Will OSHA let me off the hook for PPE violations due to non-compliant workers?

By: April 29th, 2010 Email This Post Print This Post

There is always the chance that you’ll run into a safety officer’s worst nightmare: employees who disregard safety procedures despite disciplinary action, consultation, and evident risks to themselves and those around them.

Fortunately, OSHA does provide a small amount of leeway in this area, but only with the proper documentation. OSHA will not fine or cite employees, but the regulator may waive a fine if the facility proves it was an isolated incident of employee misconduct. To waive a fine, you’ll need the following documentation:

  • A written safety and health program such as the Exposure Control Plan and the PPE section of the Bloodborne Pathogens Policy.
  • The signature of the employee proving that he or she has read it.
  • Your written progressive disciplinary policy. Check with your HR department.
  • A written reprimand of the employee based on the progressive disciplinary program.

For this reason, it is particularly important to document all instances of training, infractions, warnings, consultations, and educational opportunities.

“For example, if you have employees that won’t wear their gloves, if you’ve disciplined them, but not far enough to [fire them], if OSHA comes in you can say, ‘Well, I’ve done this much and the next step is termination,’” says Terry Jo Gile, MT(ASCP), MA Ed, president of Safety Lady, LLC, a lab safety consulting firm in North Ft. Myers, FL. Still, as many are aware, OSHA is no pushover, and it’s uncommon for the agency to find the employer completely innocent if safety policies are routinely violated.

“Since there are no perfect environments, it would be most unusual for OSHA to find an employer completely and utterly without improvement opportunities, some of which would be enforceable under the OSHA charter and some of which would not, but they can always provide constructive criticism,” says Steve MacArthur, a safety consultant at The Greeley Company, a division of HCPro, Inc., in Marblehead, MA.

Editor’s note: This excerpt is from the December 2009 issue of Medical Environment Update that focused on how safety officers need a plan when confronting employees who ignore OSHA regulations.


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