Despite those horrifying stories that make headlines, by most statistical measures we are generally safer living in the United States today than any people in the history of the human race.
That safety didn’t come about by accident. It’s thanks to the hard work of millions of people in different fields over decades, and it’s enforced by millions of people making common-sense safety decisions every day. It’s also enforced by a few government agencies.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed by Congress in 1970, and it created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to enforce its provisions. The goal of this act, of course, was to promote a safe working environment for all laborers in the U.S., particularly in some hazardous industries. Today, OSHA works with and through individual state labor departments and conducts random inspections of workplaces throughout the country. It also responds, generally rather promptly, to employee complaints and routinely issues specific guidelines on acceptable workplace safety standards.
Clear the Clutter
You may be wondering what OSHA has to do with firearms retail. Typically, when people think of OSHA violations, they think of high-rise construction sites, mines, foundries or some type of industry where hazardous materials and potential injury surround workers at every turn. But retail stores are workplaces as well. Over the previous five years, running to 2017, the most frequently cited OSHA violation was fall protection, a risk present even in a firearms retail environment.
Now, you may be thinking to yourself that you run a safe store, so there’s nothing to worry about. But OSHA’s definition of “safe” in certain matters likely differs from yours.
Several OSHA violations are recurring issues with retailers. Blocked aisles, exit access and access to electrical equipment are the most common. Let’s look at a couple examples of where such a violation might occur in your “safe” store.
Retailers have to get product out on the floor to sell it, and that requires stocking shelves. That sounds pretty innocuous, but a box or cart full of items even temporarily blocking an aisle can be a recipe for a violation, as OSHA regulations specify that 28 inches must be available for exit access at all points. That means that if the presence of a box in any aisle shrinks that space to less than 28 inches, you are in violation of OSHA regulations.
Another common occurrence is for retail stores to simply have excess stuff — inventory, packing materials, boxes of paperwork files, etc. — and that stuff gets piled up in different places, particularly “in the back.” But blocking access to electrical panels is a violation, as is blocking access to fire extinguishers.
Other violations in the slip-and-fall category show up in unmarked wet floors and in stocking procedures for high shelves (those that require employees to be elevated more than 4 feet) that don’t comply with safety regulations. And, if you also have a range facility, you are undoubtedly aware that it requires suitable ventilation and that employees working within the range environment will require personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect against both airborne particles and noise. Bottom line, don’t think you’re OSHA-proof just because you run a clean store.
Most business owners have heard some kind of anecdotal horror story about OSHA violations. While there certainly have been companies that have racked up big fines, and any organization can have its share of rather unreasonable people, OSHA is not an agency on a mission to punish you. It is looking to make sure standards are enforced. With the vast majority of inspectors, the focus of any interaction will be on remediating safety issues and not on punitive fines, especially if you act in good faith.
The process will start with either a random inspection or a response to a complaint. If it’s about a complaint, the official will tell you that, though they will not identify the complainant. From there, they’ll start with a meeting in which they will interview you about certain safety practices and procedures. That’s followed by a site walkthrough. The inspector will communicate their findings to you in writing within a week or two.
If you are cited for any violations, you will likely have to pay a small fine and will have a period of time to remediate the issue. Treat the situation seriously and give it the attention it deserves. Approach the process with good faith, be honest, and fix the problem. After you do, they will come back and inspect and, hopefully, close the case if the remediation was successful.
There are literally thousands of pages of OSHA guidelines with specifications and measurements. To list them all here would be impractical, as would spending hours on end researching them yourself. Good thing you have access to a free expert resource on this subject.
Most states require businesses of a minimal size to carry workers compensation insurance and even if it’s not required, most businesses do anyway. Many major workers-comp carriers will provide mock OSHA audits conducted confidentially and by an expert at no charge to help you either prepare for an inspection or merely stay on top of safety issues. This benefits them by reducing the risk of accidents, and it benefits you by helping you fend off potential violations. If your insurance company does not provide this service then it very likely can refer you to a professional who can.
When it comes to safety, common sense practices are always good. But it’s not safe to assume that those practices cover you completely from OSHA violations. Take some time today to investigate, get some expert help if necessary and avoid potentially costly violations in the future.
Josh Fiorini has a wealth of experience in manufacturing, business management and finance both within and without the firearms industry.
Featured image: iStock