Monday, November 5, 2012

OSHA in the Apartment Industry

Last week I finished my OSHA 10 hour training.  I know what what your thinking - "10 hr of safety, big whoop".  Honestly I felt the same until I took the class.  I'm a guy who hates government interference.  I'm convinced that government regulations have done more to hurt the American business place than to help it.  Granted, OSHA was started out of a very real need but like so many government programs, it has become so large and convoluted that most average people cant even understand what they are after, yet alone how to do it.  So when I first sat down for this class, I was more than a little apprehensive.  I did, however, try to keep an open mind and ended up learning a great deal.  And what I learned about OSHA regulations and how it applies to the apartment industry was an eye opener.
Everyone in Construction knows OSHA, or at least knows about them.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration was signed into law in 1970 by President Richard Nixon in response to dangerous working conditions that were the result of our growing business economy. (You can see a timeline of OSHA's history here)  Today, they are the guys that construction workers dread.  We are always looking over our shoulders to make sure we aren't being watched.  We don't want to get caught doing the wrong thing, but the problem is that most of us don't know what that wrong thing is.  But as we all know, OSHA wields a great deal of power & you don't want to be on the wrong end of a mishap.  This was my reason for getting the training.
Here is what I believe is the the most important thing to understand.  You DO NOT have to be OSHA certified in the state of Colorado to do construction or maintenance work.  But you can be sited by OSHA for violations if you are a contractor, employee or employer.  A violation by an employee means a hefty fine for the employer.

Here is what employers and employees in the apartment industry need to know.

  1. As an employer of any size, you fall under OSHA's General Industry Guidelines.  If you have fewer than 10 employees, you are still regulated by the same guidelines but have an exemption for record keeping based on 1904.1 of the CRF.  This simply means that you do not have to keep records of injuries and you are not required to have a written safety plan.
  2. Since much of the work done by maintenance technicians is actually viewed as Construction you also fall under OSHA's Construction Guidelines for these practices.  This means you must be familiar with these guidelines as well to protect yourself.
  3. As an employer, you are responsible for training and equipping your employees in order to provide a safe workplace.
  4. As a supervisor, you can be held responsible for actions taken by your technicians.  This means that all property managers and maintenance supervisors must know how to safely direct their technicians.
Luckily, this is less daunting than it sounds.  Here are the major areas to focus on, if you don't know where to start.

The Focus Four

OSHA reports that 79% of all fatalities in the work place are caused by only 4 accident types.  They refer to them as the "Focus Four".  Learn to identify and address these possible hazards and you will minimize injuries and eliminate the chance of an accidental work related death.
Here are the 4 major groups and the percentage of reported workplace deaths that occur from each.
(Don't worry, I'll get into more detail on these in the posts dedicated to each topic)
  • Falls - 34%
  • Struck by - 24%.
  • Electrical shock - 11%
  • Caught in between - 10

Personal Protection (PPE)

By providing your employees with adequate personal protection devices, you will minimize injuries and keep yourself from having to face a lawsuit over something as simple as a $10 pair of glasses.
  • Be aware of the potential hazards in your workplace and provide the right protective equipment for each job.
  • Train your employees on the proper use and care of their equipment.
  • Make employees accountable for keeping their protective gear readily available and in good working condition.
  • Enforce your accountability system across the board so that all employees are dealt with equally for not complying.

SDS (Safety Data Sheets)

Formerly MSDS, this is the one area I see that most properties are actually up to speed on, or at least trying to be.  The new SDS regulations have changed the game a little, but it is basically the same old game of keeping paperwork about chemicals used on site and marking bottles when you transfer liquids.  It's not hard, but it's very necessary.

Digging Deeper

In the coming weeks, I'll do my best to walk you through these areas of OSHA compliance   Hopefully this will help to keep you out of trouble, but an even greater outcome would be to make your employees safer.
Please note:  I am a registered trainer for OSHA compliance and am not considered and expert in this field.  I've done a lot of research on this and will refer back to actual printed OSHA guidelines for everything I say.  But as with everything in life, don't take my word for it.  Please check all claims, statistics and regulations against the actual OSHA Website or talk with your safety trainer.

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