Labor FAQs – OSHA

Q: What does OSHA require with respect to first aid kits and what are the most common citations with respect to first aid kits?

A: The applicable OSHA Standard requires that the contents of first aid kits be “approved by a local physician.” As such, first aid kits touting themselves as “OSHA approved” or “occupational physician approved” will not, in and of themselves, qualify as OSHA compliant. In order to comply with OSHA, simply inventory the contents of your first aid supply and have a local physician (most commonly the Company’s workers’ compensation
physician) approve and sign for the contents. Keep the approval with the first aid supply.

Q: Can I get in trouble with OSHA for having my employees sign a release before they are administered the Hepatitis B (HBV) vaccine under the Company’s Bloodborne Pathogen Program?

A: The use of releases by an employer is especially problematic. The Bloodborne Pathogen Standard requires that the Hepatitis B (HBV) vaccine be made available at no cost to all employees who have occupational exposure to blood or bodily fluids. Of course, there exists some legal liability from complications arising from administering the HBV vaccine, or any other injection for that matter. Some employers, following the lead of national safety publishing houses, have required their employees to sign releases in conjunction with the HBV vaccine which, on their face, purport to waive liability between the employer and the employee. This runs afoul of the “at no cost to the employee” requirement relating to the HBV vaccine. Through guidances and enforcement memos, OSHA has taken the position that the waiver of a legal right is, in fact, a cost to the employee, and thus a violation of the Act. This violation can result in a serious violation because of the nature of this occupational exposure. Interestingly, OSHA has taken a hands-off approach with respect to releases and informed consents used by physicians in their practices with respect to the HBV vaccine. As such, as long as the release or informed consent is used as a regular part of a physician’s practice, OSHA will not cite a violation. The release or informed consent used by the doctor, however, may not waive any legal right against the employer.

Q: How do I abate this violation if the Company had its employees sign such a release?

A: Quite simply, there is a two-step approach. With respect to those employees who signed such a waiver, notify the employee in writing, attaching the waiver, stating that the employer considers the waiver null and void and that the employee will not be held to the waiver. With respect to those employees who declined the HBV vaccine, OSHA will consider that these employees may have been “chilled” from accepting the vaccine because of the waiver. In order to abate, an employer needs to notify the employees who declined the HBV vaccine in writing and let them know that the Company is no longer requiring such a release and inviting them, once again, to have the vaccine if they wish.

Q: My plant is right next door to a fire station staffed with a 24-hour paramedic crew. Can my company be cited for not having trained first aid responders?

A: Under most usual circumstances, probably not. However, OSHA requires that employers have first responders available on a four-minute notice. Upon an inspection as a result of a fatality or catastrophe, OSHA will cite, under almost any circumstance, when appropriate first responders do not respond within the four-minute period. So, if a crew from the source is on a call or otherwise not available at the exact time of need, a serious violation citation will ensue. This has actually happened. Note that the minimum requirement for first responders under OSHA is the eight-hour Red Cross multimedia first aid course, or the equivalent. Once the employees are trained, it is important to make sure that they are appropriately supplied and that a mechanism is in place for their dispatch upon an emergency.

Note also that, because you expect first responders to respond to emergencies that may involve blood or bodily fluids, you will need to train them in conformity with OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogen Program.

Q: What kind of training do I have to give my employees regarding fire extinguishers?

A: This is a tricky issue. Most fire codes require that facilities maintain fire extinguishers at certain locations. In this regard, you will see many employers having fire extinguishers available on their premises. Some employers do not require their employees to fight discrete (nonstructural) fires and have specifically instructed their employees to call 911 and evacuate the building immediately upon spotting a fire. Other employers, especially hospitals and nursing homes, expect their employees to fight discrete (again, nonstructural) fires. As such, the employers are requiring them to actually use the fire extinguishers in the case of a fire. The applicable OSHA Standard requires that employers train employees who are required to use fire extinguishers. Along with classroom instruction, the standard requires practical training. This means that each employee who is expected to fight a fire must have hands-on training fighting a fire with a fire extinguisher. This is most commonly done in cooperation with the fire extinguisher supplier and/or the local fire department. Employers must keep evidence of this training on file. Note that if the employer requires employees to fight fires that are other than discrete (structural, chemical fires, etc.) that the more stringent and complicated OSHA Standard for Fire Brigades be followed.