OSHA PPE Violations and Fines — And How to Avoid Them
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OSHA PPE Violations and Fines — And How to Avoid Them

06/06/19

In 2017, employees at a large-scale corn-milling facility in Wisconsin noticed an alarming and unmistakable odor: smoke. Two staffers quickly traced the smell back to a basement fire, a significant hazard in an environment thick with explosive particles.  

Before the workers could fully evacuate, multiple explosions tore through the facility. Five workers were fatally injured. Three sustained injuries requiring hospitalization. Nine more were treated for serious injuries.   

This tragedy was compounded by the fact that some of these injuries could probably have been prevented. A later OSHA investigation (which is being contested by the employer) found a total of 19 violations of occupational safety standards. One in particular stands out — the employer was found by OSHA to have failed to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) “wherever it is necessary by reason of hazards of processes or environment,” as required by standard 1910.132: General requirements for PPE in general industry.

Personal Protective Equipment and OSHA Violations

The story above is not as rare as you might hope, especially in regards to problems with PPE compliance. Among the top 10 most-frequently cited OSHA standards between October 2017 and September 2018, PPE makes two appearances.

ArticleImage-Body1 PPE
The fourth-most cited standard on that list is 29 CFR 1910.134, which covers respiratory protection in general industry. The 10th-most cited regulation is 29 CFR 1926.102, regarding eye and face protection in the construction industry. 

Depending on the severity, these lapses in PPE protocols can lead to OSHA fines between $13,260 and $132,598 per violation. At the date of this article, the corn-milling company mentioned above received a fine of $126,749 for violations associated with standard 1910.132. (This was part of a total assessed penalty in the amount of $1,837,861.) 

Clearly, avoiding fines is not the only reason to follow OSHA guidelines. Maintaining a safe workplace and protecting your workers’ safety are universally desirable goals. Luckily, it isn’t terribly costly or difficult to maintain a safe, OSHA-compliant PPE program for employees in every industry. 

Avoiding OSHA Violations Pertaining to Personal Protective Equipment

The OSHA standards that describe PPE requirements vary by industry. Generally, employers in the construction industry will need to consult regulations found in section 1926, while most other employers should look to the 1910 standards for details on PPE. Separate standards address PPE in shipyards, marine terminals and the longshoring industry. Relevant OSHA regulations for most industries include: 

In the construction field, employers planning PPE programs should consult, at minimum, the following standards: 

Most employers, regardless of particular industry, can build an OSHA-compliant PPE program by following six steps, adapted largely from a recent OSHA document

  1. Complete a hazard assessment at the workplace. 
  2. Build a list of all PPE required to keep employees safe in the conditions present at the workplace. 
  3. Provide all of the required PPE (with a few notable exceptions — for instance, employers need not provide base clothing, and if an employee loses or intentionally damages PPE, that employee may be required to replace the item). 
  4. Conduct detailed training to ensure all employees know how to use and maintain PPE. 
  5. Ensure maintenance, care and cleaning for PPE, including replacement for items that have become worn, damaged or otherwise outlived their service lives. 
  6. Continual reappraisal and modification to the PPE program to ensure future effectiveness among changing conditions.

Choosing Effective, OSHA-Compliant Personal Protective Equipment

Given that employers must provide most PPE for their employees, the burden of choosing appropriate equipment falls on them. Only purchase PPE that complies with OSHA-incorporated ANSI standards. For instance, eye and face protection must meet requirements laid out in ANSI/IZEA Z87.1

Employers must also provide PPE in sizes that will properly fit their employees. PPE should be designed for maximum comfort to encourage compliance. When in doubt, speak to a product specialist at Graybar. These PPE specialists can help employers obtain OSHA-compliant equipment from leading manufacturers like PIP, who have a proven history of quality, affordability and strict adherence to relevant safety standards and regulations.  

By creating a robust PPE program, every employer can avoid OSHA PPE violations and associated fines — and, more importantly, protect workers’ safety.