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Adopting digital tools to ensure OSHA compliance

By The Fulcrum Team
December 1, 2021

Regardless of industry, OSHA compliance is an ongoing challenge for any company. While agreeing that regulations are necessary to ensure worker safety, people can still note that complying with them can be an incredible burden as companies’ responsibilities include:

  • Providing the policies and training that comply with OSHA requirements
  • Documenting their safety training and inspection efforts to prove they are compliant
  • Producing this documentation on demand for both scheduled and unscheduled OSHA visits

Companies also bear the burden of interpretation – determining from OSHA guidelines what it means to be compliant for their specific operations – a task that can be far more challenging. While OSHA provides extensive guidance, it’s broadly written to apply to as many situations as possible. Because of this, interpreting guidelines can be an ordeal of guesswork and ambiguity.

As we’ll see, the use of digital checklists can help inspectors avoid the challenges of interpreting OSHA directives on the spot, since the company’s chosen interpretations (including variations as needed) can be made explicit in the checklists themselves. With a baked-in consistency and flexibility, digital checklists can clarify guidelines and adapt your inspection process to the exact requirements needed to demonstrate rigorous compliance.

Interpreting OSHA guidelines for consistency and flexibility

Because it’s impossible for OSHA to produce a guideline for every potential safety issue of every company across all sectors, their guidelines are written broadly to apply to as many situations as possible. It’s up to each company to navigate generalized and often-ambiguous OSHA  guidance, assess how guidelines apply, put necessary protocols in place, and finally collect reliable data to show compliance.

Further complicating matters, every single detail that goes into a company’s operation has the potential to interact with an OSHA requirement in some way. On the ground, every company has its own facilities, equipment, workforces, and procedures, operating across multiple jurisdictions, in different weather conditions, with a wide range of materials, and with employees of varied experience levels – all unique variables that require examination. Given the sheer number of variables at play, companies need to be consistent in application of policies, with inspection methods flexible enough to accommodate unique circumstances of each one’s operations.

A simple example illustrates these concerns: A seasonal worker in your distribution company is instructed to perform a safety check on order pickers, which are listed under “Powered Industrial Trucks” on the OSHA website. While it’s a straightforward inspection, the employee gets stuck going through the minutiae of checklists for all the different kinds of trucks – ones that don’t even apply to your company – before being able to inspect order pickers. Aggravating the problem is that OSHA’s “if this, consider that” scenarios can be too vague to ensure full compliance by inexperienced employees. All told, confused by broad guidelines that may not fully apply to your operations, your employee wastes time and may even generate useless data. 

OSHA demands rigorous proof of compliance no matter who undertakes an inspection. Inspection data must be both consistent – to demonstrate the history and reliability of your safety compliance – and flexible – so that you can tailor the inspection process to your company’s specific operational needs. The data and documentation you gather and submit to OSHA require you to answer its questions clearly and unambiguously. And if workers don’t have the kinds of streamlined checklists that can complete critical safety inspections in this way, the company risks running afoul of OSHA compliance.

Digital checklists: consistent and flexible

A small number of user-friendly platforms have arrived on the market that enable safety managers to create and manage custom digital checklists — without writing code — to help companies meet the challenges of OSHA compliance head-on in a powerful and data-driven way.

If they’re cloud-based and updated in near-real time, digital checklists have everyone working from the same updated information, purposefully tailored to collect the exact data you need. These features guarantee a precision and consistency of data collection in a streamlined, efficient way that reliably demonstrates OSHA compliance.

Digitizing also lets you build and modify checklists as circumstances change, be it from tackling new kinds of work, buying new equipment, or from updated OSHA regulations. With drop-down menus, multimedia options, and the ability to hide extraneous fields, digital checklists can adapt to new conditions as they arise. 

Once integrated into workflows, these checklists become the standard-bearer for inspections, producing more consistent, reliable data while becoming a feedback loop upon which to build a better, more efficient safety program reducing the burdens of OSHA compliance burden – a course of action that, like mobile inspection apps, checks all the boxes.

For a comprehensive look at how digital inspections improve OSHA compliance and safety outcomes, check out our blog, “Working Safer, Working Smarter.”