Q & A on surveyor safety.

Training seminars offer a great opportunity for attendees to obtain answers to questions that concern them. During several surveying safety presentations, I've fielded the following questions, and offered some responses. Perhaps you have had the same or similar questions.

Q. I have recently received several mailings indicating I need to have a new set of labor posters. I just spent $75 last year. Do I really need the new posters?

A. Everything you need to comply with federal or state posting requirements is available for free. You can order a complete set of federal posters directly from the OSHA website at www.osha.gov. Click on the "Posters" link under "Compliance Assistance" and you will find a listing for "DOL POSTER PACKAGE." The complete set of labor posters is available in both English and Spanish. In addition, many state websites have links to order posters or a number to call to place an order. Another option is to order a laminated color poster set from a commercial printer; costs can range from less than $15 plus shipping for the federal set alone to around $105 for both federal and state postings.

In my 30 years of experience, I have never seen or heard of any company being cited for not having the most current postings. OSHA may suggest that you update your posters if they are slightly outdated. One cautionary note: if the minimum wage rate changes and you have employees working at minimum wage, you'll want to keep your minimum wage posters current.

Q. We were awarded a job recently, and before we went to the jobsite, were asked for a copy of our previous three years of OSHA recordkeeping forms. I do not know what these are. Are they something we should have? Where do we get them?

A. OSHA regulations require most businesses that employ 11 or more employees at any time during the year to keep records of injuries and illnesses. Some industries are exempted under this regulation, including those performing surveying, engineering and architectural services. However, no business is exempt from notifying OSHA in the event of a catastrophe; that is, when three or more employees from any combination of employers require hospitalization from the same incident or workplace fatality.

Some general contractors and developers insist that the surveyor provide these forms. All of the recordkeeping forms can be obtained from the OSHA website. Click on the "Recordkeeping" link under "Compliance Assistance" to download the forms. It is a good idea to complete the forms regardless of company size or exemption. This gives you a great idea of where your company stands in terms of controlling injuries and illnesses. If your company has more than a few employees it is critical (and smart) for you to keep on top of what is occurring in the field and office.

Q. Does our company have to have a Written Safety Program?

A. This isn't as simple of a question to answer. A Written Safety Program is a document that addresses the potential for injuries and illnesses for a company and offers generic routes for remediation or elimination of hazards with an ultimate goal of providing a safe and helpful work environment. In the General Industry category set out by OSHA, which encompasses any activity not covered under construction and shipbuilding activities, there is no requirement by the federal OSHA to have an overall Written Safety and Health Program. A written program is, however, required on the elements of safety that pertain to your employees. For example, Hazard Communications (chemical hazard safety), Permit Required Confined Spaces (PRCS) and Personal Protective Equipment are three areas associated with surveying work. These areas require a written program.

The Williams/Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 offered states two choices: to comply with federal OSHA workplace safety standards, or to form their own state workplace safety effort. The states that chose to set their own standards are known as state plan states. Some state plan states do require a Written Safety and Health Program; it is recommended that companies look to the regulations in the states in which they reside. In construction, it is required to have a Written Safety and Health Program, and it must be onsite with employees at all times. OSHA will give up to a 25 percent credit against the initial amount of any citation for a company who has established an effective safety and health effort. This generally means that the presence of a Written Safety and Health Program along with training will suffice. With each serious citation starting at $7,000 and Willful or Repeat Violations (those committed with an intentional disregard or plain indifference to the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, or those cited for the same item in a three-year period) starting at $70,000, that 25 percent credit can mean savings in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Q. Our policy on confined spaces is that no one enters them. All employees are told they are not to go into a manhole or lift station. Is that all we need to comply with OSHA regulations?

A. This item can be somewhat confusing. The General Industry regulations have a complete confined space standard while the construction regulations do not. Most compliance officers approve companies that follow the General Industry regulations in a construction environment. However, the interpretation of entering a confined space seems to vary. The generally accepted definition of entry is anytime "any portion of your body breaks the plane of the confined space." That means if your fingers, toes or nose go below the removed cover of a manhole then you have committed an entry. It can get more complicated when you consider that a rod or other tools used as an extension could be considered an "extension of the worker," therefore acting as an entry. This is controversial, yet in one case several years ago in San Diego a worker was setting out to check the level on a sewage holding tank. He had simply opened the manhole cover, passed out and fell into the tank due to the vapors that were emitted from the confined space. The company was cited for violations of the Permit Required Confined Spaces (PRCS) standard even though no entry was made. OSHA's reasoning for the citation was that the lack of the PRCS actually caused what became a fatality. At a minimum you need to have a PRCS section in your safety program. Employees should be trained on the definitions of a PRCS and what they must do and not do when working around the PRCS even if no actual entry is to be made. If your employees are actually going to enter the PRCS, then they should be given extensive training from someone familiar with the PRCS regulations.

Every company should look at what information it is asking its field crews to obtain. Crew members have told me that they are told to not enter confined spaces, and then are asked to obtain information they could only get by entering those confined spaces. Be clear and safe in your instructions to employees!

I hope these answers have helped you to more fully understand these four safety topics. Have other questions? E-mail them to brownl@bnpmedia.com. Keep it safe!

Federal Regulations To Post:

  • Employee Polygraph Protection Act
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • Minimum Wage
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) "plain language" posting

Some State Posters to Post:

  • Child Labor Poster
  • Fair Labor Poster
  • Sexual Harassment Poster
  • State Minimum Wage Poster
  • State Plan OSHA Poster (if it is a state plan state)
  • State Whistleblowers Protection
  • Unemployment Insurance Poster
  • Workers Compensation Poster

Remember, each state has specific requirements. The above list is just a representative sampling. Consult your state's website for a listing of the posters you need.