Make sure your resort safety programs and training are in compliance before OSHA comes knocking.
As we emerge from Covid protocols, continue to bring staff back to work at all levels of resort operations, and look forward to working in our “new normal” environment, are our workplaces ready? A lot has changed, and we need to refocus our efforts to ensure our workplace safety programs and our staff are prepared for the new sheriff in town.
There is new leadership at the U.S. Department of Labor and at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and with the Biden administration signaling a return to more regulatory and compliance oversight, it’s time to examine where we stand with our compliance and injury reduction efforts at the resort level.
The Biden administration moved relatively quickly to appoint James Frederick as the acting head of OSHA. Under the Trump administration, no one served at the helm of OSHA, as Trump’s nominee for assistant secretary of labor, Scott Mugno, withdrew his name after a protracted confirmation process.
Frederick, recently retired as assistant director of health, safety, and environment for the United Steel Workers Union, is coming directly from labor—not from politics. Historically, labor has wielded major influence at OSHA under Democratic administrations. In contrast, the Trump administration brought a business-friendly focus to governing, which provided, among other things, a broad thinning of government programs and personnel.
For example, OSHA employed more than 1,000 inspectors during the last Democratic administration. In the final year of the Trump administration, that number was roughly 750, due in part to many inspectors retiring and a federal hiring freeze ordered in early 2017.
Now, the hiring pace of inspectors has picked up. The increasing efforts can be seen on the home page of OSHA’s website, with a banner reading “OSHA is Hiring! Apply Here.”
What does this really mean? In short, it means that OSHA inspections and the resulting fines for non-compliance will likely trend upwards for the foreseeable future. Easing Covid restrictions will mean more impromptu site visits by inspectors. We should prepare for this eventuality by taking the same effort and focus we placed on Covid-related protocols to beef up, reexamine, and retrain our staff on resort-related safety protocols.
Closely reexamining and polishing up your existing safety programs will be a win-win, reducing unsafe acts and conditions, which will lead to fewer injuries. With less injuries, it’s less likely you’ll have an OSHA reportable injury, which is good news if you don’t want to be subject to an inspection.
With a good idea of where OSHA is heading, let’s generate a to-do list that shores up our existing safety programs.
There is no better time than now to take stock of your resort’s staff safety training—who is trained, what training they had, and when the training happened. Do you have recent training records for typical safety programs that an OSHA inspector would ask for? Common safety programs include:
• hazard communication (Safety Data Sheets and chemical use, storage, and disposal training);
• lockout/tagout training (de-energizing equipment);
• fall protection training;
• respiratory protection training;
• personal protective equipment training; and
• confined space training.
There are certainly many, many more trainings, including some that are resort and position specific. Check your training records to see if any training lapsed over the last 16 months since the pandemic began. Address any lapses quickly to ensure your staff have the required and meaningful training they need to perform their jobs safely.
As always, document all training—even the 5- or 10-minute toolbox talks that may occur in the morning. These records go a long way in showing compliance and effort by the resort.
Let’s take a look at a couple of specific examples of safety programs that likely apply to your resort’s operation.
Respiratory protection. Many programs require an annual refresher or annual task to be in compliance. Respiratory protection is a great example. The Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134) states: “The employer shall ensure that an employee using a tight-fitting facepiece respirator is fit tested prior to initial use of the respirator, whenever a different respirator facepiece (size, style, model, or make) is used, and at least annually thereafter” (29 CFR 1910.134(f)(2).
With several projects and activities shelved last year, staff members who normally wear a respirator for a particular job function may have been re-assigned to another job. Now, those who are returning to normal work duties need to receive their annual fit test. This may include golf course employees who apply fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides to the golf course, lift staff who may be painting a lift this summer, hotel maintenance staff who handle pool chemicals in the pool room, and those who perform welding activities on certain metals or in areas with poor ventilation.
Hearing protection. Another safety program that requires an annual check-up for compliance is your hearing protection program. Many staff wear some form of hearing protection during their work activities. Vehicle maintenance, snowmaking, lift maintenance, building maintenance, and groundskeeping staff are all examples of folks who may be subject to a hearing protection program.
What was the date of the last audiogram (hearing test) for affected staff? An audiometric testing program is specific to timelines and requires employers to test affected workers’ hearing annually to identify deterioration in their hearing ability as early as possible.
Specifically, it states: “At least annually after obtaining the baseline audiogram, the employer shall obtain a new audiogram for each employee exposed at or above an 8-hour time weighted average of 85 decibels” (1910.95(g)(6). It’s entirely possible that this program took a back seat during Covid, so check-in on this requirement and schedule an audiogram for staff who need it.
It’s time to get the band back together! In this case, the band is your resort’s safety committee. If this group took a break during Covid, get some meetings back on the schedule. Regular safety committee meetings can provide the mechanism and workhorse for a variety of safety related tasks that need to be completed.
For example, a safety committee can:
• look at the recent training history to ensure safety training is up-to-date;
• perform facility inspections that will identify unsafe conditions in need of correction; and
• ensure all operational documents reflect any changes to the resort’s safety policies, procedures, and/or guidelines that occurred during the pandemic.
Getting a group of staff engaged in a resort-wide view of the current safety environment will ultimately reveal where improvement is needed and also where the resort is doing a great job. From there, you can develop a plan, assign tasks to the appropriate staff members, and feel more confident that you’re in compliance or have a plan to address a particular situation.
It’s likely that portions of some buildings were shuttered or repurposed due to Covid-compliance and operational changes. As we return these buildings to their previous function, and place staff back into their former workspaces, take the time to perform a facility inspection.
The facility inspection helps to identify unsafe conditions and, in some cases, can be used to identify unsafe acts. By identifying the unsafe condition—such as a loose handrail, precariously stored material, or a stair tread in poor condition—you can remedy the condition before it causes an injury. If a monthly or routine facility inspection was part of your safety program prior to shuttering or repurposing, restart this good habit.
Document it. As always, keep records of your facility inspections to show an OSHA inspector, if needed. This demonstrates a proactive approach and assists in keeping track of follow-up items that were identified and are on a list for repair.
Keep in mind, OSHA will continue to launch national emphasis programs (NEP), which are “temporary programs that focus OSHA’s resources on particular hazards and high-hazard industries,” according to the OSHA website.
The most recent NEP was launched on March 12, 2021, in response to President Biden’s Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety during Covid-19. This NEP means, at press time, OSHA is focusing enforcement efforts on coronavirus-related inspections. The agency has made it clear it will prioritize companies that put the largest number of workers at serious risk of contracting the coronavirus, as well as employers that retaliate against workers who exercise rights protected by federal law or make complaints about unsafe or unhealthy conditions.
We’ve made great progress as an industry with the items that are part of this NEP’s focus. We’ll want to take that same effort and apply it to our resort-wide safety programs as we move into the future.
Since we now recognize that the new administration will ramp up compliance inspections and target certain sectors of U.S. industry, and follow-up on employee complaints more closely and in a timely fashion, now is the time to check the status of your resort operation and see if there are improvements you can make to be prepared for an OSHA visit.
Planning for the coming winter requires an entirely new mindset. Part of a Special Section, "Winter 2020-21: A New Normal," sponsored by Aspenware.
When it comes to workplace safety, new employees pay attention to what leaders do, not just to what they say.
Three mentors answer tough questions, posed by a group of inquiring young managers, about handling thorny issues around risk.