By Michael Wood
As I have told a couple of the audiences to which I've spoken recently, one of my themes for the year is a combination of frustration and impatience, particularly when it comes to the hazards that we know can seriously injure or kill Oregon workers.
This can be a difficult message to get right – I'm not suggesting that we turn away from consultation or that we quit viewing all of our activities (including our enforcement activities) as an educational opportunity. Those are critical elements in the success of Oregon OSHA and the entire Oregon workplace safety system. They are not going away.
But when I look at the number of serious injuries and fatalities that result from construction falls, and I compare that to the fact that the most frequent serious violations, year in and year out, involve those same fall hazards, I cannot help thinking that we need to take a harder line with employers who simply refuse to get the message. Something needs to change – and while the approaches of the past have served us well, those approaches clearly have not gotten through to everyone.
A few weeks ago, we here at Oregon OSHA announced a significant penalty against a small construction employer for continued violation of fall protection rules. We do not take that lightly – we understand that a penalty of more than $50,000 can have a real impact on a small employer's operations. But we also do not view it as something we did as much as it is something that the employer brought on itself. In the same way, I recently saw a $70,000 willful violation settled – in that case, the employer (who also was a repeat violator) had decided that the crew was more comfortable ignoring the fall protection rules. As it turned out, that was an expensive decision.
I have made it clear to my staff: We will cite what we find. But, I also expect them to look more closely at the circumstances of violations that cause a meaningful risk of lifelong disability or death. Whether we are talking about fall protection or trenching or lockout/tagout or confined space issues, you are likely to see more willful and significant repeat violations cited in the coming months and years. Not because we want to – our goal is, as always, compliance with the rules and the elimination of those hazards that can cause serious injury, illness, or death.
The simple truth is that, in some cases, the time for a gentle reminder has long since passed. Instead, it is time for a bit more impatience. And it's time to make better use of the full range of our enforcement tools.
Oregon OSHA Administrator
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