OSHA inspections are usually a stressful time for warehouse owners and operators. Forklifts and other material handling equipment (MHE) are always a focus of these inspections due to their high potential for injury.
ETo shed some light on what warehouse managers can do to prepare their MHE operations for an OSHA inspection and reduce the associated stress, OneTrack recently sat down with Eric J. Conn. Eric is a founding partner of Conn Maciel Carey, a boutique law firm focused on Labor & Employment, Workplace Safety, and Litigation. We talked with him about practical advice warehouse managers can use to be familiar with all aspects of OSHA regulations around MHE
What should a warehouse manager do, specific to their material handling equipment, to prepare for an OSHA inspection?
Many employers have a broad range of different types of material handling equipment in their workplaces, from forklifts, to pallet jacks, hoists, pulleys, and conveyors. With respect to forklifts and other powered industrial trucks, the most common issue we see in OSHA enforcement is the quality and frequency of employee training. Employers should ensure that operators are properly trained in forklift operations and maintain appropriate training documentation. The Powered Industrial Truck Standard (1910.178) requires that employees receive training on any operating instructions, warnings, or precautions listed in the operator's manual, and that each operator’s certification be conducted at least once every three years. Other common OSHA pitfalls related to PITs we see include permitting a forklift to remain in service when it has a defective condition, allowing the labels on controls to become illegible over time, not ensuring employees maintain a view in the direction of travel, and forks not being fully lowered, controls neutralized, power shut off, and breaks set when the forklift is left unattended.
How should a warehouse manager begin to respond to an OSHA citation regarding their material handling equipment?
Employers should take every citation they receive seriously, regardless of the size of the penalty. Often the first citation is issued with an innocuous characterization (e.g., Other Than Serious) and a low or no penalty, or OSHA agrees at an informal settlement conference to reduce more serious violations to lower characterizations and penalties. Employers must be careful to weigh the benefit of a low penalty citation or settlement against the potentially high cost of Repeat violations at the same or related facilities, or costly (or even infeasible) abatement demands. If a material handling citation is received, the employer should work with experienced OSHA defense counsel to analyze the citation and abatement requirements to determine whether there is a significant need to push hard (usually by contesting and litigating against OSHA) to have the item withdrawn or amended to avoid those costs. There is a tight window to contest a citation (typically 15 working days), so it is important to act quickly upon receipt of the citation.
What is the one thing warehouse managers should know about OSHA regulations regarding material handling equipment that they frequently overlook today?
Warehouse managers may tend to focus on OSHA’s primary material handling regulations– i.e. Subpart N – Materials Handling and Storage. However, there are a number of other regulations that are associated with material handling and associated equipment, including lockout/tagout (1910.147), machine guarding (1910.212), hazard communication (1910.1200), walking working surfaces (Subpart D), and personal protective equipment (Subpart I). It is important that warehouse managers understand all of the potential hazards associated with their material handling equipment to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place, that employees are aware of those hazards, and that policies and procedures are in place to address them.
What major trends and changes do you see for OSHA regulations regarding material handling equipment going forward into 2020 and beyond?
Most recently, we saw OSHA issue a rule requiring crane operators to be certified or licensed. This growing trend of making sure heavy machinery and powered industrial equipment operators are trained and competent to use the equipment will likely continue to be a priority for OSHA. In fact, operator training and certification is the most frequently cited standard under OSHA’s powered industrial truck standard. Ensuring operators of material handling equipment understand the hazards associated with the equipment and how to safely operate those vehicles is essential to both limiting potential incidents involving material handling equipment as well as mitigating enforcement risk.
Eric J. Conn is a founding partner of Conn Maciel Carey and Chair of the firm’s national OSHA Workplace Safety Practice Group. His practice focuses exclusively on issues involving occupational safety and health law. Before launching his own OSHA Practice, Mr. Conn practiced for more than a decade alongside the former first General Counsel of the OSH Review Commission.
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