If you think OSHA is a small town in Wisconsin, you are in trouble. A cute and catchy saying, yes. A very serious message, absolutely. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA) covers all employers and employees within the jurisdiction of the U.S. government. States may enact equivalent regulations. Every dive store with one or more employee “shall furnish- a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees”.
Where might OSHA regulations apply to a dive store, equipment repair facility or an air fill operation? While I will make no attempt to mention all applicable rules, I will relate some specific requirements to illustrate the far-reaching impact of OSHA at a dive operation. Obviously, the fill station and handling of compressed air, nitrox, oxygen, etc. is a prime hazard area especially when employees have had incomplete training on pressurized gas safety and handling. Deaths or grave injuries have occurred nearly every year from cylinder explosions, or component failures. OSHA requires employers to ensure that cylinders used or handled by employees are safe based upon visual inspection. If a cylinder ruptures during fill, and 90% of explosive failures do occur during the fill process, then the employer has failed in his required obligation and may be cited and subject to a substantial fine.
Employers are required to provide each employee appropriate hazardous materials awareness training within 90 days of hire, whenever their duties change and refresh training every three years. Cylinders themselves are hazardous only to the extent that dropping one on a foot could require a visit to a medical facility. The real hazard is the contents, pressurized gas. Pressure makes the cylinder similar to a hand grenade, a lot of energy stored inside and capable of instantaneous release under certain conditions.
The regulator repair and the wet suit repair technicians both use hazardous chemicals, acids, glues, etc. Does the repair technician eat his lunch, drink beverages or place food snacks on his workbench where regulator cleaning or other chemicals are in use? That is a no, no!
Many OSHA rules have noting to do with diving but with the building where employees perform their duties. Here are a few examples:
1910.38(q)(2)—Doors and passageways which are neither an exit nor a way of exit shall be identified by a sign reading NO EXIT.
1910.37(f) The minimum width of any way of exit access shall in no case be less than 28 inches.
1910.305(g)(1)(ii)—Flexible cords and cables may not be used: a) as a substitute for the fixed wiring on a structure: b) where run through holes in walls, ceilings, or floors: c) where run through doorways, windows, or similar openings; d) where attached to buildings surfaces; or e) where concealed behind building walls, ceilings or floors.
1910.200(g)(3)(xii)(8)—The employer shall maintain copies of the required Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each hazardous chemical in the workplace and shall ensure they are readily accessible to employees.
Are dive stores in any way exempt from the above or other rules that apply to ensure a safe workplace? OSHA and common sense says no. During my visits to dive stores across the U.S., I found frequent violation of each of the above rules. If an employee is injured or should complain to OSHA about working conditions, an inspector will look at all the violations encountered. What is the consequence of an OSHA visit and citation?
The consequence of ignoring OSHA related safety standards or being cited for one or many violations can range from time spent in meetings, preparing documents and accomplishing compliance to fines and criminal conviction for a willful violation resulting in death of an employee. The penalty range is $1,000.00 to $500,000.00 and 6 months in prison.
OSHA inspectors do not call and make an appointment. They come unannounced. I was visited two times by an OSHA inspector. Each time, the inspector introduced himself and said, “may I see your records?” He didn’t want to chat, talk about the weather or anything else. He waited patiently while I produced all my employee proof of training documents, the actual outlines used in the training and the signatures of the employees showing that they were current in HAZMAT and other safety awareness training. Satisfied my records were current and proper, he thanked me and left. No pain, no fuss and no citation because I read the rules and complied.