The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been a bit more visible in recent months. While only a few gins get inspected each year nationwide we’ve had at least three in the past year. While there wasn’t anything shocking about the fact that the inspections took place (2 employee complaint and one follow-up) the fines have grown greatly over what we’ve seen in past inspections.
Gins are still considered agriculture and therefore have many of their own rules. This gives you a bit of flexibility as to the manner you protect your workers on certain things but the underlying OSHA act says that you as an employer have an obligation to provide a workplace that is free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm. This means you have to take care of all the things in the gin that might hurt someone just like general industry does but you can do it in a manner that fits the fact our employees are temporary and seasonal.
Are gins getting targeted in some way? Well maybe. Last year OSHA started an emphasis program protecting “Temporary” workers. The idea is that a number of seasonal type employers are using staffing agencies to fill those jobs. It’s the focus of OSHA to make sure those employers and staffing agencies understand that worker protection responsibilities don’t change because the employees aren’t year round or that someone else is putting tasked with recruiting and paying the employees.
Recently, a staffing agency and Texas vegetable processor were fined a total of $135,000 and a Georgia cereal manufacturer was fined over $40k for exposure to noise, and other hazards. In both cases the agency and the employers were fined.
Now is the best time to review your safety procedures, review the rules and regs, and evaluate your overall safety strategy. Are you providing a workplace that is free from recognized hazards? Can you look at your plant and see a situation where someone could get hurt? Are you relying on a staffing agency to handle your employee training? Are they relying on you for training? OSHA is recommending that language be put in staffing contracts that spells out the safety training responsibilities
Are you going to get a visit by OSHA? Odds are not and many employers bet on that. But the odds are just as high that if you do get a visit, the fines are going to be quite stiff. Why not go ahead and do what you can to take care of those recognized hazards and hedge that bet. If you use a staffing agency to find your workers, make sure you and they are on the same page because OSHA has an eye out for just that relationship.
Don’t forget that your association has plenty of resources to help with hazard recognition and employee training. Use them!