders
- Prohibit employees from wearing jewelry while working
Shortly after we completed our investigation, OSHA called to get an account of that day’s events. Once the Office Manager gave the compliance officer the required information, the officer asked if she had done an internal investigation. She informed him of the GMS investigation and that the company had already implemented changes to prevent future incidents. In addition, she sent a copy of the inquiry to the compliance officer along with GMS’ recommendations and future training plans. After OSHA reviewed the investigation and the preventative actions put in place by GMS, OSHA closed its investigation and said that no further action was needed.
Take The Right Steps To Protect Your Business After An Injury
Between lost work hours, workers’ compensation claims, and other issues, on-site injuries are costly. That’s why GMS works to help you limit the chances of workplace injuries and follow proper procedures in case one ever occurs.
At GMS, we help business owners take a proactive approach to workplace safety through services such as on-site consulting, training, and job site inspections. We’re always here to handle critical investigations and deal with OSHA on your behalf. It can be a struggle to stay ahead of risks when you’re busy building your business, so we have the experts to ensure you’re covered before and after incidents.