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New OSHA Rule Results In Questionnaires, Different Inspection Methods

In the January 2015 issue of Cotton Farming, Dusty Findley discussed the new Occupational Health and Safety Administration reporting rule. This rule has greatly increased the number of ginners who have to call OSHA to report an accident.

If you’re not familiar with the new rule, be sure to contact your ginners’ association to get up to speed. As predicted by many in the industry, it has resulted in so many injury reports that OSHA is no longer able to send an inspector to every facility that calls.

OSHA’s response to this problem is a new investigation tool called the RRI — or rapid response investigation. This involves OSHA calling, faxing or emailing questions to the employer and requiring written answers. If you have to report an injury to OSHA, you should expect to receive one of these inquiries.

The key point is if you answer the questions successfully, OSHA will not do an in-person inspection and you’ll probably not receive a citation. On the other hand, if you don’t respond, then OSHA will likely do an in-person inspection. 

Of course, the agency may do an inspection anyway, even after you’ve answered its questions. In this scenario, you gave OSHA a good set of instructions about what the inspection needs to focus on.

Regardless, you definitely want to respond to any written inquiry from OSHA related to a reported injury. At the same time, you want to be careful to answer questions in an appropriate manner.

It also is important that you contact your ginners’ association or your safety professional for help in responding. It will become a part of OSHA’s investigation file, so all responses should be carefully considered. 

We’ve completed several of these responses since the rule was published and have seen some similarities. Many of our accidents resulted from employees working outside of their normal responsibilities, especially during downtime.

It is helpful if you attach copies of documents that show you’ve covered worker responsibilities and that workers were trained properly.

If your training didn’t cover the situation that caused the accident, then you should probably retrain all workers on that scenario, document the training and include that as part of your accident response. Training, or lack of training, is a component that has had to be addressed in most of our responses.

The other common element most of the responses have had was physical. In one case, there was a guarding issue. Two others involved workers opening panels on machinery without authorization before the machinery was locked out.

Guarding issues are addressed with better guarding, but the purposeful opening of equipment by unauthorized employees is a tougher one. Fortunately in both cases, there was a way to lock the equipment in question.

The guarding standard is designed to prevent accidental contact — not active efforts to get into a machine. But if you can secure a hazard, it is a good idea to do so. We’ll typically make corrections and send photos of them with our reports. 

Don’t be surprised if your first response causes a second set of questions. We’ve seen these investigations go four or five rounds before they’re done. With all that said, so far we’ve had pretty good experiences with these new inspections.

All of our rapid response investigations have been completed without a citation and without an OSHA inspector making a follow-up visit. It is well worth your time to do a good job completing these questionnaires as they are much less stressful than having an inspector show up.

Be careful to think through all your answers, and get help from someone knowledgeable about OSHA regulations before sending in your response. 

Kelley Green, director of technical services for the Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association, contributed this article. Contact him at kelley@tcga.org.