OSHA sent letters to about 15,000 workplaces last month advising them they had high injury rates and urging them to take "immediate steps to protect their workers." The letters are part of OSHA's 2010 Site Specific Targeting (SST) program that tries to focus the agency's enforcement resources. The letters warn that OSHA may target these workplaces for inspection. The establishments that received these letters reported DART rates in 2008 that were at least twice as high than the national average of 2.0 per 100 full-time workers. DART is the rate of injury and illnesses resulting in days away from work, restricted work activities, or job transfer.

More than 200 solid waste establishments received these letters, and the list contains both small haulers and the large national companies (and everyone in between). OSHA only sends these letters to companies in about half the states; states that use their own OSHA to handle enforcement (e.g., California) also develop their own high-hazard inspection targeting system based on available data.

In past years, some solid waste companies who were inspected under the SST program received wall-to-wall inspections that resulted in significant fines. In one recent instance, a company was fined more than $200,000.

Unless you have your head buried deep in the ground, you know that OSHA has become much more aggressive in its enforcement of regulations and standards during the past year. In addition, OSHA has hired more inspectors, is issuing much larger fines, and is asking for even more money for 2011.

If you received one of the OSHA DART letters — and even if you didn't — you should prepare for a thorough OSHA inspection. Preparing now for the aggressive enforcement threatened by OSHA will minimize potential liability and result in a safer workplace for you and your employees. Employers should:

  • Conduct a recordkeeping audit

    Verify that your OSHA 300 log is current and that it accurately reflects all reportable injuries and illnesses. OSHA is focusing on recordkeeping as part of a "national emphasis program."

  • Validate your safety program

    Verify that your written safety program accurately reflects what is happening in the plant, on the route, in the maintenance shop or at the disposal facility. Make sure your company has conducted all necessary training and has the documentation to prove it.

  • Inspect your facility

    Do a walk around at your workplace and look for conditions that present safety or health hazards or violate OSHA standards. OSHA will find them if you don't, and may conclude that you should have found and corrected the hazard. The most common OSHA standards that solid waste companies are cited for are "hazard communication" and "lock out, tag out."

OSHA isn't fooling around. And neither should you. Get ready for a possible visit, and make your workplace more compliant and your workers safer at the same time.

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David Biderman is general counsel for the National Solid Wastes Management Association. He oversees the organization's safety programs.

Opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the National Solid Wastes Management Association or the Environmental Industry Associations. E-mail the author at davidb@envasns.org.