Recent court decisions and those of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission support the point that OSHA may not cite an employer for a violation when that employer has not exposed an employee to the alleged violative circumstances. This is an important point when an employer is considering staffing and job assignments, workplace layout, and safety policies. In facilities where there are moving vehicles, conveyer belts, or harmful chemicals being used, employers can reduce exposure to any potential hazards by placing controls in locations where employees perform their tasks, where they move around the facility, and where non-essential employees are located while performing potentially dangerous tasks.
I have seen a number of circumstances in the past year where employees simply left their work station for unknown reasons, resulting in an injured employee. When an employer uses floor markings or signage to properly identify working and walking areas, injuries are greatly reduced. Similarly, it is too common that employees are injured observing others working. Often, these employees had no business being in the area because the work being performed was by employees of contractors. Injuries and OSHA citations could have been prevented if the employer more clearly identified where its employees should (and should not) be located. For example, when a company uses contractors to perform a task, it should be made clear to the company’s employees (and possibly even mentioned in the work permit) that they should not observe the contractors’ work if there is no need. Companies should exercise judgment in deciding which contractor jobs truly require the observation of their own employees and which would be fine without it.
Needless employee occupation of work areas puts employees at risk for injury and exposes the company to potential OSHA citations. An employer can truly give its employees something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving by keeping them out of harm’s way when the employer has an ability to do so. At the same time, the company can reduce the risk of OSHA citations for conditions created by other companies.