Complying with OSHA Regulations Related To Trucking Companies And Accident Law

Whether you're a truck driver, a commuter sharing the road with freight trucks, or a member of a management team for a trucking company, it's important to be aware of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations regarding the trucking industry. Employers who fail to meet these regulations can find themselves paying fines - or worse.

Truck drivers or passenger car drivers who get into traffic accidents due to OSHA violations also need to understand the regulations. This precaution helps determine if they have legal rights to sue for damages caused by violations.

The Importance Of OSHA

Since 1970, the U.S. Department of Labor has operated OSHA to ensure workplace safety. Its primary objective is to set safety standards for various industries, including aspects of the transportation industry. The agency also provides training and classes to ensure those standards are met.

For both management and workers, OSHA standards can sometimes seem overwhelming, and some may seem trivial. Yet taken together, these regulations - and their enforcement - have been responsible for preventing countless injuries. OSHA sets specific standards for agriculture, maritime, construction - and trucking.

As part of their mandate, OSHA inspectors regularly visit business sites to ensure standard requirements are being met. They also follow up on employee and customer complaints and investigate workplace accidents. Through routine or targeted visits, OSHA officers can enforce violations using fines and warnings. The employers then have a certain period of time to address the problems to avoid further enforcement steps.

OSHA And The Trucking Industry

The trucking industry's "workplace" extends from warehouses and garages to across the nation's highway system. OSHA's role in the trucking industry mostly concerns non-driving operations. Warehouses, construction sites, land and sea ports, retail space loading docks and other places in which goods are loaded and unloaded are usually overseen by OSHA.

However, other agencies regulate safety measures outside of stationary worksites. For example:

  • The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the primary agency involved in regulating the trucking industry, rather than OSHA.
  • The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has investigative and enforcement authority over OSHA when it comes to incidents on highways.
  • When trucks pull off highways and are unloading and loading, OSHA regains jurisdiction.
  • OSHA's jurisdiction often includes airport deliveries and transportation. However, there are situations in which the Federal Aviation Authority is the primary agency involved. Truck accidents at railways crossings fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Railroad Administration.

Important OSHA Regulations

Rules involving loading and unloading trucks at loading docks and warehouses, as well as construction site truck use, are the primary way in which OSHA applies to the trucking industry. A few of the broad categories that fall within OSHA regulatory framework include:

  • Determining what safety equipment and training is needed in various trucking industry situations, e.g. safety lines and lifting techniques
  • Handling grain and lumber
  • Setting regulations for ropes, cords and other materials used for securing goods
  • Dictating how hazardous materials should be labeled
  • Keeping walking surfaces safe
  • Establishing procedures for handling hazardous materials
  • Restricting which facilities can handle hazardous and toxic material
  • Keeping the workplace properly sanitized
  • Making sure safety procedures are followed when using loading equipment, etc.
  • Inspecting first aid and fire protection supplies
  • Setting specific protections for "whistleblowers" within the industry

Commonly Ignored OSHA Regulations

According to OSHA, there are a handful of violations that the agency deals with frequently. Some violations are specific to the agency's trucking regulations. Others fall within the "general workplace" category and can happen in a trucking company's warehouse, construction site or office. The top violation categories include:

Powered Industrial Trucks - Material Handling and Storage

This section of OSHA regulations relates to tractors, platform lift trucks, fork trucks, specialized industrial trucks and motorized hand trucks. These rules dictate how the trucks and equipment are designed, built, stored or operated.

Regulations within the section also concern whether the trucks are properly labeled as having met testing requirements or are using attachments that are not factory-issued.

The right type of truck also needs to operate within the use it was designed for. For example, a tanker truck that is meant for one type of liquid but is used to haul another, e.g. toxic waste water, is a particularly dangerous violation of this OSHA standard. In addition, a truck with specific electronics that may spark, or which doesn't have proper venting systems, should not be used to haul certain fuels and materials.

OSHA also mandates that the storage and handling of dangerous or volatile substances be kept away from public areas. The agency also dictates that heavily flammable materials be stored in facilities that aren't made of flammable materials and don't house flammable materials.

These regulations were created to protect both workers and the general public. Drivers and cargo handlers can be seriously injured if vehicles not meant to hold or transport various materials are used for those volatile materials. Should these practices result in an explosion or fire, people living, working, shopping or driving nearby are also in danger.

Lockouts And Tagouts

A piece of machinery or equipment that can be started while being worked on is very dangerous for mechanics. Lockout/tagout regulations keep workers safe by keeping equipment from being energized while undergoing maintenance. This can happen in trucking company workplaces as well as general industrial workplaces. These kinds of malfunctions can be deadly for trucking fleet workers who are driving a forklift, working on a motorized platform, or standing near a malfunctioning ramp.

In a recent survey, OSHA reported that the agency had filed about 3,000 citations to workplaces failing to maintain their equipment against lockout/tagout malfunctions.

Communicating Information About Hazardous Materials

This section of regulations is filed under OSHA's "general industry" category. But for obvious reasons, trucking companies have reason to follow the standards rigorously - or face serious consequences from the agency.

The OSHA regulations exist so that employees not only are aware of the nature of materials they are handling, but know about all the safety requirements needed while doing so. The communication about these safety issues might include simply putting up posters, printing out detailed informational sheets or providing training. The extent to which the company needs to follow regulations will depend on how closely its employees work with the materials. For example, an office manager for a trucking company does not need to undergo the same amount of training as the worker who packs and moves the material.

