For some, the mere mention of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration brings on stress. Your first thought is likely “OSHA is just more unwanted regulations.” Truth is, you can’t deny that preventing worker injury and health risks are responsible things to do, but it also makes good economic sense for your business.

Really, OSHA aims to ensure employee safety and health by working with employers and employees to create safe working environments. So far, it’s working. Since its inception in 1971, OSHA has helped cut workplace fatalities by more than 60 percent and occupational injury and illness rates by 40 percent.

Employers, managers and employees must work together to make safety and health a priority. An effective program can save $4 to $6 for every $1 invested, according to OSHA statistics, but everyone needs to buy into the idea. Part of that comes from program planning, training and on-site education.               

Since OSHA encourages states to develop and operate their own job safety and health programs, requirements may vary from state to state. The agency provides a variety of publications and extensive information that outline OSHA regulations and requirements. You can find most on the agency’s Web site, www.osha.gov. Even more workplace safety and health information is available through OSHA’s call center at (800) 321-OSHA. 

OSHA’s network of compliance-assistance specialists in local offices also can help. In every state, OSHA offers free workplace consultations to employers who request on-site help to establish safety and health programs, as well as identifying workplace hazards. This service is separate from the agency’s inspection efforts, and no citations or penalties are issued. For more information on this service, contact your nearest OSHA office.

Of course, an OSHA inspection of your operation is always a possibility. Keith Epperson, American Feed Ingredient Association vice president of manufacturing, says the top reasons that OSHA may pay you a visit include:

  • Your number just came up. Regularly scheduled inspections account for more than 50 percent of OSHA visits.
  • Employee complaints. This accounts for 24 percent of OSHA visits. Every employee has the right to contact OSHA about unsafe situations in the work place.
  • Follow-up visits. Twenty-two percent of OSHA visits are follow-ups to check if previous infractions have been rectified.

If your operation is selected for OSHA inspection, plan to meet with the inspector personally when he or she arrives. Accompany the inspector throughout the entire visit. You want to hear first-hand about any problems or suggestions and not rely on other peoples’ interpretations. If the inspector takes photos, be sure to take your own set as well.

Here are the most common OSHA violations found on farms.

1) Hazard communication: Information, including Material Safety Data Sheets, must be readily available and accessible to workers for all hazardous chemicals that are found within your operation.

2) Lock out/Tag out: Without proper lock out/tag out procedures, workers can be electrocuted, lose fingers or arms, or suffer crushing injuries if machinery is inadvertently turned on while being serviced.

3) Respiratory protection: Stay up-to-date on OSHA respirator and face-mask requirements, and make sure your employees are diligent about using them.  (See sidebar.)

It’s worth noting that training is key to preventing OSHA violations involving these first three points. Remember, the OSHA inspector may ask your employees if they have received training on these topics.

4) Machine safety guards: Ensure that they are in place to protect employees from moving machine parts.

5) Electric wiring methods, components, guarding: These areas need to be checked and maintained to protect employees from hazards such as electric shock, fires and explosions.

6) Powered industrial trucks: Be diligent in your training program to ensure safe operation of forklifts and such. Record training session details, including the names of employees who received the instruction.

7) Blood-borne pathogens: This area addresses safe needle-handling techniques and medication storage.

8) Personal protective equipment: Workers are constantly exposed to loud noises from animals and equipment, as well as dust, gasses and vapors. Hearing protection, safety glasses and respirators are basic equipment for swine operations and should be available to all workers. See that employees are trained to use personal-protective equipment and that the equipment is well maintained. Start by writing up personal-protective equipment protocols for each area of your operation. It should include information on the selection, maintenance and use of the equipment.

9) Fire-safety and prevention plans: This covers emergency exit routes, action plans, extinguisher placement and maintenance, as well as fire-prevention strategies.

Violating OSHA regulations can be costly. Fines may be as high as $5,000 to $70,000 depending on the infraction’s severity. If you are fined, work with OSHA officials closely and resolve any infraction as soon as possible.

With proof of thorough employee training, detailed records and a positive track record with OSHA, fines are often reduced.

Know your responsibilities as an employer and be diligent in providing the required equipment and training to employees. Meeting your OSHA requirements will mean fewer accidents and result in less lost work time. You can’t argue with those benefits.


Respirator Use Required

Respirators are often required to protect agriculture workers against harmful dust, fumes, gasses or vapors. According to the National Rural Health Association, “symptoms of bronchitis and asthma-like condition are observed in as many as 25 percent of grain handlers and swine-confinement workers. About one-third of grain and swine producers experience severe influenza symptoms.”

Of course, requiring something and practicing it are two very different things. Chances are, you require employees to use respirators in certain areas of your operation such as the feed mill, but they may be useful in other places as well.

You need to have written protocols for personal-protective equipment that outline which respirator to use, when and how to use it based on the hazard present. Then, ensure that each employee is physically able to wear it correctly. Breathing through a respirator is harder than breathing in open air. People with asthma or emphysema may have trouble breathing with a respirator. For a respirator medical evaluation questionnaire, go to the OSHA Web site at www.OSHA.gov.

Give close attention to ensuring the correct fit. Issues such as facial hair and glasses can present challenges. Special respirators are available for people with glasses.

Here’s a look at some respirator types:

Air-purifying Respirators

  • Particulate respirators, with the proper fit, capture particles in the air such as dusts, but
  • do not protect against gasses or vapors.
  • Combination respirators are normally used in atmospheres that contain both particulate and gas hazards. 
  • Gas and vapor respirators are normally used when there are only hazardous gasses and vapors in the air.

Atmosphere-supplying Respirators

  • Air-supplied respirators use a hose to deliver clean, safe air from a stationary source of compressed air.
  • Combination respirators have an auxiliary, self-contained air supply that can be used if the primary supply fails.
  • Self-contained breathing apparatus consists of a wearable, clean-air supply pack.

You can get more information on respirator selection, use and maintenance by following this link. See also www.agrisafe.org. Remember that it’s your responsibility to regularly check for employee compliance involving respirator use.