Last week's blog -- Is Your Woodworking Shop OSHA Safe? -- struck a chord with some readers and hit a nerve with others.

In case you missed it, my blog chronicled the woeful safety records of two wood operations, each located on opposite sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. Each of the companies has been cited repeatedly and fined heavily by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration for dozens of "willful" and "serious" health and safety  infractions. While the northern company has not had any reports of injuries - thank goodness - the southern company has experienced a work-related death and a couple of accidents in which employees suffered amputations.

In my mind, those companies stand out as poster children of how not to run a safe wood products operation.

Custom Woodworker Shares OSHA Tale
One particularly interesting response I received was from a custom woodworker in the Southwest who was recently slapped with a “serious” OSHA citation relating to the use of a 10-inch table saw on a job site.

I think anyone who has had experience of dealing with OSHA inspectors or who wonders what it might be like, will find his account interesting. I present the woodworker's email with very light editing -- mainly removing him and his company’s identity as requested. Read on and learn.

“I have read your OSHA blog and wanted to write a comment but as I started the process it looked like my name was going to be published and I am scared to death about OSHA being overzealous.

“I wanted to share a story with you about my ongoing OSHA issue. I was recently doing a job and there was an OSHA inspection at the job site, my crew was not there and all of our tools were locked up with our company’s name clearly visible, The OSHA Inspector asked the GC to set up a time with my firm when we could unlock the tools to have them inspected.

“We complied and sent a foreman to the site to meet the OSHA inspector a few days later. He looked at our tools and asked us to set up our table saw. We took our 10” portable saw and plugged it into an extension cord and then ran the extension cord to an inline GFCI that was plugged into the nomral building power.. We turned on the saw and the inspector asked if we had an 'anti-restart switch' for the saw. We replied that we did not have one nor did we know that anything like that existed.

 

“We received an OSHA violation in the mail (with a proposed penalty of more than and we talked to them to try to get them to reduce the penalty (more than $2,300), We have only had one violation before and that was for somebody standing on a roof without fall protection. We did not want a fight on our hands but we did some searching and found out that we did not do anything wrong.

“While talking to the OSHA administrator we bought up certain facts like, on the Violation it says ‘A serious violation exists when the workplace hazard could cause an accident or illness which would most likely result in death or serious physical harm, unless the employer did not know or could have known with reasonable diligence of the violation.’

“We explained to the OSHA administrator that we checked with the table saw manufacture and they wrote us a letter saying that the OSHA citation is incorrect. (Among other things, the table saw maker noted that the table saw in question did not fall under the OSHA regulation that was cited because it does not "employ three-phase wiring nor does it have a total connected power greater than 5 hp.)

"We asked him how could the violation be ‘Serious’ if we and the manufacture could not have known with reasonable diligence of the violation. His replay was ‘I am not sure how to answer that.’

“I just wanted to tell you that I think that OSHA is very much overzealous in their inspections. We have a great record and we are fighting this violation so hard because of all the reporting that I have seen from you about companies getting repeat offenses and it appears that these fines will put them right out of business.

“Something needs to be done about this. It costs small business tons of time and money. The economy is so fragile right now the last thing many employers need to be spending their resources on is frivolous OSHA claims.”

Postscript
While the custom woodworker never got a response to what his firm had done wrong, OSHA did offer him a deal. It would reduce the proposed penalty by 20 percent provided it agreed to do each of the following:

- 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;

- Document the training, and ensure the documentation is maintained.

I'll report the final outcome if and when I learn it. In the meantime, feel free to share your OSHA tales or comments with your fellow Woodworking Network readers. You can reach me at rchristianson@vancepublishing.com.


Read more of Rich Christianson's blogs.

Guest Blogs Welcome
Got a viewpoint you would like to share with our online woodworking community? Woodworking Network welcomes guest blogs from wood products professionals. Submit your opinions to Rich Christianson, Editor at Large, at rchristianson@vancepublishing.com

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