Private Employers’ OSHA Failings Could Affect Your Agency

In January of 2012, the families of 5 workplace accident victims received the news that RPI Coating, Inc. will have to pay out $1.5 million dollars in wrongful death compensation. The company finally entered into a plea deal after a legal battle stretching back to 2007. In addition to the settlement, RPI must also pay $100,000 in OSHA fines. The firm will be on federal probation for 5 years.

The incident that took the lives of these workers happened in one of the most dangerous work environments – a confined space. When vapors in a tunnel ignited, workers could not reach the exit. The company was found to be at fault for two reasons:

  • Failure to have adequate fire prevention measures in place
  • Failure to provide adequate emergency services to rescue the employees

This tragic accident highlights the weak point in many workplace safety programs and the questions that employers should be asking:

  • What happens when things go wrong?
  • Do we understand the present hazards well enough to develop a rescue plan?
  • What level of rescue training does our on-site team need?
  • When do we call in outside rescue workers?

Public Employees at Risk When Private Employers Ignore OSHA Standards

Although this particular catastrophe occurred at a private company, it has implications that public employers can’t ignore. Agency workers such as firefighters and EMS are often placed in great danger when they attempt a rescue in a workplace that is unprepared for accidents. In these situations, lack of information, equipment, and proper access planning on the part of private employers can and does lead to the death of emergency responders.

It’s not just emergency workers who might be affected by improper safety practices on the part of private companies. When construction workers inadvertently damage public utility infrastructure such as water mains or power lines, this can place utility workers at risk by introducing unexpected hazards into their work environment during repairs. These are just a couple of reasons that public agencies should collaborate with OSHA in promoting greater safety for all employers.

Have you made it part of your risk management strategy to encourage other employers in your community to get their OSHA training and safety planning up to speed? If not, what steps can you take in 2012 to get more involved?