by Bill Taylor, CSP
Principal Safety Scientist

I was conducting a 3 year audit of a client’s injury and illness recordkeeping and ran across a very unusual case which had not recorded on the company’s OSHA 300 Log. Not sure myself, I called OSHA on behalf of the client to get a verbal interpretation. I was told the case should indeed be recorded on the Log.

“That doesn’t make sense. What makes it recordable?” I asked.

“Sometimes, they don’t make sense,” was the response. “It’s simply the rules.”

Often times things don’t make sense. This is especially true regarding OSHA standards. Take a look at fall protection requirements, for example. An employee stripping wax from a hospital floor, moved forward with the floor machine as he progressed. This meant the employee was stepping onto the wet floor while performing the job. An OSHA compliance officer passing through at the time saw this violation of 1910.22(a)(2), which states floors must be “in a clean and, to the extent feasible, in a dry condition.” The employer was cited and received a penalty of nearly $10,000.

As most safety professionals know, fall protection requirements vary from one industry to another, as stated below.

General Industry: 4 feet
Construction: 6 feet
Scaffolds: More than 10 feet
Fixed Ladders: 24 feet
Steel Erection: 30 feet for connectors and 15 feet for others

So, a wet floor on which I can slip and fall to the same level is considered a serious violation, which can result in a very stiff fine. Yet, I can be beside a loading dock 47 inches above ground level, or, worse, on a scaffold exactly 10 feet above the concrete floor with no rails or any other form of fall protection and this is perfectly legal. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t have to make sense; it’s simply the rules. I don’t fault OSHA or anyone else for what can, at times, be confusing and at the same time, offer little or no protection to workers. But it reveals a solid truth…employers, and not OSHA, are responsible for worker protection. Employers should not rely entirely on OSHA standards, but must identify hazards in the workplace and implement ways to protect workers from those hazards, even when there is no OSHA violation. If a worker can be injured from a three-foot fall, the employer should at least consider some type of protection whenever feasible. 

Sometimes the rules don’t make sense, but they are simply the rules. Forget the rules and protect your workers.

Stay tuned for “It’s Simply the Rules: Part II” where we delve further into the limitations and ambiguity of OSHA standards as well as assessing potential hazards.

Bill Taylor, CSP serves as a Principal Safety Scientist with The EI Group, Inc. and has over 40 years in the safety industry. If your facility is in need of OSHA compliance consulting, please do not hesitate to contact him at ( 919) 459-5249 or btaylor@ei1com.