Workplace safety: OSHA is watching dental practices
The best way to avoid inspections and potential fines is to establish, promote, and enforce a culture of safety in the dental workplace. Unfortunately, even the most meticulous workplaces have the potential to face an OSHA inspection.
The best way to avoid inspections and potential fines is to establish, promote, and enforce a culture of safety in the dental workplace. Unfortunately, even the most meticulous workplaces have the potential to face an OSHA inspection.The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can conduct workplace inspections at any given time for a number of different reasons, such as serious injuries or fatalities. In many cases, inspections are the result of employee complaints. While OSHA prioritizes workplace inspections based on the high potential risk for injury or illness, that does not prevent less risky environments, such as dental offices, from being inspected at any time.
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As a result of a statutory change that went into effect this summer, maximum OSHA penalties for violations have increased by 78%. To put this into perspective, the previous maximum penalty of $7,000 for a serious violation is now $12,471. Maximum penalties for willful or repeated violations, which were previously capped at $70,000, have soared to $124,709 per violation. With these penalty increases, the cost of failing to maintain a safe work environment can be even more devastating to a business.
The best way to avoid inspections and potential fines is to establish, promote, and enforce a culture of safety in the workplace. Many common on-the-job safety risks can be avoided by establishing a workplace safety policy, and by helping all employees understand the importance of following safety rules and regulations. Dental professionals should particularly be aware of the Bloodborne Pathogen Standard and the Hazard Communication Standard, which protect employees who are at risk of exposure to blood and bodily fluids or certain harmful chemicals. These standards also require written safety plans, including an exposure control plan and training and protective attire for employees.
Unfortunately, even the most meticulous workplaces have the potential to face an OSHA inspection. Here are four things dental professionals should be aware of related to OSHA inspections:
1. Walk-ins welcome
OSHA is not required to give advance notice of an inspection or an investigation, and it rarely does. However, in situations presenting imminent danger, OSHA may provide notice to expedite the inspection process and get the hazard addressed immediately. In most cases, OSHA will either investigate complaints by phone or dispatch inspectors to conduct a surprise in-person inspection.
2. You’re on call
With permission from the complainant, OSHA may call the business to describe the complaint and follow up with requests for written details about the alleged hazards. If your office receives an inquiry from OSHA, you are required to respond in writing within five working days. Potential hazards must be identified in your response along with corrective actions that have been taken to address the issue. If the response is timely and adequate, and the complainant is satisfied with it, OSHA will likely not conduct an on-site inspection.
3. A walk-around is part of the drill
When an OSHA compliance officer arrives on site for an inspection, s/he will take a tour of the workplace to inspect for potential hazards that could result in an injury or illness. The employer is entitled to accompany the compliance officer on the tour and ask questions throughout the process. It is also recommended that the employer take detailed notes during the inspection. The walk-around can take place over several hours, days or weeks, depending on the nature of the inspection.
4. Capping it off
Following the walk-around, the compliance officer will discuss his or her findings and review any violations, potential fees, and deadlines. The officer will also review solutions that must be implemented in order to address any hazards.
If OSHA chooses to issue a citation and collect financial penalties, they must do so within six months of the violation occurrence. Employers have 15 working days to challenge alleged violations and penalties by writing to the OSHA area director. Appeals are reviewed by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
OSHA’s primary goal is to maintain safe working conditions for employees. It offers many resources to help dental professionals identify and remedy potential hazards, and establish effective workplace safety policies. By establishing a workplace safety policy and training employees on the standards, dental professionals can help keep their employees safe from harm and their businesses safe from penalties.
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David Quezada is vice president of loss control for EMPLOYERS, America’s small business insurance specialist. Employers offers workers’ compensation insurance and services through Employers Insurance Company of Nevada, Employers Compensation Insurance Company, Employers Preferred Insurance Company, and Employers Assurance Company. Not all insurers do business in all jurisdictions. (Employers and America's small business insurance specialists are registered trademarks of Employers Insurance Company of Nevada.)