The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been busy this year implementing new policies and aggressively stepping up enforcement against employers. However, by paying attention to a couple of OSHA’s current hot spots, retail employers can keep themselves out of OSHA’s sights.
After a decade of non-enforcement, OSHA is again citing employers for ergonomic hazards under the general duty clause, also known as Section 5(a)(1). Because there is no specific OSHA standard that applies to ergonomic hazards (e.g. fall protection, confined space, etc.), OSHA is treating it as a “generally recognized hazard” and is citing employers for injuries related to ergonomic hazards for the first time in years. This is catching many employers off guard and can be problematic for retail employers, especially when it comes to inventory and warehouse positions that involve stretching and lifting. The good news is that these injuries are avoidable. Retail employers should look back at their workers compensation runs to see if they have any history of employees incurring ergonomic injuries (e.g. back strains, pulled muscles, carpal tunnel, etc.). If so, employers should identify the positions where these injuries are most prevalent and the root cause of the injury. The employer can then train employees on how to properly perform the task to avoid injury or, if possible, engineer around the task completely. For example, employers should train employees in proper lifting techniques and to avoid reaching and stretching for products in ways that commonly cause ergonomic injuries. Many employers even have their employees spend the first ten minutes of their shift doing stretching exercises. Not only will this prevent OSHA citations, but it will help avoid ergonomic injuries and workers compensation claims that will have a positive effect on your bottom line.
II. NATIVE LANGUAGE TRAINING
OSHA has also begun citing employers who do not provide safety training in a language their employees understand. OSHA cannot mandate that safety training be given in any specific language. However, OSHA is concerned that employees who do not speak or read English are more likely to have accidents and injuries when all of their safety training is given in English. This is especially true for employers with a large number of Hispanic employees. Therefore, OSHA recently announced its Native Language Initiative, directing compliance officers to ensure that employees are receiving their written and oral safety training in a language they understand. Where OSHA finds that employees receive safety training in a language that is not the employee’s native tongue, the compliance officer may issue citations and penalties to the employer for failure to properly train the employees.
Accordingly, retail employers should make sure safety training is being provided in a language that their employees understand. If some of your employees do not speak or read English, then make sure you are providing safety training in their native tongue. Likewise, if your supervisors are giving their crews daily work instructions in a language other than English (e.g. Spanish) you should consider making safety training available in that language as well as English. This also applies to written training documentation. Do not provide employees with safety manuals or have them sign training acknowledgments that they cannot read. Rather, have those documents translated into the language that your workforce understands. Likewise, consider using bi-lingual trainers or offer training sessions in each language to ensure that your employees will understand their safety training.