OSHA Paperwork Compliance: Does Your Company Follow the Rules?

Joe O’Connor

March 2007

In years past, the horror stories of Occupational Safety and Health Administration paperwork violations were overwhelming. An example of this was the citations for missing Material Safety Data Sheets to contractors for such simple items as rebar and dishwashing liquid. OSHA recognized the futility of this and released a revised paperwork compliance directive on Nov. 11, 1995. Although the directive was a positive step, it did not alleviate the burden on employers. Numerous recordkeeping and written program standards remain in effect. In addition, paperwork is often needed to prove compliance even when it is not called for by a standard. A better understanding is needed of paperwork standards, the directive and hidden paperwork requirements.

There are two major categories of OSHA paperwork compliance: the injury and illness recordkeeping standard and the many written programs. The written program is the heart of a number of paperwork standards. It also directs the maintenance of many other documents, such as MSDSs. MSDSs are a major paperwork burden and a part of the Hazard Communication program. There are other incidental paperwork requirements in various standards, but they are few in comparison to those in the categories noted. They include posting the OSHA notice and maintaining inspection records for cranes, chains used in rigging, etc.

Injury and Illness Recordkeeping
The most significant set of records maintained by an employer are the work-related fatalities, injuries and illnesses (1904 Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness). These records identify hazardous industries, employers with poor safety performance and injury and illness trends. OSHA uses the records to direct their safety intervention strategies (such as compliance assistance, inspection priorities, etc.).

All wall and ceiling contractors with more than 10 employees on the payroll (at any point during the year) must maintain these records. The Log of Work-related Injuries and Illnesses (Form 300) is used to classify the injuries and illnesses and their severity. When an incident occurs, the details are noted on the log. At the end of the year a Summary (Form 300A) must be posted. It shows the totals for the year in each category. It must be in a visible location so that employees are aware of the company’s record. The posting period is Feb. 1 through April 30 (see sidebar).

Work-related injuries and illnesses that must be recorded are those that result in death, loss of consciousness, days away from work, restricted work activity or job transfer, or medical treatment beyond first aid. Additionally, cases that involve a cut from a sharp object that is contaminated with another person’s blood or other potentially infectious material, medical removal as covered by another standard, tuberculosis, or changes in the employee’s hearing ability need to be recorded.

Work relatedness is determined by where the injury or illness occurred and whether or not the hazard existed in the workplace to cause it. If an event or exposure occurred in the work environment and caused or contributed to an employee injury or illness, it is work-related. It is also work-related if the event or exposure significantly aggravated a preexisting condition. The standard should be consulted for special considerations for what is considered the work environment. There are also other special requirements regarding privacy, multiple establishments and fatality reporting. A fatality must be reported to OSHA within eight hours.

Written Programs
In developing standards to address a given hazard, OSHA often adds a requirement for employees to document compliance. The concept is for employers to certify action taken. The basic design of a written program is the purpose, the hazard analysis, a description of the controls implemented and an ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of the program. Employee involvement in the program has also become a key element.

The purpose is simple: Each program should begin with why the employer developed the program. The hazard analysis is critical. Depending on the hazard, it includes a record of inspections, monitoring or other tests to determine the existence or level of exposure. This is followed by the controls needed. Controls may be engineering, administrative or personal protective equipment. The engineering controls include ventilation, equipment used to modify the environment, chemical substitution, etc. Administrative controls are the operating practices and procedures, training and emergency response or first aid. If needed, PPE use must be addressed in the program. PPE in and of itself may also require a written program. The ongoing evaluation component usually takes the form of an annual review of the program.

Programs that all wall and ceiling contractors must develop include an Accident Prevention Program (1926.20(b)), Emergency Action Plan (1926.35) and Hazard Communication Program (1926.59.) The Emergency Action Plan requires an analysis of possible emergencies that may occur. It must also describe the controls, such as the method for notification of an emergency, escape procedures and training. The Hazard Communication Program requires an inspection of the workplace for hazardous chemicals; labeling of chemicals, MSDSs to identify the chemical’s hazards and provide procedures for controlling them; and training. All these items must be described in the program.

