[Workplace Safety] OSHA Compliance – It’s the Law

Features - Legislation

Though other federal agencies loom larger over the pest control industry, it’s important to keep one in mind that is oft forgotten: OSHA.

May 28, 2013
Vern Morris

PCOs are intimately familiar with the state and local regulations regarding their industry, yet sometimes it’s easy to forget about the overreaching federal agencies that can come into play. The best-known federal agency in our industry is likely the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). PCOs recognize the EPA as a guardian of the environment and for the standardization of the labels on the pesticides they use. If asked what a label is, a PCO is likely to respond, “The law.” In the past, efforts by EPA have excised some well-known pesticides from use, and while most PCOs would agree that the EPA has an impact on the industry, few would say the same thing about the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).

OSHA regulates safety in the workplace. This includes all industries and all companies in America. To be sure, this is a tall order. OSHA frequently finds its resources stretched just investigating the chemical, steel, electronic and manufacturing industries in the United States. To date, OSHA has only been involved on the fringe of the pest control industry, such as isolated cases where PCOs have invited OSHA to examine their operations. Recently, OSHA has expressed an interest in the fumigation part of pest control, due to the hazards of working on roofs and OSHA’s standards for fall protection. It would appear that concerns over fall protection, perhaps spearheaded by workers’ compensation insurance companies, may cause OSHA to become more involved in our industry.

Regardless — you should know and meet OSHA requirements, because they’re the law.

Not Optional. The standards and regulations established by OSHA have been in effect for more than 40 years. If you are cited by OSHA, there is no “I didn’t know” defense. You cannot blame any organization or government agency for not informing you of your need to comply with the standards. As a business owner, you are expected to do your due diligence and research the applicable laws that affect your business.

A visit from OSHA can be triggered by an anonymous phone call to one of their regional offices — one of the agency’s most reliable sources for tips is the disgruntled former employee. What about that technician you fired yesterday? The reality is, if you’re not in compliance, it can mean big trouble. As an industry, we must decide to take on the challenge of compliance with the standards, and not continue to look the other way and pretend the agency does not exist.

Know Your Requirements. “What do I have to do to satisfy the OSHA requirements?” That is one obvious question. The most important part of compliance is the creation of written programs detailing your company’s efforts to meet the OSHA standards. You must have the correct programs and documentation in place, and must conduct the required meetings with your employees. Certain basic programs, such as Right to Know, Respiratory Safety, Ladder Safety, Electrical Awareness and Confined Space Entry must be in place for all pest control companies.

In addition, all workplace injuries must be documented on OSHA form 300. Again, there is no “I didn’t know” defense; Your first encounter with OSHA can result in crippling fines. Please do not assume that the possession of written plans alone will suffice. Unless you incorporate the plans into your company, meet with employees and secure their compliance and document your efforts, you are not in compliance. The path to compliance is not difficult, but it will require an investment of your time and energy.

Safety For All. Many PCOs are one-man operations and small partnerships. The temptation for these folks is the assumption that the standards do not apply because they do not have any employees. Right to Know, for example, applies to everyone in the United States, so even a one-person operation must have knowledge of the standard, and supply Safety Data Sheets (SDS) to anyone who requests them.

As further evidence to the importance of these standards, in 1997, the EPA decided to add Right to Know to the list of regulations that it will enforce. EPA regulations can be enforced by any of the state agencies that govern pest management professionals. In 2012, OSHA announced the adoption of the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for all chemical labels in the United States and the world. All pesticide labels will need to conform to the GHS, and there are requirements for the training of all employees in the new labels. Will your next office inspection by the state include requests to review your Right to Know written plan and program?

The Certified Pest Control Operators Association of Florida (CPCO) created a basic OSHA workbook for the pest control industry in 2006. It was updated in 2011 and expanded in 2013 to include changes and a program for Confined Space Entry. The book covers seven OSHA programs and includes complete written plans and all required documentation forms. Presented in CPCO’s unique step-by-step format, the workbook is your guide to compliance. However, the book is of no use unless you commit to implementing the programs and working with your employees. The alternative is to spend hundreds of hours researching the various written plans and then drafting your own. The choice is yours. The CPCO Workbook, called “Step by Step Basic OSHA Programs for Pest Control Operators,” is available in the PCT bookstore.


The author is the loss control manager for Capital Risk Underwriters. Contact him at vmorris@giemedia.com.