Did OSHA inspector over-reach on employee exposure to falls?

by on December 26, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

“Hello, again,” said Supervisor Jim Rodriguez, as the OSHA inspector stepped off a ladder and stood on the high platform. “What brings you around this time?”

“Just a routine inspection,” said OSHA Compliance Officer Deb Watkins.

“Take a look around,” said Jim.

“For starters, I’m interested in this platform we’re standing on,” Deb said. The under-construction deck was about 25 feet high, 100 feet long and 65 feet wide. “Looks like you’ve got about 25 feet of the edge unguarded up here.”

“Yeah, but no one is near it,” said Jim. “They have no reason to get near it, either.”

Seven feet from the edge
“I’m not seeing anyone wearing fall protection,” said Deb. “I see a couple of people wearing harnesses, a couple of people who aren’t, and a horizontal lifeline. But I don’t see anyone hooked up to it.”

“We don’t need it right now,” said Jim. “When we do, the crew up here knows the work rule – always tie off.”

A worker headed over to a welding machine about seven feet from the edge to shut it off.

“That’s getting pretty close,” said Deb. “The floor surface is uneven – he could trip and fall over the edge.”

“I think he has plenty of room,” said Jim. “Look, I think we have our act together. What’s this – the eighth time we’ve been inspected?”

No problems before
“Actually, the 10th,” said Deb. “I know you’ve never gotten a citation before, but this looks shaky. You don’t have any markings on the floor to warn workers about the edge.”

“As I said, no one needs to be near the edge,” said Jim.

“And that lifeline doesn’t look set up correctly,” said Deb.

“It’s not,” said Jim. “Again, we don’t need it yet.”

“Someone could stray over there,” said Deb. “I know you’ve had a string of good inspections, but this half-baked fall protection is too dangerous.”

She wrote a citation. Did the company get it dismissed?

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  • The Decision
    No, the citation was vacated.

    The OSHA compliance officer (CO) failed to demonstrate employee exposure to the fall hazard. The OSHA Review Commission judge noted:

    • The company had, and communicated, a work rule requiring fall protection.
    • The company had been inspected nine previous times without citation.
    • The company had an excellent safety program.
    • The supervisor had set up the work area so there was no reason for workers to approach the platform’s edge, and the CO had only seen one worker move to within seven feet of the unguarded platform’s edge.
    • If workers needed to work closer to the edge, there was no reason to presume workers would violate the company’s work rule on using fall protection. The fall protection was in place and available. And the supervisor was present to enforce the work rule.

    Bottom line: Credibility matters. The platform edge was unguarded and the floor unmarked, but the OSHA CO could show no actual exposure to a hazard.

    Cite: Sec’y of Labor v. Tricon.

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