by Jacob M. Sitman and Vanessa M. Ruggiero
Last month, the United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced a national emphasis program aimed at preventing and reducing workplace hazards in warehouses, distribution centers, and high-risk retail establishments. This new OSHA program will inevitably result in more on-site inspections of the many warehouses and distribution centers in the Lehigh Valley and should prompt owners and operators of those facilities to immediately review their health and safety policies, training programs, ensure compliance and make sure managers are prepared to respond if and when OSHA shows up on site. Failure to do so may result in citations and penalties.
The Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety characterized this enforcement effort as measures to “lead to permanent change in workplace safety” with the goal of directing resources to those locations where the root causes of worker injuries can be addressed more strategically in a way that aligns with business practices and ensures the health and safety of workers.
Generally, warehousing and distribution centers have experienced growth, and currently, more than 1.9 million people are employed in the industry. That being said, “the Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows injury and illness rates for these establishments are higher than in private industry overall and, in some sectors, more than twice the rate of the private industry.”
As a result, “OSHA will conduct comprehensive safety inspections focused on hazards related to powered industrial vehicle operations, material handling and storage, walking and working surfaces, means of egress and fire protection.” Additionally, “OSHA will assess heat and ergonomic hazards under the emphasis program, and health inspections may be conducted if OSHA determines these hazards are present.”
Warehouses and distribution centers looking to reduce the risk of problems during an OSHA on-site inspection should act now to ensure compliance with OSHA health and safety standards, consult with qualified health and safety professionals for assistance when necessary, and verify that appropriate procedures are in place to address OSHA inspectors if they do show up.
FLB’s Employment and Labor Relations attorneys have OSHA experience and are available to help businesses navigate these challenges.