Another great blog post by Rich Christianson at the Woodworking Network.
Why Custom Woodworker Fought OSHA Penalty
Victory Woodworks' recent successful appeal of a serious table saw violation issued by an overzealous Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforcement agent, was the subject of my blog last week: Custom Woodworker Takes on OSHA and Wins.
The saga began last year when Victory Woodworks, a full-service architectural woodwork shop based in Sparks, NV, was working as a subcontractor on a building project in Las Vegas. The OSHA inspector visiting the site on a day when Victory Woodworks' employees were not present (a technicality that I failed to point out in my previous blog) was curious to learn about the contents of the company's locked job box.
Cutting to the chase, at a meeting arranged a couple of days later with Victory Woodworks' foreman in which the job box was opened, the OSHA agent took the greatest interest in a 10-inch table saw. He questioned why the saw did not have an "anti-restart switch," a device that he believed would prevent it from suddenly starting in the event of a power failure, potentially putting the saw operator’s safety at risk.
Even though the lock box also contained a portable GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) that the OSHA agent would later admit would also prevent an accidental saw restart, he chose to write up a citation based on an outdated ANSI standard advising the use of an anti-restart device. The serious violation carried a proposed penalty of $2,380.
OSHA: Let’s Make a Deal
In bringing his frustration with the OSHA action to my attention last August. Jim Elliker, owner of Victory Woodworks, said OSHA initially offered him a deal to cut the proposed fine by 20 percent. But the deal came with the following stipulations:
- Ensure all table saws used for woodworking have functioning anti-restarts;
- Retrain all employees who use the table saws to check them each day prior to use, the goal being to ensure that there is an anti-restart, and to ensure it is functioning; and
- Document the training, and ensure the documentation is maintained.
Elliker declined the offer and wisely so as OSHA’s next deal to bring the case to a close was even more generous: To help reduce its heavy caseload, OSHA proposed to reduce the violation to “other than serious” (OTS) and waive the full amount of the penalty.
Thanks but No Thanks
Even though the ultimate cost of its defense would prove to be more than double the proposed fine, Elliker on the advice of his “hired gun” John Skowronek Sr., managing member of labor consulting firm Square One Solutions based in Reno, NV, opted to proceed with an appeal to the Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Review Board.
Skowonrek noted that accepting OSHA’s deal would potentially leave Victory Woodworks open to a “repeat” violation if a follow-up OSHA inspection uncovered a similar violation. While OTS and serious violations are capped at $7,000, a repeat violation comes with a penalty upwards of $70,000.
So, with that plus the opportunity to clear its good name in mind, Victory Woodworks chose to fight its case and won.
The OSH Review Board ruled, “The table saw was protected from restart in the event of a power failure by a GFCI device; therefore even without strict compliance with the ANSI standard incorporated in the cited enforcement standard, an alternative method of protection was in place…There were no non-complying conditions at the respondent worksite under the cited standard.”
As Victory Woodworks prepares to file an application to recoup its more than $5,000 in defense costs, I remind readers to take heed. In my regular perusals of OSHA’s press release section, I have not only noticed an increase in the number of enforcement activities involving wood products companies, but also an increased number of citations lodged in each case.
Something to keep in mind if OSHA comes knocking at your door.
Recent blogs by Rich Christianson
Custom Woodworker Takes on OSHA and Wins, 3-2-12
Got an Opinion on Table Saw Safety? Tell the CPSC, 2-23-12
American-Made Furniture Gets Its Groove Back, 2-5-12
Read more of Rich Christianson's blogs.