It was January of 2009 and I was attending a health and safety conference in San Diego, CA for the wind energy industry. I had started a small wind energy operations and maintenance services business in 2007, which rapidly grew from a few employees to over 40 in that first 2 years of operation. From the beginning I was determined to make safety a priority, but didn’t really understand what that meant. What I did know was that my employees were working on utility scale wind farms all over the country, often in remote locations, often 250+ feet off the ground, surrounded by large moving parts, high voltage electricity and often working in cramped confined spaces. In other words, I recognized the extreme dangers but didn’t really know how to manage them and keep my employees safe. The industry trade group (AWEA: American Wind Energy Association) had started an annual health and safety conference to help member O&M (operations & maintenance) groups understand and manage their OSHA health and safety compliance obligations. I was grateful for the opportunity to learn, attended the event every year, listened, networked and took lots of notes.
Despite attending these events and my other best efforts, I continued to struggle to gain solid traction over those first few years. Sure, we hired a safety manager, implemented basic safety training requirements and provided all of the needed Personal Protective Equipment (especially fall protection), but I never really knew if we were getting it right, nor if our technicians were operating safely in the field (i.e.: following their training, company policies and procedures, etc…) It was a dark cloud that always followed me and I always dreaded getting the call that someone had been injured (or worse!).
The concerns came to a head on that particular day in January 2009 when a representative from OSHA gave a presentation at the conference. The year prior at the same conference OSHA had also presented, but their main message that year boiled down to, “we don’t really understand what your industry does because it’s so new, but we’re going to learn. And when we do, we’ll start regulating your industry and holding companies accountable for failing to meet their OSHA compliance obligations.” (The industry took note and their strategy was to stay ahead of OSHA by developing their own health and safety standards, rather than allowing OSHA to dictate). On that particular day in 2009, OSHA had returned to the conference much better informed about our industry and determined to send a message to the group. To prove it, the speaker started rattling off all of the OSHA health and safety standards that they expected O&M companies to meet. As he continued to speak, my head spun faster and my pulse quickened. I thought I had made significant progress with our safety program, but for the most part I had no idea what he was talking about. If that wasn’t bad enough, he went on to discuss the civil fines and penalties that companies like mine faced if we failed to meet all of these safety standards. I looked around the room to see if others appeared to be as worried as me! Some did, some did not, but that didn’t change the fact that I suddenly felt very “in over my head.” It was a humbling and frightening experience, but definitely succeeded in making me more determined than ever to get it right.
Fast forward to October later that same year, and OSHA made good on their threats in a major way. An employee of one of our competitors, a much larger company, had suffered through an arc flash event after failing to properly lockout and tagout a transformer that he was servicing. Luckily he wasn’t killed (the most common result of arc flash), but was severely burned and injured. OSHA conducted a follow up inspection and wound up issuing the company a $435,000 fine for multiple violations, including Willful citations. In addition to the huge fines, OSHA also added the company to their Severe Violator Enforcement Program (a multi year program of enhanced scrutiny and requirements).
Not only did I learn how catastrophic OSHA penalties can be, but also how fast word can spread throughout the industry when it happens. OSHA issued harshly worded press releases in industry trade journals, on line and through emails. Within a few short days, virtually everyone in the industry knew what had happened. Not only was the company facing almost $1/2 million in OSHA fines, but were also badly embarrassed due to the bad press.
That same sense of dread and fear came over me again: if it could happen to them, it could just as easily happen to my company. The thought of one of my employees suffering the same or some other serious injury, not to mention the huge fines and penalties really scared me. The only difference is that I could have never paid those fines and would have probably been put out of business.
As it turned out, none of my employees were ever seriously injured while working for the company, but I did end up getting fined by OSHA one time. We had a small team of technicians working on a large blade remediation project in the Port of Houston. If you’ve ever seen a wind turbine blade rolling down the highway you might have an idea of how huge they are. Some are bigger than others, but the ones we were working on had a 6’ diameter root which was big enough to allow workers to enter the blade standing upright. What I didn’t know at that time was that entering the blade demanded that we develop and follow a Permit Required Confined Space Program. Several thousand dollars and lots of busy work later, I learned….
As time went on, I continued to try and make it happen. We had a written safety program, ensured that all of our employees got the training they needed (especially new hires), spent $thousands and $thousands of dollars on personal protective equipment, & hired several safety professionals to manage our program (some were more successful than others!). Despite the consistent effort and progress, it was never easy and that nagging worry that we weren’t doing enough and that our employees weren’t following the rules never stopped.
The culmination of these experiences taught me some valuable lessons: 1) If you own a business that puts your employees in harms way, you have an ethical and legal obligation to protect them, 2) Implementing and managing an OSHA compliant health and safety program is a complicated, costly and time consuming process, especially for small businesses who often lack the internal resources to get it right, 3) all of the best intentions (and “talk”) in the world mean absolutely nothing when it comes to employee safety, 4) finally, and probably most importantly, safety goes nowhere unless ownership and management are absolutely committed to following through despite all of the associated costs & challenges (safety professionals refer to this critical components as “management commitment”).
Over time, these lessons started me thinking: wouldn’t it be nice if small companies who struggled with managing these health and safety compliance challenges had access to a reliable, proven and affordable outsourced OSHA compliance solution? Wouldn’t it be even better if that solution could be customized to different kinds of small businesses, whether manufacturing, construction, healthcare or industrial services? And not only customized to these broad industries, but to the actual operations, activities and needs of a specific company?
My experiences convinced me that there was a major need for this service. I knew that there were safety consulting businesses in the marketplace, and had hired several of them over the years, but was always frustrated by their “project oriented” model. In other words, they all offered “ala carte” services like training sessions, audits or safety manual development, but nothing broader and more comprehensive to address ALL of a company’s health and safety requirements. In fact, more often than not, I had to tell them what to do, rather than the other way around.
These experiences, lessons and frustrations lead to the start of a new business called Berg Compliance Solutions, LLC, which I founded in 2013. The company specializes in helping small companies manage environmental, health and safety compliance. We offer a turn-key outsourced EHS compliance serviced called Assured Compliance. It’s a customized service that gets our clients compliant with OSHA regulations, with optional environmental compliance support, in the most efficient and cost effect manner possible. Our service is a fraction of the cost of a full time, internal EHS manager, and it’s a fixed monthly fee with no hidden charges, which makes for easy budgeting. We essentially become the environmental, health and safety compliance department for our clients. Year one is normally focused on baseline OSHA compliance with subsequent years focused on injury prevention, reduction of EMR and WC premiums (ie: major cost savings), and culminates with our consultants helping our clients to “internalize” their safety programs for self management.
Our model has proven to be extremely effective, demonstrated by our 95%+ annual contract renewal rates. Checkout some of our client testimonials or call or click below to learn more.
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