9/10/07

OSHA levies hefty fine on Kansas Union

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration last month handed out $9,000 in fines to the Kansas Union.

The fines stem from three violations — two of them described as serious — of the administration’s training and documentation policies. Pat Beard, director of building services, said KU and union officials didn’t think the union fell under OSHA regulations because it is affiliated with KU.

As a state agency, KU is not subject to OSHA rules, but its affiliated corporations are. Those corporations include the union, the KU Endowment Association and the athletics department.

“We feel we didn’t have any safety violations, but just violations of procedure and documentation,” Beard said. “OSHA is all about procedures and documentation.”

OSHA said union employees were not trained in and familiar with safety-related work practices — specifically electrical work, such as replacing light switches or resetting control panels. The union also failed to provide documentation of a lockout/tagout procedure. Lockout/tagout involves ensuring equipment being maintained cannot accidentally be turned on.

The union, according to OSHA, also failed to complete an analysis of whether employees needed personal protective gear to do their work.

Beard said OSHA recommended the union take part in an informal hearing to see about getting the fine reduced. It’s something the union is considering, Beard said.

“We’ve taken this very seriously, now that we know we are under OSHA compliance,” Beard said. “We don’t think we’ve ever put our employees in danger, but we’re developing the procedures and documentation OSHA requires.”

Judy Freeman, OSHA’s area director in Wichita, said the inspection was driven by a worker complaint. Neither the union nor any of the other affiliated corporations have been inspected before.

“This is not a priority industry,” Freeman explained. “Inspections in this industry are all complaint-driven.”

Rosita Elizalde-McCoy, senior vice president for communications and marketing at the Endowment Association, said the association has always complied with all OSHA standards to provide a safe working environment.

“Because we’re a white-collar environment, we have no training requirements,” she said. “We actually go above and beyond their requirements and provide individual ergonomic training.”

Associate athletic director Jim Marchiony said the athletic department complies with all state and federal regulations, including those provided by OSHA.

(ljworld.com)

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