Working Healthy

What You Should Know About OSHA

Complying with OSHA requirements can be frustrating unless you understand what the agency is, its purpose, and how it works.

So you want to comply with the laws of the land, but have no idea where to begin? OSHA may seem a foreign land as its standards cover a lot of ground – and not always using the simplest terms possible. Its guidelines to keeping employees safe and healthy at work can seem like a lot of work, particularly if you don’t have a background in labor law. To simplify matters and help you ensure you are in compliance with OSHA’s requirements, NAILS got the answer to the most common questions about OSHA and how its rules apply to nail salons.

Q: What is OSHA?

A: OSHA is an acronym for an agency of the federal government, Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA is part of the Department of Labor, and works closely with the Department of Health and Human Services. The agency was created in late 1970 as a result of the passage of the Occupational Safety and health Act. OSHA’s purpose is to assure safe working conditions for all employees and to make sure employers comply with OSHA standards, which regulate things such as chemical storage, sanitation, hazard communications (MSDS, specifically), and ventilation issues – all of which pertain to nail salons.

The 1970 act also led to the creation of the National Commission on State Workemen’s Compensation Law, the National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health (which develops recommended occupational safety and health standards), and the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety Health (which functions much like a consultant to help OSHA set standards and review OSHA administration).

OSHA has transferred administrative power to 25 states, so occupational safety and health standards and regulations may vary from state to state. State laws can be more strict than federal laws, but must be at least as strict as the federal laws.

Q: Can a disgruntled employee report a salon to OSHA?

A: Yes, In fact, OSHA will accept unsigned and oral complaints, and the identity of the complainant is kept confidential with signed complaints. I a complaint is incomplete, OSHA will evaluate and investigate to determine the complaint’s validity. If OSHA finds it to be valid, an inspection will follow.

Fred Piattoni, former executive director of the Chicago Cosmetologists Association and former manager of the Midwest Beauty Show, recently offered a class about OSHA at the CCA and says that, in his experience, most complaints to OSHA are about air quality in salons.

Q: What are some easy-to-fix violations salon are typical cited for by OSHA?

A: Piattoni says that OSHA looks for written safety policies to protect employees in case of various accidents. “OSHA will cite a salon for not having a written hazard communication program that spells out how employees are trained in safety procedures, how products are labeled, and where the employer gets MSDS,” Piattoni explains. Other policies that need to be in writing are an emergency evacuation plan, a training program for fire extinguisher use, and protection policies for employees exposure to bloodborne pathogens if the employer has determined there is a risk of exposure to blood or blood components.

Q: Some of OSHA’s requirements seem extreme; is it really worth it?

A: OSHA is effective: since it was enacted in 1970, the overall workplace death rate has been cut 50%, according to “The New OSHA – Reinventing Worker Safety and Health,” a May 1995 report from OSHA. The report also states that employers who had an OSHA inspection that resulted in penalties have 22% fewer illness and injuries.

OSHA is important. Altho9ugh it credit its standards for a significant decrease in injuries and deaths in the workplace, OSHA still has more work to do, as there are still six million people annually who suffer from non-fatal workplace injuries, according to the 1993 Survey of Occupational injuries and Illness from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workplace injuries have a hefty price tag; they cost the country $110 billion a year according to a 1994 National Safety Council report.

Q: Who has to comply with OSHA standards?

A: Every employer in any state in the United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and all other areas under U.S. jurisdiction.

Q: So, OSHA has standards about how I should run my business. How does it know if I comply?

A: Part of OSHA’s job is to conduct enforcement inspections. An “unprogrammed” inspection takes place when OSHA receives a complaint or referral of a potential problem. In this case, an OSHA inspector will make an unannounced visit to the worksite. “Programmed” inspection are randomly performed (not instigated by a complaint) and are unannounced as well.

President Clinton’s plan to overhaul government agencies includes OSHA. The New OSHA report, which is a summary of OSHA’s plans for change released in May1995 by President Clinton and Vice President Gore, spells out how OSHA is redesigning its enforcement policies. OSHA will discriminate between employers who implement “aggressive health and safety programs” and those who don’t. The report explains how OSHA will work in partnership with employers who initiate hazard-eliminating programs and work hard to reduce injuries and illness. OSHA will recognize employers in the partnership by assigning them the lowest priority for assistance, appropriate regulatory relief, and penalty reductions of up to 100%. OSHA will also implement a sliding scale of these benefits for employers who make an effort to improve but need to work on their workplace safety. Those who do not choose the partnership option will be subject to traditional enforcement.

Q: What happens during a worksite inspection?

A: First, an OSHA representative will come to your place of business. OSHA inspectors are known as Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHOs). Almost all OSHA inspections are unannounced, as many violations can be easily camouflaged if a business owner is given time to prepare for an inspection. In fact, part of the act specifically addresses the prohibition of prior notice of inspections and allow a fine of up to $1,000 or six months in jail for those who warn employers of an upcoming inspection.

The CSHO will present his credential to the owner of her representative, operator, or agent-in-charge at the workplace. If one of those persons is not available, the CSHO will try to reach the employer to get a representative to the site. The CSHO has to wait on hour before proceeding with the inspection without a representative.

There will then be an opening conference. Employees as well as the employer are typically involved. If the inspection is unprogrammed, the CSHO will distribute a copy of the complaint.

The CSHO will then examine the company’s records (injury and illness records, lost workday injury records) and required postings (for example, the job Safety and Health Protection Guidelines poster and MSDS where all employees can review them).

Next is the walkaround. The employer accompanies the CSHO in a search of potential safety and health hazards. The CSHO will record in writing by taking samples, or with audio or video tape all information necessary to document any violation.

The CSHO will then conduct employee interviews. These are private, and any employer objection to the privacy of the interview is considered to be a refusal of entry, which begins another process for the CSHO to get access. The purpose of the interviews is to get supporting evidence of violations, helps determine appropriate solutions, and to find out if the employer had prior notice of the inspection and covered up any violations.

The closing conference wraps up the inspection by informing the employer of any violations discovered and whether any follow-up inspections can be expected.


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