Columbus, Ohio — If OSHA comes calling, companies need to be prepared with a plan.
That was the message from Nelva Smith, an attorney with Washington-based Steptoe and Johnson LLP, the main sponsor for this year's Environmental, Health and Safety Summit conducted by the Association for Rubber Products Manufacturers and the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors May 24.
The two-day affair at the AC Marriott Downtown Columbus represented the first in-person gathering since the pandemic began, with the last summit conducted in 2019.
The conference drew about 50 representatives from plastics and rubber manufacturing and processing firms from across the country.
"How can you keep your employees safe so they can get home to their families every day?" said Kaitlyn Triplett, managing director at ARPM, in her introduction of Smith.
Smith is an advocate for clients in the automotive, aviation, construction and manufacturing industries, with an emphasis on OSHA cases.
"I know OSHA is everyone's favorite topic at 8 in the morning, but here we go," Smith said of the federal agency, charged with the investigation and penalty phases for workplace injuries.
However OSHA gets into a company — via an unannounced stop, by warrant because there was a workplace injury or via a report by another federal agency, like the Environmental Protection Agency — the problem can be traced to several origins.
Often, Smith said, employee buy-in is an issue in implementing best safety practices, and other times the problem can be accountability at the management level or the warehouse floor.
In other cases, safety policies are not properly communicated during onboarding.
"And the penalties for non-compliance keep going up every year," Smith said, noting that "serious" and "other-than-serious" findings increased to $15,625 per instance in 2023.
"Willful" and "repeat" penalty instances increased to $156,259 per violation, Smith said.
And the federal government has introduced a new initiative within OSHA known as "instance-by-instance," which includes certain types of violations which the agency deems "high-gravity," serious incursions of OSHA standards.