OSHA - the Ghost of Halloween Past
I finally rushed from my office late morning on that October 31st. I was half way home and looking forward to helping my wife prepare for my son Paul’s birthday party, when I received THE CALL on my mobile. It was the office of my printing company informing me that an OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) inspector had arrived and I had 30 minutes to also be there, or they would start the inspection without me.
“You’re joking!” I responded to Jennifer, our production administrator. She assured me it was no joke. Jennifer was right in the middle of improving some of our Health and Safety systems, and we had even discussed getting ready for an OSHA inspection.
“Wouldn’t you know OSHA would show up on Halloween?” I grumbled, as I called my wife Susan to tell her I would be late. Reluctantly, I hurried back to the office.
During the ride, I remembered a recent conversation with a friend who also owns a printing company. He had just had a surprise inspection by OSHA and had called to warn me it might happen to us anytime. He likened the experience to the Nazi Gestapo entering his building...flashing badges, interrogating his staff and striking fear in his heart that they might fine him heavily or even shut his business down.
I had taken my friends prompting to heart and made some serious checks of our systems. The drive back allowed me to do a mental inventory of the things I was sure would pass inspection at our company, but the spectre of OSHA’s visit had me dreading what might turn out to be some lengthy inquest about things even our systems had missed. Fortunately, my wife and I had just seen a great film called “Facing The Giants,” and I was encouraged that my company had been prepared well enough that maybe even the “Gestapo” could not fault us now.
I began to relax and regain my confidence. I was thankful we had already made many improvements in Safety and Health issues. Due to our “100 Percent System of Cleanliness” (you may have heard it called “Five-S”—a lean management term), we had everything organized, labeled and in its place.
Our employees had submitted countless suggestions for improvements over the years, due to our Continual Improvement System. We had an organized “Right to Know” station set up with all of our MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) documents and posters, along with our Lockout Tagout System. Safety equipment (disposable ear plugs, back braces, etc.) was all in its designated places. Chemicals were stored in clean, labeled, heavy steel storage bins. This had already been in our system...and we continually improve that system, I reminded myself.
Jennifer had just scheduled a training session with a local fire extinguisher company to give our staff training on how to use fire extinguishers. It occurred to me I had never actually had to pull the pin and fire one. Good chance to learn! We had also scheduled training on forklift operation...all of this, prior to OSHA’s visit.
Upon finally arriving at the office, I found Jennifer already in conversation with the inspector in our conference room. The atmosphere was pleasant enough, and they were getting along nicely. I was proud of how Jennifer handled herself; confident also that we were already on top of things with our systems. Of course, we didn’t know exactly what would happen, but our systems allow us to always be pro-active.
The OSHA inspector interviewed me first. He had his own checklist of questions, which we were able to answer without concern. One question—“Do your employees have access to necessary documents?”—prompted a resounding (and relieved) “YES!” from me.
“We have a browser-based software system that gives our employees access to all documents and information needed to do a good job,” I assured him, “along with the information for their health and safety that OSHA requires. It’s our written systems that empower our employees, enabling us to maintain and improve the company and each of our staff’s workstations.”
After touring and inspecting our plant, he described our housekeeping as “impeccable,” and said that would go a long way in his report. I was able to appreciate the OSHA inspector’s visit after all!
Before he left, he thanked me and said, “Do you know how many companies I visit where I don’t even know where to start because there is so much clutter and chaos? It’s nice to visit a company that really seems to GET IT!”
Systemization keeps you prepared for just about any eventuality.
And have I mentioned...Great systems work!