OSHA Basics

July 1999

Managing:Legal Issues

OSHA Basics

Complying with OSHA rules protects your staff from injury and your business from expensive fines, legal costs and even criminal liability


The Occupational Safety & Health Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Labor, is responsible for creating and enforcing standards of workplace safety. For jewelers, it's mostly relevant to the work done in their shop areas, where custom designs and repairs are performed.

OSHA's Work
OSHA's enforcement of safety is primarily accomplished through site inspections, says Harold Williams, an OSHA compliance officer in Marlton, NJ. These site visits can occur for three reasons:

  • OSHA is notified of a workplace injury by an injured employee, the employee's family, a coworker, a hospital or an insurance company.
  • A complaint from a worker or third party, such as a worker's family member, a customer or anyone else who is in your place of business.
  • A random inspection. Traditionally, random inspections are not done at work sites having fewer than 10 employees, but Williams says this may change.

Violations & Citations
If OSHA conducts an on-site inspection for any reason, the compliance officer may cite you for any OSHA violation found. The different types of violations that warrant a citation include:

  • An inspector will cite you for an "other than serious" violation when he or she finds a situation that deviates from OSHA standards. Though no immediate hazard exists, the situation could develop into one. You must correct the violation, but there is no fine.
  • A "serious" violation is declared when actual harm is likely to occur. The resulting fine is based on the degree of injury likely to result from the hazard. Cuts and bruises, considered minor, result in lower fines. If the hazard creates the likelihood of a serious injury – such as blindness or disability – or death, the fine can go up to $7,000 per violation. If several employees are exposed to a single hazard, it's one violation. For example, using improperly labeled hydrofluoric acid to devest casting is one violation, regardless of the number of employees exposed. But an employee without eye protection operating a grinding wheel without the required safety guard counts as two violations (the lack of eye protection and the unguarded wheel). Given the complexity of OSHA standards, it's easy to have several violations in a bench environment.
  • A "willful" violation occurs when an an employer forces an employee to work exposed to a known and serious hazard. The fine for this infraction can be as much as $70,000 per violation. If an employee is killed as a result of a willful violation, OSHA refers the case to the U.S. Department of Justice for criminal prosecution.

More Citations
Other types of serious citations result from repeat offenses and failure to correct a violation after OSHA notification. Failure to correct a violation results in a "failure to abate" citation and can be expensive. The original fine is multiplied by the number of days the violation persisted after OSHA notification, up to 30 days. An original fine of $7,000 could skyrocket to $210,000.

As an employer, you usually are liable for violations created by your employees. If you have workers who don't wear eye protection in a situation where OSHA standards require it, for example, you are responsible.

You can avoid liability if you prove the employees were trained properly and given the necessary equipment and if you have enforcement procedures in place and follow them. For example, you send employees home or in some way reprimand them for not using eye protection. OSHA also must witness other employees complying with standards to see your policies are in place.

Know if You Comply
There are several ways to find out whether you have an OSHA violation before there is a complaint, accident or random inspection that will result in a citation. First, spend some time on OSHA's Web site (www.osha.gov). The comprehensive site lists all the standards, contains advice and guidance for correcting violations and gives insight into violations OSHA considers serious.

An OSHA regional office is another excellent source of help and information. Its printed material contains a list of the 25 most frequently cited OSHA standards in the manufacturing area, many of which apply to the bench jeweler. If you have no shop or bench connected with your retail business, you still will want to familiarize yourself with OSHA standards that relate to retail environments. Find OSHA under U.S. Department of Labor in the blue pages of your phone book.

OSHA also funds a free consultation service operated by state Departments of Labor. These programs are designed specifically for small companies that probably lack workplace safety engineers. If you request written materials from OSHA, you will get a consultation request form from your state DOL. After a consultation, you will receive a report indicating violations and ways to correct them. You must correct them and notify your state DOL within a certain time. Depending on the corrections to be made, DOL consultants may return for a follow-up inspection. Because OSHA is not involved in this scenario, you can correct the violations without being cited or fined.

William H. Donahue Jr. is an attorney practicing in New Jersey.

Some OSHA Rules

The following OSHA standards are likely to apply to bench jewelers working in your shop area. These are just a sample of hundreds of standards.

  • 1910.1200 H: Employers shall provide employees with information and training on hazardous chemicals at the time of their initial assignment and whenever a new hazard is introduced into their work area.
  • 1910.1200 F: The employer shall ensure that each container of hazardous chemicals in the workplace is labeled, tagged or marked with the identity of the chemical and appropriate hazard warnings.
  • 1910.215 A: Abrasive wheels shall be used only on machines provided with safety guards. Safety guards shall cover the spindle end, nut and flange projections. On offhand grinding machines, work rests shall be used to support the work.
  • 1910.132 D: The employer shall determine if personal protective equipment is necessary and shall select the appropriate type.

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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