It always generates headlines when a company is hit with a big OSHA fine, but we rarely hear about all of the cases when OSHA investigates and determines there was no safety violation. Here’s one recent case that offers important lessons to safety professionals.
On March 22, AK Steel in Middletown, Ohio received a letter from OSHA saying the agency had received complaints of a number of safety violations, including “welders have no certification to weld or pressure pipes, structures, railings, etc.” and “no welding logs are being kept for certifications purposes,” according to the local Journal News. The letter gave the company one week to respond.
AK Steel employs about 2500 workers in Middletown and 200 or so are welders. The potential damage from an OSHA investigation would have been high since each worker who was not certified could be counted as a separate violation and the investigation could also widen to all training, policies and working conditions.
However, what AK Steel understood was that a complaint isn’t the same as a violation. Here is what company leaders did:
- Recordkeeping: They appear to have had a very good system for managing training and certification records.
- Internal Review: Within the one-week deadline, they reviewed all certification records over a ten-year period and provided the proof to OSHA. That appears to have included documents that were well beyond OSHA’s window to look at past training and presumably included welders who had worked for AK Steel but were no longer there. In other words, their attitude was, “we have nothing to hide.”
- Understanding Regulations: They understood the law and cited it on welding logs. The company explained that it did not keep logs because they were not required by the regulations.
- Educating Investigators: They explained how they make sure welders are qualified. The company says it follows American Society of Mechanical Engineers standards on performing reviews as a part of certification and provided test records.
- No Foot Dragging: Above all, they responded quickly. By jumping on the case, they showed that they took the complaint as seriously as OSHA did and wanted to work to get to the bottom of it.
The end result was that OSHA reviewed the documents and wrote to the complainant that it “feels the case can be closed on the grounds that the hazardous condition(s) did not exist.”
It can be expensive to maintain a records system that allows you to quickly track down those kinds of documents and to respond so quickly to an OSHA request. However, the immediate reward is that it saved the company thousands of dollars in penalties because it was so effective in proving no violation occurred. The secondary reward is that it builds good will with an agency when a company can prove it is following the rules. Perhaps the biggest benefit can be seen in the chart below. On the day that OSHA announced it found no violations, AK Steel’s stock jumped up more than six percent. That’s a return on safety investments!
Chart by Yahoo Finance.