July 8, 2010
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is stepping up its efforts to enforce regulation compliance. A new agenda calls for more emphasis and resources geared toward enforcement tactics such as increasing inspections, penalties, and fines. Familiarizing yourself with some of OSHAís recent and planned actions will help you to better understand what is happening now and what to expect in the future.
Under the Obama administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is stepping up its efforts to enforce regulation compliance. More emphasis and resources are being allocated to enforcement tactics such as increasing inspections, penalties, and fines. OSHA recently released a new semiannual regulatory agenda that lists the regulations selected for review or development during the coming year as well as those completed during the past six months. Several key points of this agenda affect the metal fabricating industry and most likely your own business.
Familiarizing yourself with some of OSHA’s recent and planned actions will help you to better understand what is happening now and what to expect in the future.
OSHA’s hexavalent chromium standard, originally published in 2006, went into full effect in May 2010. Earlier this year the administration initiated a Hexavalent Chromium National Emphasis Program (NEP) to help identify and eliminate health hazards associated with exposure to Cr(VI). This means that OSHA staff will conduct inspections where workers are most likely to be exposed, including many metal fabricating shops. Additionally, OSHA has modified its Cr(VI) regulation requiring companies to notify workers of any exposure, whether it is above or below the permissible exposure limit.
In light of the special focus that OSHA is putting on the Cr(VI) standard with its NEP and in understanding the new, tougher enforcement approach that the organization is taking, it is especially critical that employers understand their obligations with respect to Cr(VI) and are in full compliance with the new regulation.
OSHA has implemented a new Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) and is increasing its civil penalty amounts. This program calls for more OSHA inspections, including mandatory OSHA follow-up inspections. SVEP became effective in June 2010.
Protecting America’s Workers Act. The proposed Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA) raises penalties for law violations, strengthening workers’ voices in the workplace, expanding the rights of victims and their families, expanding OSHA coverage to public employees, and requiring abatement of hazards during the citation contest period. This act has been in committee for years, but in the current environment stands a strong chance of being enacted. Watch for activity on this act coming out of committee for passage around Labor Day of this year.
Recordkeeping National Emphasis Program. The Recordkeeping National Emphasis Program set the stage for stronger enforcement in October 2009. The goal of this program is to assess the accuracy of injury and illness data recorded by employers. The recordkeeping NEP involves inspecting occupational injury and illness records prepared by businesses and enforcing requirements when employers are found to be underrecording injuries and illnesses. Inspections include records review, employee interviews, and a limited safety and health inspection of the workplace.
Injury and Illness Prevention Program. OSHA is developing a new rule that would require businesses to have a proactive Injury and Illness Prevention Program. This will require employers to develop and implement a program that minimizes worker exposure to safety and health hazards. Instead of waiting for an OSHA inspection or a workplace incident to address workplace hazards, employers would be required to create a plan for identifying and correcting hazards, and then implement the plan. Workers would also participate in the development and implementation of such plans. This rule would likely have huge implications for virtually every business in the U.S., and the economic impact would be significant.
Combustible Dust. Another rule is under way for combustible dust. Various dusts, including metal dusts such as aluminum and magnesium, can cause explosions when suspended in air under certain conditions. This new regulation would impose safety standards for these environments, many of them metal fabrication shops. OSHA is also developing a new rule for crystalline silica that may affect you if you do any abrasive sandblasting.
Fall Protection. OSHA has published a proposed new regulation for fall protection and other walking-working surface issues. The current standard allows employers to provide outdated equipment, such as lanyards and body belts, that can result in workers suffering greater injury from falls. The current rule also does not allow OSHA to fine employers who let workers climb certain ladders without fall protection, which would be a new feature of the revised standard.
Cooperative Aggrements. OSHA is proposing a new rule for cooperative agreements. Currently businesses that use a federally funded Onsite Consultation Program in cooperation with OSHA, or that have obtained Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) status, are exempt from inspections. In the proposed rule, OSHA would allow compliance safety and health officers to proceed with enforcement visits at sites undergoing consultation visits and at sites that have been awarded SHARP status.
NAICS Update and Reporting Revisions Related to Occupational Injury and Illness Recordkeeping Requirements. This revision reconsiders which businesses/industries are currently exempt from recordkeeping requirements. It also revises the reporting requirements regarding certain injuries and fatalities.
Currently OSHA uses SIC codes for classifying industries that are exempt from recordkeeping. NAICS codes are much more specific; multiple NAICS codes typically exist within a single SIC code. OSHA is proposing to use these NAICS codes to “fine-tune” which specific businesses are exempt (and which are not!) within what was previously a much more “broad-brush” category.
Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSD. The proposed recordkeeping rule to add a new column for WMSD will allow OSHA to take a closer look at ergonomic injuries and illnesses that occur in the workplace. Currently, no specific OSHA regulation for ergonomics exists, but there are guidelines. Lack of employer diligence in avoiding MSDs could result in a General Duty Clause citation, which states that the employer must protect the employee from all recognized hazards. Once again, this proposed rule is more evidence of OSHA’s plan to scrutinize more carefully workplace safety and health issues.
While many of these plans are still in development or are in the proposed-rule stage, now it is more important than ever to be sure all of your safety programs are ironclad.
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