The regulations within this section are numerous, including:

  • Employers should warn, train and educate employers about each hazard category (toxicity, volatility, ignitability, corrosivity) and the levels of that hazard. Workers have the right to know how dangerous the materials they work around are. That's especially true for workers who have pre-existing health conditions that could be worsened by exposures to that class of hazardous material.
  • Employers must avoid removing or defacing warning labels.
  • Lumber that has been treated with chemical preservatives should be labeled so that workers can wear protective clothing and masks if necessary.
  • Employers should ensure that there are facilities to clean and treat workers in case of spills or wounds, especially if they handle specific substances. OSHA spells out what these substances are. Dangerous materials can include anything from special dyes and preservatives in food to raw alcohol and volatile fuels.

OSHA reports that in 2016 it issued almost 5,200 citations to workplaces that failed to communicate the dangers of hazardous materials to employees.

Respiratory Protection

Trucking warehouses, docks and construction zones can fail to meet OSHA "general industry" regulations for respiratory protection. In fact, this is one of the most-frequently cited categories for employers who don't follow OSHA regulations. Employers must provide their workers with masks or respirators designed to protect them from the materials they are handling.

Trucking company warehouses tend to be dusty places, so a company needs to at least offer filtering facepieces (also known as dust masks) to any worker who requests one. As for the materials being handled, employers are required to provide respirators that are certified to filter the fumes or particles of the specific substances that are in use. (Some gases have particularly fine particles, for example, and workers need respirators calibrated to prevent these particles from filtering into their masks.)

Failure to provide the right kind of respiratory protection accounted for about 3,300 citations from OSHA, according to recent stats released by the agency.

Additional Common OSHA Violations

Several other "general industry" violations exist for which trucking companies frequently get into trouble. Many of them encompass basic safety issues.

There are OSHA regulations involving workplace scaffolding, platforms and ladder jacks. Trucking warehouses where goods are stored, along with warehouses and loading bays where loading equipment is used, often rely on scaffolding and platform systems. OSHA sets standards for the materials used for these systems and the practices that should be followed when working on them.

Similarly, the "Machinery and Machine Guarding" section of OSHA regulations is one in which trucking companies have violations. This has to do with protecting workers from forklift parts, power tools, shears and other blades. Both the dangerous equipment and the guards used to protect workers from that equipment fall under OSHA regulations. If a trucking warehouse or loading bay facility fails to provide these to truckers and other workers, they can face serious fines.

In terms of the frequency that industries violate these OSHA standards, the agency reported that almost 4,300 scaffolding violation citations were issued in 2016, as were more than 6,700 fall prevention citations.

What Are The Financial Costs Of Violating OSHA Regulations?

On one level, it's hard to calculate what a trucking company might lose by violating OSHA regulations. If a worker is killed or seriously injured, and an OSHA violation was a factor, the company is vulnerable to civil lawsuits.

As for OSHA itself, the federal agency issues punishments based on the seriousness of the violation, as well as other factors.

For a standard first offense, each violation will cost the company a maximum of $12,600. If the company fails to address the issue, or later repeats the violation, the fine jumps to a maximum of $126,000. In addition, OSHA has a category for "willful violation," which also carries a hefty maximum fine of $126,000.

Of course, a profitable business might not have a problem shelling out $126,000 to make the problem "go away." However, it should be noted that these fines are issued for each violation. OSHA may find several violations in the course of one inspection or investigation. When those violations are serious or are repeat offenses, a trucking company could potentially be seriously affected or even put out of business.

The best way for trucking industry owners to avoid these financial damages is to know and follow all OSHA rules relating to their workplaces. The agency website and printed materials provide all of the regulations. OSHA also offers several important training options, including a 10-hour or 30-hour Hazard Recognition card for, respectively, workers and management. The agency also provides certificate training courses on a broad range of additional topics.

What About Car Accident Victims Affected By OSHA Violations?

Motorists who share the road with truckers can help avoid collisions with large trucks by following some basic safety measures. Keep the truck's slower response time in mind, and make sure that the driver can see you in the mirrors at all times. If the driver behaves erratically, give the truck a wide berth and report it to the authorities as soon as it is safe for you to pull over and do so.

Sometimes, however, it's impossible to predict the dangers lurking within a truck's holding tank or cargo trailer. The failure of trucking industry managers and workers to follow OSHA regulations can have safety implications well outside the warehouse or dock. If a truck's cargo catches on fire or explodes while on the road, motorists, pedestrians and nearby communities may be direct victims of these OSHA violations.

It's important to gather both police reports and OSHA citation histories if you've been in a passenger car accident involving a truck. Use a legal team experienced in researching these matters. Taking the time to find the right law firm ensures that the court becomes aware of any negligence on the part of the trucking company.

In addition, new regulations are being written every day that cover driverless truck fleets and autonomous loading equipment. Often, only a legal team experienced in these matters will have kept up on changing state and federal regulations and how they affect victims of truck accidents.

Contact A Skilled Lawyer If You Are Injured

Are you a truck company owner anxious about changing OSHA regulations? A truck driver injured because of OSHA violations? A passenger car owner involved in an accident that may be connected to OSHA violations? Contact Girardi | Keese online to learn the best way to proceed, or call us at 800-401-4530. We have an extensive background handling cases within the trucking industry/OSHA realm. We'll provide the best legal strategy to protect you, as well as help you recover any potential damages you're owed.