As an employer, you are responsible for keeping your employees safe. That doesn't simply involve providing them with protective gear nor is it solely about keeping their equipment in working order. You need to ensure your entire workplace is safe and free of hazards.
That includes the floor.
According to research released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 percent of nonfatal work injuries requiring time off was related to slips, trips, and falls. They are the leading cause of workplace injury, coming in just behind contact with equipment and overexertion. It's not surprising, then, that the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has published a fairly comprehensive set of standards and regulations related to floor safety.
OSHA Floor Safety: An Overview
- 22(a): Surfaces must be kept free of hazards such as sharp or protruding objects, loose boards, corrosion, leaks, spills, snow, and ice. All floors must be kept dry and clean whenever feasible. In areas with fluid flow, a business must install and maintain proper drainage, and provide dry standing areas such as platforms, mats, or false floors.
- 22 (b): Surfaces must be capable of supporting their maximum intended load.
- 22 (c): Each employee must have a safe means of access to and from the workplace.
- 22 (d): Surfaces must be regularly inspected and maintained in a safe condition. Hazardous conditions must be immediately corrected and repaired before a surface is used again, or cordoned off if the hazard cannot be immediately repaired. If repair or maintenance may impact a surface's structural integrity, it must be completed or supervised by a qualified individual.
The Occupational Health & Safety Magazine, a leading publication for health and safety professionals, also recommends establishing procedures for routine floor cleaning, particularly in areas with floor drains. Although this is not a specific regulatory requirement, it does help an organization to maintain their floors and comply with OSHA's actual regulations. It's therefore highly advisable.
It's also important to note that the regulations above apply to all walking surfaces in and around a place of employment, including sidewalks, driveways, courtyards, and parking lots. With the exception of floor repair, there are no specific regulations concerning upkeep, and your business may handle this either in-house or through a third party.
Per OHS Magazine, delivery areas, waste collection areas, and common areas such as cafeterias and restrooms as areas with a particularly high risk of slips, trips, and falls, so these areas should be given extra attention where floor safety is concerned.
OSHA Floor Safety Violations & Penalties
OSHA frequently conducts surprise, unscheduled inspections of workplaces, and also conducts inspections based on employee complaints. The OSHA floor safety regulations are treated in the same manner as other OSHA regulations in this regard. If during an inspection, your business is found to have improper floor safety, the consequences depend on several factors.
- If the inspector determines that there is a clear and obvious risk of serious injury or death, you may be fined immediately. In most cases, however, you'll likely be issued a citation that requires you to complete the repair by a certain deadline. For minor violations, you'll be served with a simple warning.
- If OSHA determines that you should have known about a hazard or known that it was dangerous, this counts as a willful violation. Failure to comply with OSHA citations are also treated as willful violations, and a business may be treated as a repeat offender.
- If an injury occurred in your workplace as a result of an OSHA violation, this is extremely likely to result in increased penalties. Failure to report an injury is also subject to an immediate fine. If a workplace hazard results in an employee's death, it will result in criminal charges.
- A business or individual found to be a repeat offender will be treated far more harshly by OSHA than a first-time offender, with higher fines and stricter penalties.
Per a recent brief released by OSHA, serious violations range from $947-13,260 per citation. Less serious violations range from $0-13,260. Willful or repeated violations are much more severe, with a penalty of $9,472-132,598.
For violations resulting in employee death, the penalty may include both a fine and up to six months in prison. If such a violation happens again, the fine and prison time are both doubled. OSHA also penalizes individuals who give advance warning of inspections and individuals or businesses who make knowingly false statements.