If you own, or work for a small manufacturing, construction, energy or industrial services business, this article definitely applies to you.
I used to own and manage 2 small energy service companies. One provided operations & maintenance services to utility scale wind farms throughout the US, and the other provided vacuum tanker and frack tank services to the oil & gas exploration industry in south Texas.
My employees were exposed to significant health & safety hazards on a daily basis. Our wind technicians worked atop 250 foot high wind turbines, and in confined spaces surrounded by large moving parts, and high voltage hazards. Our oilfield employees worked long hours, traveled dangerous roads, and on over-crowded drill “pads” during the fracking process, with many hazards including swinging sledgehammers, toxic hydrogen sulfide gas, and huge pieces of equipment and trucks that continuously maneuvered backwards and forward across the pads.
During my time in both industries, I read and heard about some horrific accidents, injuries and fatalities. To give you an idea, one fatality involved a wind technician who chose to jump 250 feet to his death rather than face the flames from a fire he accidentally started while performing a repair near the top of a turbine. Another 2 technicians, who were new to the industry, died after by-passing a Lockout-Tagout procedure designed to stop/brake a rotor (the large structure at the top of the turbine consisting of the “nose cone” and 3 blades) during a high wind day. This rookie mistake allowed the rotor to go into an “over- spin” that was so severe, it torqued the turbine’s tower structure over to the point that the rotor blades actually cut the tower in half, causing a collapse of the entire structure. Unless you’ve ever stood next to a utility scale wind turbine, or climbed to the top of one, you can’t begin to understand their scale & size, and therefore the magnitude of this catastrophic event.
During my time in the oilfield, the industry experienced the greatest increase in serious workplace injuries and fatalities than any other industry in the country. Workers were being injured and dying in record numbers from all kinds of hazards including highway crashes, fires, “struck by” and “run-over” events.
Any of these frightening hazards could have seriously injured or killed my employees at any moment, and I knew it. It caused constant worry and stress and often kept me up at night.
Then shortly after starting my wind business, one of my competitors was fined $378,000 by OSHA after an employee was severely burned by an arc flash while working on a transformer. It turned out to be the 10th largest fine issued by OSHA that year in the entire country. If it happened to them, I knew all too well that it could happen to my company if I wasn’t careful. In fact it eventually did, but I’ll talk more about that later….
I learned very quickly the importance of managing OSHA health and safety compliance, not only to protect my employees, but also my companies. I also learned how difficult and challenging this endeavor can be, especially for small companies like mine, who often lack the time, resources and expertise required to get it right. Despite these obstacles, I made a firm commitment to myself that “none of my employees were going to get seriously injured or die on my watch.” If an accident were to happen, it was going to be despite all of my best efforts and money spent. I made the commitment and followed through, but made lots of mistakes along the way.
I’d like to share my top 10 OSHA compliance mistakes made and lesson learned as a small business owner in hopes of helping other small companies avoid making the same mistakes, and thus better protect their employees and businesses.
Check back for updates and more information on the 10 mistakes and lessons I learned during this process.
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