Let’s take a journey back in time. A time before OSHA.
It is March 25th, 1911. One hundred and forty-six men and women went to work at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. To the 123 women and girls and 23 men, it was no different than any other day in the garment industry.
At 4:40 pm, a fire started in a fabric scrap bin under a table on the 8th floor of the building. The doors to the stairwells and exits were locked to prevent thefts and break-ins. The foreman who held the stairway door key was nowhere to be found having escaped by another route. Those who could not escape by an exit jumped from the high windows or were overcome with smoke or the fire itself.
The build-up of flammable scraps and the locked exits routes lead to the deadliest industrial disaster in US history.
How OSHA Was Formed
This story is not unlike many others before OSHA came around. The lack of safety regulations led to countless worker deaths and injuries. Disabling injuries increased 20 percent during the 1960s, and 14,000 workers were dying on the job each year. Addressing the public outcry against rising injury and death rates on the job, House Representative William A. Steiger called attention to the need to protect workers against such hazards as noise, cotton dust, and asbestos.
On December 29th, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) into law, establishing OSHA. The OSHA law makes it clear that the right to a safe workplace is a basic human right and is applied to every industry.
What Does OSHA Do
OSHA’s mission is to assure safe and healthful conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, outreach, education, and compliance assistance. Under the OSHA law, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace for their workers.
To put it simply, OSHA’s purpose is to hold employers accountable for unsafe working conditions and protect employees. It established the workers’ right to call OSHA if they feel their workplace is unsafe and be protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act. The Act prohibits retaliation such as demotions, pay cuts, or dismissals for blowing the whistle and provides legal remedies to whistleblowers who experience such retaliation. It also allows whistleblowers to make their disclosures confidentially.
One way that OSHA enforces its standards is by inspection. Inspectors travel to facilities to perform inspections often due to a complaint. Depending on the outcome of the inspection, OSHA may issue a fine and follow up to ensure any hazards are fixed.
To encourage voluntary compliance and assist businesses, particularly small businesses, OSHA offers free onsite consultation programs.
What Are Standards?
OSHA standards are rules that describe the methods that employers must use to protect their employees from hazards. There are OSHA standards for construction work, maritime operations, and general industry. General Industry standards are the set that applies to most worksites.
OSHA’s Construction, General Industry, Maritime, and Agriculture standards protect workers from a wide range of serious hazards. Examples of OSHA standards include requirements for employers to:
- provide fall protection
- prevent trenching cave-ins
- prevent exposure to some infectious diseases
- ensure the safety of workers who enter confined spaces
- prevent exposure to harmful chemicals
- put guards on dangerous machines
- provide respirators or other safety equipment
- provide training for certain dangerous jobs in a language and vocabulary workers can understand.
RFI, OSHA, and Going Beyond The Minimum
Although OSHA sets important guidelines for safety, it is the bare minimum needed. RFI is required to follow the Construction Regulation 29 CFR 1926 and the General Industry Regulation 29 CFR 1910 set by the organization. These regulations set standards regarding training, personal protective equipment (PPE), housekeeping, emergency procedures, and other general safety and health provisions.
Our company has policies and procedures in place to go above and beyond what is required. The Safety Department has done this in two ways: a company-specific training program and extending the definition of what a competent person is. Our company-specific training program is rooted in the fencing industry in addition to the regulatory standards of OSHA, but also the invaluable experience of our team, and the needs of the company. It includes a comprehensive line of videos unique to RFI’s concepts and shares personal years of experience, lessons learned, and the importance of safety as a culture with all team members.
A competent person at RFI has to meet the standards and values of our company. To meet these standards our company has developed a rigorous tracking, training, and certification program to identify employees who are competent in their position. New employees begin with a “Position Competency” assessment. This provides management with a starting base to determine further competency. Testing, training, 90-day job task performance reviews, and at least one year or more of experience are often required before the employee is considered an RFI competent person.
Since OSHA’s first day on the job, the agency has delivered remarkable progress for the workers of our nation. Workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities have fallen dramatically. Tragic stories like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory are rarely seen in the news today. Without the guidance that OSHA provides, our staff, management, and field teams would not have the minimum requirements needed to work safely. And, RFI would not have a standard to reach beyond to ensure our workers get home safe every day.