Avoiding Potential OSHA Pitfalls in Savannah’s Growing Industrial Economy

By Peter J. Rowland, special to Business in Savannah

The 2018 State of the Port Address highlighted Savannah’s continual industrial growth. This development is attributed, in large part, to the Port’s visionary management team and Georgia’s business-friendly economic policies. There is no coincidence between Georgia being ranked the Number One State for Business five years in a row and the sustained growth of the Port and its supporting industries. And as Governor Deal explained in his remarks at the Address, the Port of Savannah is not mutually exclusive to Georgia’s economic success; rather, it is a key component to Georgia’s prosperous business sector.

In recent years, Savannah’s Port has not only driven maritime-related business, it has greatly aided in expanding the city’s industrial trades. Intermodal terminals, construction depots, industrial manufacturing facilities, specialized storage warehouses, rail yards, containerized storage staging areas, and many more industries have supported and reaped the benefits of the continued growth at and near the Port. With plans for physical expansion of the Port currently in process, this industrial growth shows no signs of slowing.

Although the rapid growth of Savannah’s new and expanding industries is a great economic success, the speed at which change is occurring places great responsibility on business owners, operators, and contractors to comply with regulations promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The industrial nature of the businesses in and around Savannah, particularly those supporting or serving the Port, exposes many businesses to OSHA regulation. The impact of an OSHA fine can be long-lasting and potentially devastating for certain businesses. For example, in 2018 the maximum fine for a “willful” or “repeated” violation of an OSHA regulation increased to $129,336.

There are some simple steps businesses can implement to ensure compliance with these regulations. First, businesses should encourage their employees to alert supervisors, without fear of retribution, when they encounter a potential safety hazard or concern. OSHA often cites statistics indicating that most on-site accidents are preventable. Employees should be a business owner’s greatest tool in preventing workplace accidents.

Second, business owners need to remain cognizant that OSHA regulations applicable to their respective businesses regularly change; business owners need to continually remain up-to-date with such regulations. Recognizing that this task is easier said than done, one of the best resources for an employer to utilize is the OSHA website. The OSHA website is exceptionally user-friendly and contains a great deal of information to aid employer compliance with the regulations. Although it may be tempting to put familiarizing yourself with OSHA regulations on the back burner, the effect of even a one-time OSHA violation on a new or expanding business can be potentially crippling. Moreover, the effect of an initial OSHA violation categorized as “serious” or “other than serious” could lead to a “willful” or “repeated” penalty for future violations. For complex OSHA matters, employers should consult with a legal advisor for guidance catered to their specific situation.

Last, an employer should develop written safety and health rules and ensure that such rules are regularly communicated to employees. At the very least, these safety and health rules should be reviewed with employees during new-hire orientation and training, and employers should record the communications. Finally, employers should take a proactive approach and conduct regular unannounced safety compliance inspections within their facilities and document the results. Doing so should decrease workplace hazards and increase employee commitment to safety.