12 Days of HR: Stay in Compliance with OSHA When Your Employees Are Working in a Winter Wonderland
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 was passed to prevent workers from being seriously harmed at work. Although OSHA compliance should be on your mind all year, the winter season brings with it additional regulations that might affect your workplace.
For example, if your workplace installs special lighting during the holiday or winter months, OSHA has guidelines that apply to those arrangements. Section 1910.305 provides that decorative lighting (including for "Christmas, carnivals, and similar purposes") may not exceed 600 volts and may be on display for a maximum of 90 days. The rule also contains certain specifications regarding the placement of lighting fixtures and provides that temporary wiring must be removed immediately after the project or purpose is completed.
Our friends in the Northeast and other snow-prone areas should pay special attention to this next rule. In addition to the rule providing that employers have a general duty to furnish employees with a place of employment free from hazards likely to cause death or serious harm, section 1910.22 of OSHA's Walking-Working Surfaces rule specifically provides that employers must ensure that "[w]alking-working surfaces are maintained free of hazards, including snow and ice. Pursuant to the rule, employers have a responsibility to inspect walking-working surfaces regularly and as necessary and correct any hazardous conditions before employees continue to use the area. Accordingly, be sure systems are in place to monitor and maintain safe conditions in any outdoor areas of your workplace—including walkways to parking lots for employees and work vehicles—to avoid a citation and keep your employees safe.
If you do end up in a situation where an employee is injured in the workplace, be sure to notify the appropriate organizations. In most circumstances, an employee fatality must be reported to OSHA within 8 hours of learning about it; an in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or eye loss must be reported within 24 hours. For all employee injuries (even those outside the scope of OSHA's reporting requirements), be prepared to take the appropriate steps pursuant to your state's workers' compensation laws.