A man in a suit and hard hat on a production floor conducing an OSHA inspection.

Maintenance workers are exposed to safety hazards and harsh workplace conditions on a daily basis. Organizations are legally required to reduce risks to maintenance workers – and other employees – by upholding health and safety standards developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This article explains the impact of OSHA regulations on maintenance operations.

What is OSHA?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a United States government agency created by Congress to ensure safe and healthful work conditions by developing and enforcing standards. This includes setting standards for general industry, as well as industry-specific regulations and other rules. To help organizations meet these standards, OSHA provides training, outreach, and educational opportunities, as well as compliance assistance.

How are OSHA Standards Created?

Developing OSHA standards is a multi-step process that can be initiated by OSHA itself, or in response to petitions from third-parties, state and local governments, nationally-recognized standards organizations, employers, labor relations representatives, or any other interested individuals.

At times, presidential executive orders and subsequent actions prompt the need for new OSHA standards. For example, in January 2021, President Joe Biden issued an executive order directing OSHA to take measures related to protecting workers from the COVID-19 virus.

During the initial rulemaking phase, OSHA collects information through symposiums, public discussions, or surveys. Specific committees or organizations may be called upon to help inform recommendations. Once plans are made to propose, amend, or revoke a standard, OSHA invites the public to submit feedback. After reviewing feedback and other data, OSHA creates the final rule that becomes enforceable.

OSHA’s Impact on Maintenance

The primary source of OSHA maintenance regulations falls under the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 29, sections 1910 – 1910.1450. Organizations are responsible for putting a system in place that raises awareness of hazards, promotes best practices, and provides a safe and healthful workplace. For maintenance, this can affect what tasks technicians perform; how supplies are stored; and what safety measures must be taken before, during, and after repairs.

While there are many standards that impact maintenance, some of the most frequently cited OSHA safety violations in fiscal year 2021 include: hazard communication, lockout/tagout (LOTO), and machine guarding. Each of these is covered below.

Hazard Communication Regulations

Hazard communication standards (1910.1200) promote chemical safety by requiring that the identities and hazards of chemicals are available and understandable to employees. One form of hazard communication is a material data safety sheet (MSDS).

MSDS documentation tells technicians what to do if chemicals spill, get on their hands, splash in their eyes, or are accidentally ingested. For example, while it may be instinctive to wash an exposed area with water (or drink water if ingested), that’s not always the right thing to do. Safety data sheets also describe the proper way to store and use chemicals.

Lockout/Tagout Regulations

Lockout/tagout (LOTO) regulations (1910.147) cover the service and maintenance of equipment in which unexpected energization, startup, or release of stored energy could harm employees. There are many types of hazardous energy that could be in a machine, including chemical, electrical, hydraulic, mechanical, pneumatic, and thermal.

Therefore, it is vital for employees to complete proper LOTO procedures. These procedures can be documented in a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) for easy access. Failure to follow LOTO procedures can result in serious injuries such as burns, amputations, crushed limbs, or electrical shock.

Learn about the lockout/tagout process in our blog post What is Lockout/Tagout?

Machine Guarding Standards

Machine guarding standards (1910.212) cover guards that protect operators and other employees from machine hazards. Maintenance teams are responsible for fitting assets with proper safety devices and performing inspections on existing safeguards. Checking machine guards should be a part of standard routine preventive maintenance inspections, if they are not already.

OSHA COVID-19 Guidelines

Unlike the previously mentioned standards, which are mandatory, OSHA’s COVID-19 guidelines are recommendations. This guidance is intended to help organizations identify COVID-19 exposure risks to unvaccinated workers or those that are vaccinated but otherwise at risk, such as those who are immunocompromised.  Guidelines cover screening and monitoring, physical distancing, face coverings and PPE (personal protective equipment), and other measures to keep workers safe.

Visit the OSHA website for more information regarding the latest guidelines for COVID-19.

How OSHA Standards are Enforced

OSHA maintenance standards are enforced through compliance audits. First, compliance officers are required to show their credentials to prove they are legitimate. Then they explain why the organization was chosen for inspection. The officer will go over the process, which includes walking around and visually looking at machines, speaking one on one with an employee who can represent the organization in the process, and interviewing other employees.

After compliance officers inspect the workplace for hazards and talk to the employer about their findings, the inspection ends in one of two ways. If no violations are found, the inspection is now complete. If violations are found, the officer may issue citations or fines. Citations provide organizations with the opportunity to fix any violations by a stated deadline. Fines are high and range in the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the severity of the violation.

Read More: Why You Shouldn’t Fear Maintenance Audits

How Maintenance Departments Contribute to OSHA Compliance

Maintenance teams contribute to OSHA compliance by establishing work practices and policies that keep themselves and others safe. For example, completing preventive maintenance activities on time creates a safer work environment by keeping facilities, equipment, and personal protective equipment (PPE) in good condition.

Organizations use a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) as part of a larger quality management system (QMS) to document OSHA-compliant procedures and store health and safety information. Maintenance managers may also provide ongoing training when new chemicals are inventoried, regulations are updated, or new assets are installed. When a compliance audit takes place, the CMMS provides proof that you said what you did, did what you said, and can prove it.

Using CMMS Software for OSHA Compliance

Using computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software to document and manage safety information makes it significantly easier to adhere to the OSHA standards that apply to your industry.

CMMS software gives you the tools to implement a safety program based on compliant maintenance operating procedures. Assigning safety-related tasks to work orders provides technicians with step-by-step instructions for completing maintenance jobs in accordance with OSHA standards. Digital maintenance documentation, such as MSDS sheets, images, and videos, can also be attached to maintenance records to provide additional information.

CMMS software preventive maintenance functionality can be used to schedule recurring safety-related tasks such as inspections and calibrations. These activities are especially important for critical fire safety equipment and other emergency systems.

As a maintenance documentation system, a CMMS is a useful tool when preparing for OSHA audits. For example, organizations can store critical health, safety, and certification information with employee records. CMMS software also tracks the completion of tasks such as locktout/tagout procedures, ensuring that you can provide auditors with proof that specific steps were followed and completed.

Finally, CMMS reports provide further evidence that preventive maintenance and critical repairs were completed on time, in a safe manner, and were of high quality.

Prepare for OSHA Inspections with FTMaintenance Select

FTMaintenance Select allows you to easily document, track, and manage maintenance operations. Consistent use of the system automatically generates the documentation required to satisfy compliance officers from OSHA or other regulatory agencies. Request a demo of FTMaintenance Select today to learn more.

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