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Q&A: What Safety Professionals Need to Know About OSHA Compliance

May 30, 2024

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

A safety professional in a hard hat and reflective vest holds a tablet while intently observing a factory setting.

OSHA regulations provide a foundation for improving safety and health at your organization. It is your responsibility to understand which regulations apply to your industry and how to follow them.

Zach Pucillo, CSP, CHMM, EHS compliance manager at KPA LLC, joined  “The Case for Safety Podcast” and spoke with host Scott Fowler about OSHA’s role in workplace safety and how safety professionals can ensure their organizations are in compliance.

Fowler: What are the most important things for safety professionals to know about OSHA compliance?

Pucillo: The first thing I would say is that OSHA is not the enemy. There's a preconceived notion out there that OSHA is almost like an enemy. There's a fear out there, and OSHA gets a bad rap for this because they may come in unannounced, they may issue citations. Some people think they're going to hinder their employees’ ability to do their job, which is not the case for OSHA.

They're not the enemy, they’re a resource. They’re a resource for new professionals to use to understand the regulations that they need to comply with. OSHA wants employers to not only comply, but to take it a step further, be proactive and adopt a safety culture.

You can use OSHA as a tool to help influence decision-makers to adopt safety initiatives. Don't look at them as the enemy. Hazards are the enemy, and that’s what we have to control. That's what OSHA wants to do as well, so work with them. They also want to ensure you’re relaying safety-related information to employees and tailoring your program to your specific industry so that employees can perform their duties without being in harm’s way.

OSHA also wants to see that you’re putting forth effort. In some of the informal conferences I’ve been in, I’ve seen penalties reduced and citations dropped because organizations showed effort in their mitigation strategies. If you're trying and putting forth the effort, OSHA officers will take that into consideration.

Fowler: Who is required to comply with OSHA regulations?  

Pucillo: You have to understand your industry and how many employees you have, because that factors into the regulations that apply to you. Typically, if you have more than 10 employees, it all applies to you. If you have fewer than 10 employees, the majority of it still applies to you. However, you have a couple of exemptions out there, such as maybe you don't have to have written programs.

If you have fewer than 10 employees, you have to actually just communicate what your safety programs are to your employees. There are more exemptions based on the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS).  If you're in a low-risk industry that's on that list based on your NAICS codes, you don't have to maintain an OSHA 300 log, but I would highly recommend still doing it. It's a good practice, but you're exempt from doing so.

But say you have more than 10 employees and you're not on that list. You've got the least maintain the logs now. So you've have to maintain OSHA 300, 300A and 301 forms and keep those for five years. You have to post that 300A log from February 1st to April 30th. Well, now there's also electronic submissions. So if you have more than 250 employees, you have to submit the 300A form. If you have fewer than 250 employees, but you're on Appendix A to subpart A, you've got to submit the 300A form.

Fowler: How can safety professionals familiarize themselves with the regulations that apply to their industries?

Pucillo: is a great resource. You can find OSHA regulations in 29 CFR, and 40 CFR is another one to understand because those are the environmental regulations. You can also build your own  regulatory library. I started gathering books, reference materials and also interpretation letters.

Interpretation letters are key because standards are written to be very broad. Many times interpretation letters are written into OSHA questioning if a certain standard applies to a particular situation. If you can get a copy of an interpretation letter, OSHA offers clarification about what the standard means in order to answer those questions.

You can also reach out to OSHA to see if there is a regulatory contact that can work with you. There are public outreach sections where you can make a contact and send them questions. State agencies offer free compliance specialists.

It’s important to remember that there are a lot of different authorities having jurisdiction that you have to check in with, not just OSHA. There are other consensus standards that people can go back to using the general duty clause. There are National Fire Protection Association codes that OSHA references. You should also familiarize yourself with Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency regulations, as well as local codes.

Fowler: What is the process for recording and reporting injuries?

Pucillo: You have to maintain a list of all the injuries or illnesses that have occurred within the last calendar year, and those go into what is called an initial 300 form. This is a record of each individual case. That summary gets transferred to the OSHA 300A, and that's the form that needs to be posted in your workplace.

You have to determine if there was an injury or illness and if it happened in the work environment. That can be subjected to debate sometimes. What is the work environment? Well, as soon as an employee steps out of their car in the parking lot, that's pretty much the work environment.

The way I interpret it, if they're commuting to work, that's not the work environment. As soon as they step out of the car in the parking lot, they're in the work environment, even if they're not on the clock yet. As soon as they get back in the car, they’re no longer in the work environment. The walk across the parking lot going to clock in, talking with people — that can all be considered the work environment.

The injury or illness has has to be work related and happen in the work environment. There are exemptions for that as well. For example, if someone works at a grocery store but they're shopping off the clock and suffer an injury, that's an exemption. That's not a recordable injury if they happen to get hurt.

If there is a fatality and it's work related, you have to report that within eight hours of becoming aware of that fatality. If there is an amputation, loss of an eye or hospitalization, you have to make sure you report that within 24 hours. There are different reporting mechanisms. You can report it through the OSHA website, there are phone numbers that you can call. If you have a state-run program, they may have a separate number that you need to call through the state program to report those cases.

Fowler: Anything else you’d like to add?

Pucillo: A lot of people think that OSHA compliance is hard. Honestly, it's not. A lot of times it's the eye test. You can take a look around in an organization and you can tell if they are abiding by the different regulations or not.

Changing the culture is an uphill battle for every safety professional out there, but keep working away at it. In our profession, it's never ending. There are always going to be new employees that we have to train. We've got to sustain a safety culture and OSHA is a resource. They're not the be-all end-all, but use them to your advantage if you can.


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