State OSHA agency fines employers $825,000 on tip from fire marshal
The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Oregon OSHA) fined five employers in southern Oregon a total of $825,000 after a state fire marshal tipped off the agency about structural defects and other unsafe conditions in a building on the employers’ property. Several hemp producers in Josephine County, Oregon, used a 23,398-square-foot building to process hemp and also to house at least 25 workers, who were allowed to live, cook, and sleep in and around the structure. But Josephine County building safety officials had previously condemned the property. According to an Oregon OSHA spokesperson, the local fire marshal informed the agency about the building and its occupants, which prompted an investigation. Oregon OSHA’s inspection revealed that the building was structurally unsafe and unstable; that it lacked enough exit routes for employees to safely escape in the event of a collapse or fire; and that the building had major gaps in and under the walls that exposed workers – in their living spaces – to water, rodents, and insects. The agency spokesperson said the fines were so steep because the employers had willfully allowed their workers to work and live in the condemned building.
Tips For Employers: Fire marshals and safety agency inspectors operate under separate authorities, but often share the same interests in building safety. When fire marshals come out to inspect your company’s property, they are generally assessing big-picture structural safety and related issues that may arise in the event of a fire. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t keeping an eye out for employee safety and smaller issues, too. Don’t be surprised if a fire marshal picks up the phone after an inspection to alert the appropriate safety agency of an obvious safety issue that may be outside the fire marshal’s authority but that could earn you a fine from the safety agency. As an employer, if you have any concerns about safety in your facilities, contact your Vigilant safety professional for assistance.
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