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Regulations you need to know: OSHA (Part 1) (Proceedings)


The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) was created under the Department of Labor to enact and enforce those measures necessary to ensure that every American has a safe and healthy work environment. These "rules" are known as standards and are published in Chapter 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) was created under the Department of Labor to enact and enforce those measures necessary to ensure that every American has a safe and healthy work environment. These "rules" are known as standards and are published in Chapter 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

The Federal OSHA does allow a state to operate its own OSHA program; however, the state must set standards that are at least as effective as the federal standards and obtain approval from the federal OSHA. New York's state plan covers only public employees; private sector employees still fall under the Federal rules.

Regardless of whether the OSHA rules are enforced by the federal or state government, there are stiff penalties for non-compliance with the regulations. For example, the recommended fine for failure to display the Workplace Safety & Health Protection poster (OSHA 3165) is $1,000; penalties for willful violations (meaning you were aware of the requirement and the potential dangers, but failed to act on the information) can be up to $70,000 for each infraction! According to OSHA statistics, almost all inspection are a result of employee complaints or workers' compensation claims. OSHA generally utilizes two criteria for evaluation of a workplace program: documentation and training. Most veterinary hospitals have a safety plan for the staff to one extent or another, but few have the program down in writing for all to see, and fewer still have taken the time to properly train the staff on safety and emergency issues.

Administrative Requirements

     • Every employer must maintain or post at a prominent location, certain materials in the workplace. These include:

     • Job Safety & Health Protection Poster (OSHA 3165) or state equivalent.

     • Summaries of petitions for variances from standards or record keeping procedures. You may ask OSHA for a variance from a standard or regulation if you can prove your facility or method of operation provides employee protection "at least as effective" as that required by OSHA.

     • Copies of all OSHA citations for violations of standards.

     • Summary of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (OSHA 300 & 300A) and Supplementary Record of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (OSHA 301). These are only required if the business has 11 or more employees or if the business is selected to participate in a DOL survey. Worker's Compensation forms may be used in lieu of OSHA 301 if the information is essentially the same.

     • Appropriate warning or identification signs. This usually refers to exits, hazardous areas (radiation), or situations (hearing protection required) and will be explained in those sections.

     • Emergency Action & Fire Prevention Plans. This is required to be in writing when you have 10 or more employees.

Staff Safety Training

Have you been putting off your safety training because you just don't know what to cover? Are you confused about what information to pass on and how in-depth it should be? You're not alone. Most managers feel the same way. Although there are over 100 current OSHA Standards that require some sort of training for the employee, there are only a few topics that apply to the veterinary practice. Many of those topics, like radiation and anesthesia safety are already discussed on an informal level at every hospital so you're probably already on the road to success!

Sometimes there is not a specific OSHA standard covering a topic, but since the task has known hazards, OSHA will use the General Duty Clause in requiring the business to inform the staff of the hazard. For instance, there is no special standard that regulates exposure to waste anesthetic gasses, but the Hazard Communication Standard requires that the practice educate the staff members of the risks and procedures to follow when working with that hazardous chemical and to take the necessary steps to ensure the workers are not exposed to the chemical above the permissible level.

To get started on your training program, keep a running list of all the topics you want to cover. (See the sidebar in this section) Don't try to cover all the topics at once but spread them out over several months. Assign different staff members to become the "in-house expert" on each topic; they will be the person who delivers the training to the rest of the team.

Although some standards require specific points to be covered (e.g., the personal protective equipment standard), you would generally be safe to structure the information so that it covers the following aspects in all training materials:

     • information or identification of the hazard or procedure;

     • how the hazard affects the worker;

     • what the individual worker should do to protect themselves; and

     • how to report problems or request additional information, including the location of the written plan that was developed to deal with that hazard.

Make a training schedule for the next six months or even a year and show when each topic will be addressed. Even if the practice is inspected before the complete schedule is covered, the mere presence of a training outline will often impress the inspector enough that he or she will not issue a citation!

No matter what method of instruction is used, there must be a way for employees to ask questions or provide feedback. In staff meetings and formal training sessions, that's no problem, but for individual training times (new employees, etc) the supervisor must make sure the employee understands the information by having him or her answer questions or even demonstrating the technique that was just taught. The supervisor or trainer does not have to be present during the learning phase (e.g., watching the videotape) but they must follow-up the session with personal involvement.

The main point of every training session must be concern for the worker's safety; avoid giving the impression that the training is only being done so the business will stay out of trouble with OSHA. Staff members will relate to the message better and grasp the information quicker when they feel a personal involvement. If the staff feels the practice leadership is only doing this training to stay out of trouble with the government, then they often don't pay attention. If the staff believes this is the practice's attitude toward safety, they will do just enough to stay out of trouble with you. They'll also push the limits at every chance to see exactly where you will enforce the rules.

Keep a record of all employee training. It's not enough that you provide the information and evaluate an employee's competence, you have to be able to prove it. Have an attendance sheet to pass around for group meetings and make sure everyone signs it. It's also a great idea to maintain an individual training record for each staff member. Many human resource professionals suggest keeping the individual sheets in a folder or three ring binder that is accessible to the employees. The employee and their supervisor are jointly responsible for keeping the training record current.

Just remember, the bottom line when it comes to safety training is: "the employee must be competent to perform the task or job in a safe manner."


Just like any other program or procedure, a good hospital safety program doesn't have to be complicated. It should be practical and understandable. If the staff doesn't remember the rules, then training is lacking or the program is too complicated. Only by understanding the requirements and applying the safeguards that are necessary to protect the worker, patient and practice owner can the practice continue with the primary mission of healthy pets. It is the leadership's responsibility to set and enforce the safety rules of the practice and the employee's responsibility to learn and follow those rules.

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