Boss’s discipline prevents hefty OSHA fine

by on March 8, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Based on the facts presented below, how do you think OSHA (or the courts) ruled?

Nobody’s perfect. Mistakes and errors in judgment happen all the time. But what can supervisors do to protect themselves before an employee error lands the company in trouble?

One answer: Make sure you consistently apply discipline when it’s necessary.

“I’m afraid I have to cite your company for violating the harness safety rules,” OSHA Inspector Nora Kerns told Supervisor Doug Martin.

“Harness safety?” Doug asked. “What’s the problem?”

“First of all, I observed your foreman Bruce Cooke was not wearing a body harness this morning while working about 65 feet in the air,” said Nora.

“I’ve already been on him for that,” Doug said. “Bruce said he was only up there for a few minutes. But I immediately warned him for not wearing the harness. He’s going to have to go through some follow-up safety training as well.”

“I just talked to Bruce myself and I don’t like what I’m hearing about your company’s safety training,” Nora responded.

“What do you mean?” Doug asked.

“Bruce said he wasn’t sure what kind of fall protection he needed at the time,” she said.

Policies reinforced
“It’s clear to him after that warning,” said Doug. “As for our safety program, we’ve got written rules about harnesses, specifically addressing this situation. We also have fall protection training and mandatory weekly safety meetings on site.”

“If you have all that, why didn’t Bruce use the harness when he was supposed to?” asked Nora.

“People don’t always think about what they’re doing,” said Doug. “Bruce wasn’t too happy with the official warning I gave him today, but he said he won’t make the same mistake twice.”

“But what if he does?”

“Then I have to write him up,” said Doug. “Bruce could get fired if he keeps making the same safety mistakes, and he knows it.”

The company challenged the citation. Did the company win?

Yes, the OSHA Review Commission sided with the company. The Commission pointed out that the company could not have anticipated Bruce’s safety violations because its established safety program covered harness procedures.

Supervisor Doug also protected his employer by correctly carrying out the company’s progressive disciplinary system. Company policy stated that employees who violate safety rules are orally warned, reprimanded in writing and then, if the problem persists, terminated.

Accordingly, the supervisor promptly issued a warning to Bruce for a first offense of not wearing fall protection. Most important, he did this before the OSHA inspector uncovered the violation.

The company shielded itself from a hefty OSHA fine by having a safety program in place. As the review commission noted, the company:

  • Provided comprehensive written rules about the use of body harnesses, including regulations addressing Bruce’s infraction.
  • Reinforced safety policies with follow-up training when a policy was violated.
  • Provided all new employees with safety training during orientation and continued to reinforce training by conducting mandatory weekly safety meetings at the job site.

Cite: Secretary of Labor v. W.G. Yates Construction Co., No. 03-2162, OSHRC.

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