Running any business means dealing with hundreds of tiny details on a daily basis. When it’s a business involving firearms, it’s even more so, particularly with the degree of governmental oversight involved. Add a range and you multiply the government’s involvement, and now the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is involved.
To help ranges cope with OSHA requirements, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) has implemented the Range Compliance Consultant Program.
“This came about as a result of our Lead Management and OSHA Compliance Workshops,” said Zach Snow, manager of shooting promotions at NSSF. “Many of the attendees, after hearing all the regulatory risks and liabilities, as well as learning about all the different health and safety programs that they should have in place when it comes to OSHA compliance, were overwhelmed. So we developed a compliance program that will complement the workshops and help ranges identify and address potential risks from an OSHA regulatory standpoint. It also helps them develop the health and safety programs that they need in order to stay compliant with OSHA.”
The NSSF partnered with Western Range to do a mock audit based on EPA and OSHA regulations.
“The representative walks through the entire facility to get a feel for how everything is done,” Snow said. “He or she asks a lot of questions about how the range manages and operates aspects of the facility that have EPA and OSHA elements attached to them. The consultant takes pictures and reviews the entire operation, and then develops a variety of health and safety programs for the individual range.”
These programs address such things as hearing protection, protective equipment, hazardous communication, lead management, medical surveillance, respirator fit tests and other significant items related to EPA and OSHA compliance.
“The consultant assists with the development of Standard Operating Procedures related to all these elements,” Snow added. “He or she also helps ranges meet general industry standards that are applicable to shooting ranges.”
The reason all this is important? If a range is not in compliance with OSHA regulations for something as simple as a proper railing where an employee has to climb to change an air filter, and OSHA happens to come knocking, the range may be subject to a hefty fine.
“The cost of this service is $5,000,” Snow said. “However, for current range members the NSSF is covering $1,500 of that.”
Western Range has a history of working with shooting ranges on other aspects of their operation.
“Western Range is a remediation company,” the company spokesman said. “We remediate lead out of backstops and do other hazardous waste management. We’ve partnered with NSSF on the Range Compliance Consultant Program. I do a mock OHSA audit, write safety and health programs and do any necessary training. The training is done virtually, so it saves the range money.”
When Dave Drummond, owner of Carolina Sporting Arms in Charlotte, N.C., decided to add a range, he took advantage of the Range Compliance Consultant Program to start out right.
“We’re a long time retail store,” Drummond said. “We started construction on a range in May of 2013. At about the same time, the NSSF had started the workshops centered on lead-management compliance. We went to the Atlanta workshop in 2013 and learned things we had never heard of, and got the sense that there was a target on our backs from the different agencies. We knew we had to be compliant, so we called the NSSF to find out how to participate in the consultant program.”
Carolina Sporting Arms was one of the first ranges to enroll in the program.
“The consultant came in and broke our operation down into procedures and the documentation we had to have and the testing we have to do to confirm that we are in compliance,” Drummond said. “Western Range walked us through the entire process.”
As a result, Drummond said, he is not afraid of having EPA, OSHA or anyone else look at his business.
“The key to being in compliance is getting off to a great start,” he said. “Since we hadn’t come online yet, it was the perfect time to get the consultant involved. Now our processes will never have to go to the dark side because we’ve been in compliance since Day 1. We were very fortunate with our timing.”
One of the things Western Range suggested to Drummond was a program to protect employees’ hearing.
“They also had us look at what we’re supplying in the way of protective gear, from Tyvek suits to respirators to gloves and booties,” he said. “Not only do you have to buy all that stuff, but you also have to have a program where you train your folks on the proper way of using it. We had to send our associates to get fitted for respirators, and develop a program that details where you have to use a respirator. We did baseline lead testing for all our associates. It’s amazing the amount of detail that we didn’t know we had to do until the consultant walked us through all of it.”
Drummond is a strong advocate of the Range Compliance Consultant Program.
“If you operate a range, you need to get in touch with NSSF,” he said. “One way or another, you will become compliant. You can do it through the Range Compliance Consultant Program, or you can wait until OSHA is breathing down your neck. Western Range doesn’t write fines; OSHA does.”
At the Nardis Gun Club in San Antonio, Texas, owners Greg and Doug Thurmon found out just how difficult dealing with OSHA can be.
“We had been planning to go to the NSSF workshop in New Orleans, but just as we were sending in our registration for it, OSHA showed up at our front door,” Doug Thurmon said. “We’ve been in business 27 years and never had been visited by OSHA before that. Typically when OSHA comes it’s because they’ve been called about a complaint or an injury, but that wasn’t the case with us. At the time, our range had been open about a year.”
Doug Thurmon told the OSHA inspector to please let him know if he saw anything they needed to address. The OSHA inspector told him that he needed an eyewash station, which Thurmon ordered before the inspector left the building. He also started the process of addressing a couple of other issues the inspector pointed out.
Shortly thereafter, the Thurmons received a list of 13 “grievances” from OSHA that the inspector categorized as “serious violations.” Each one had a substantial financial penalty attached to it.
“A serious violation is one that could result in serious bodily injury or death,” Thurmon said. “I could only see where one of them was that serious. It was a rail for the top part of our range in a place we never used and never went to. But I agreed; if someone fell from there, it could cause serious bodily injury or death. Many other grievances were broad in scope and magnified.”
The Thurmons asked the NSSF for help. By the time the consultant was through working with the Nardis Gun Club, its attorneys and OHSA officials, OSHA had reduced the number of “serious violations” from 13 to one and arrived at a substantial reduction in the proposed fines.
“One of the things we found out was that the sink we had set up as an eyewash station was enough,” Thurmon said. “We didn’t need to purchase the one we did. The OSHA inspector didn’t know that what we had was adequate.”
Another thing the Thurmons learned is that gun ranges are on a list—created by the Executive Branch of the government—for OHSA specifically to look at.
“We were just one of the unfortunate ones to be looked at first,” he said. “Compliance is something you have to do; no excuses. Western Range and NSSF helped us fine-tune our procedures so they exactly meet OSHA requirements; they both are resources we’re extremely grateful to for helping us get through the process. It was all very traumatizing, to say the least. OSHA can pick you apart, and if they come to see you, they will find something.”
Also like Drummond, the Thurmons are strong proponents of asking the NSSF for help.
“If you’re putting in a range, ask for help before you start the process,” Thurmon said. “The first step is to go to one of the workshops. Otherwise you’re walking in blind.”
Western Range agreed. One of its consultants said ranges can’t choose whether or not to be compliant with OSHA standards; they must be.
“They can’t do just part of it,” the spokesperson said. “They have to do all of it. If they don’t, they can be fined anywhere from $2,000 to $7,000 for each violation.”
Western Range said that many OSHA inspectors don’t have the background or understanding to work properly with shooting ranges.
“Some OSHA inspectors are not completely knowledgeable about the dangers on ranges,” the consultant said. “They may be well educated on construction or confined spaces, and they just get a call to go look at a shooting range. They don’t always know what they should be looking for, and that can be both good and bad. I’ve gone to some ranges where the OSHA inspectors just had no clue.”
Range Action Specialist Program
The Range Action Specialist Program is another NSSF program designed to provide resources for ranges dealing with increased operating costs, new environmental regulations, land encroachment, neighborhood complaints and growing litigation concerns. The purpose of the program is to:
- Assist members with existing challenges
- Encourage shooting ranges to become more proactive with Best Management Practices
- Provide financial support
- Provide professional guidance to individuals while in the process of range development
- Promote, protect and preserve the shooting range community