How long do you have to clean up after a storm?

by on May 3, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Based on the facts presented below, how do you think OSHA ruled?

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Supervisor Jorge Lopez. “You’re really citing our company for failing to keep work areas clear?”

“Those debris piles are a tripping hazard,” said OSHA Compliance Officer Janet Weiss. “Workers could get hurt when they’re going to your scaffold near the piles.”

Morning after …
“I agree the debris piles are a hazard,” said Jorge. “But you know, we are outside, and it’s the morning after a pretty bad storm, and things got blown around….”

“I saw the piles yesterday – granted, more tidy than today – but they’re still not cleaned up,” said Janet.

“That’s because I sent the workers home at noon because we expected that storm,” said Jorge. “We’re going to clean up this mess before we start work.”

OSHA: Workers exposed to hazard
“I don’t know about that,” said Janet. “It looks like some of your people are getting ready to go up on that scaffold.”

“There is an easy path to the scaffold without going near the debris,” said Jorge. “And yes, some workers will clean up while others work on the scaffold. I don’t really see a problem with doing it that way.”

“Truth is, this worksite is a mess, and it’s been a mess for a while,” said Janet. “I’m finally writing you a citation for it because it’s so bad today.”

“That’s too vague,” said Jorge. “We’ve suffered a storm, and we need time to get our worksite in order. That’s all.”

The company challenged the citation. Did it win?

The decision
Yes, the company won and the citation was dismissed.

The OSHA Review Commission said the OSHA inspector failed to show two key elements of a work-area-debris violation:

  • that the company had adequate time to clean up debris, and
  • that the company exposed its employees to a hazardous condition.

The OSHA judges also dismissed the compliance officer’s statement that the work site had been a mess “for a while:” OSHA must make specific accusations and document when and where they found each violation.

The OSHA judges noted that Jorge’s assessment was correct: Workers hadn’t been back on the work site long enough to pick up the debris, and there was a path for workers to easily avoid the piles while accessing the scaffold, as shown in the inspector’s own photos.

Reminders for workers
As this case shows, you have some time to clean up hazardous debris. But it’s not a lot of time if workers are exposed to a trip hazard. Remind workers to keep their work areas clean. Some companies build in regular housekeeping time if the problem is serious enough.

In fact, one company we know allocated the last five minutes of every hour to housekeeping because scrap materials frequently got too close to well-traveled walkways. You may not need to have workers clean that often, but the point is workers should pay attention to how their work areas affect others’ safety.

Cite: Secretary of Labor v. Masonry Arts, Inc., No 07-1923, OSHRC. Dramatized for effect.

photo credit: henley24

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