Other written programs, which wall and ceiling contractors may be required to develop, are based on the type of operation and/or the presence of a given hazard. For example, a respiratory protection program (1926.103) is needed if there are airborne hazards. The program must contain a description of the analysis performed; medical test records that ensure employees are capable of wearing the respirators, fit-test records, procedures for use and maintenance of respirators, etc. Another common program is the hearing conservation program (1926.52.) It is needed in writing, if maintenance work is performed and noise exists above 85 decibels. The hearing protection itself must be worn at 90 decibels.

It should be noted that the need for a written hearing conservation program was qualified with the operation being performed, as well as the hazard. The construction regulation addressing noise calls for a program, but it doesn’t state that it needs to be written. A similar standard (1910.95) in the general industry regulations has a requirement for the program to be in writing. In either case, the protections must be in place. If the job is performed by a general industry employer or by a contractor as a maintenance operation, the program must be written.

Similar written program standard comparisons exist for Permit-Required Confined Spaces (1910.146), Personal Protective Equipment (1910.132), Controlling Hazardous Energy – Lockout/Tagout (1910.147) and Bloodborne Pathogens (1910.1030). It would be wise for wall and ceiling contractors to put their practices into a written program for regulations that have a comparable general industry requirement. Each should be reviewed to determine the analysis and controls that should be described in the written program. The same applies to practices for which a census standard may have a written program or documentation requirement.

OSHA Paperwork Compliance Directive
The Paperwork Compliance Directive of 1995 describes OSHA’s intent for paperwork and employer compliance. The premise is whether or not the violation is merely "paperwork deficiencies” or represents practices that will have "a significant adverse impact on employee safety and health.” The OSHA notice provides the best overview of this concept. All employers are supposed to post the notice at each job site. No citations are issued when employers fail to do so unless there is a repeat violation or a disregard for its purpose (for example, making employees aware of their rights).

Citations for the OSHA Injury and Illness record deficiencies are based on their relevance. If no log is maintained or posted and there are no fatalities, injuries or illnesses occurred, no citations are issued. If any did occur, a citation will be issued. Deficiencies in the details of log entries will be cited only if they "materially impair the understandability of the nature of hazards, injuries and illnesses in the workplace.”

With respect to written programs, the citations address the evaluation, existence of the hazard and the relationship between the existence of the written word and the protective measure in the workplace. If a standard calls for an evaluation and no hazard exists, no citation is issued. When the written program is missing or deficient, but the employer has complied completely with the standard (complied by providing an evaluation, protective measures, training, etc.), no citation is issued. If the program is deficient and a protective measure is not in place, a serious violation will be issued. If the program is deficient and the protective measure is in place, an other-than-serious violation may be issued; it should not be associated with a penalty.

However, two factors must be considered. The guidelines offered by the directive require the "… informed professional judgment on the part of Compliance Safety and Health Officers … .” The decision to cite or not rests with the individual. It is also often easier to implement practices as well as demonstrate they are in place when supported by documentation.

As stated earlier, OSHA’s desire to focus on practice instead of paper is a positive. Unfortunately, paper is part of the communication needed for both employee and compliance officer. CSHOs have been unable to prove an employee was trained through questioning. In the absence of a training record, the employer cannot prove his effort to comply. The same is true of inspection records and other actions taken.

Regardless of the directive or a paper requirement in a standard, there seems to be a need for more documentation. Wall and ceiling contractors should take care in documenting compliance—whether the standard requires it to be written or not.

About the Author
Joe O’Connor is with Intec, Inc., Waverly, Pa. He can be reached at (800) 745.4818.

For More Information
The numeric references offered throughout this article are to the applicable OSHA regulations in 29 Code of Federal Regulations. These regulations can be found on the OSHA Web site at www.osha.gov.

AWCI Resources
The Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry has taken major innovative steps to assist members in addressing OSHA recordkeeping and the development of written programs. The AWCI Safety Software contains model documents that include written programs, compliance guides, checklists, forms, safety talks and training activities. The application also includes a robust recordkeeping system that tracks things like injury/illness, training, equipment issuance, medical records and events. Special programs have been created for AWCI chapters that include onsite workshops. For more information visit the AWCI Web site www.awci.org or call (703) 538.1600.