OSHA News & Other Stories

Here are some recent – and not so recent – OSHA activities we’ve been tracking. As well as a couple of news headlines that have caught our attention.RECENT NEWS

New Websites and Safety Guides Announced by OSHA
In the last couple of months, OSHA has promoted several new websites and guides intended to educate and encourage safety on a range of workplace hazards. They include:

  • General Industry Digest
    OSHA recently released an updated General Industry Digest (available in PDF form) that it says is intended to “aid employers, supervisors, workers, health and safety committee members, and safety and health personnel in their efforts toward achieving compliance with OSHA standards in the workplace.” It includes information on I2P2, the 10 most frequently cited standards, and general industry standards -- including walking-working surfaces, means of egress, HazCom, PPEs, fire protection, electrical safety, hazardous equipment, and hazardous agents
  • All About OSHA Guide
    OSHA has a new 40 page guide titled “All About OSHA.” It’s a quick primer on the agency and its many initiatives. It should be particularly helpful for those just getting initiated to OSHA and its policies. The guide provides context for OSHA’s mission and its workplace jurisdiction.
  • New Backover Website
    According to OSHA and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 70 backover fatalities in 2011. In an attempt to call attention to, and provide prevention guidance, on backover hazards, OSHA recently launched a new Preventing Backovers website. According to the website, contributing factors related to backover incidents include driver blind spots, inaudible or non-functioning backup alarms, workers riding and falling off of vehicles. To see an interesting diagram lookup of blindspots for common construction equipment, visit the CDC’s equipment visibility lookup Web page.

OSHA to cover Flight Attendants on Hazard Communication and other Standards
This week, OSHA announced that it was working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to see where OSHA oversight of workplace safety may be warranted to ensure flight attendance have adequate protections for certain hazards not covered by the FAA.

Examples of areas currently not covered by the FAA likely to be picked up by OSHA include Hazard Communication, bloodborne pathogens and noise exposure. The FAA’s Draft Policy Statement says:

“FAA has determined that its regulations do not completely encompass the safety and health aspects of the work environments of aircraft crewmembers while the aircraft is in operation, and that there are working conditions for which it has not promulgated occupational safety or health standards…

“In particular, FAA has not promulgated standards related to the working conditions addressed by OSHA's hazard communication and bloodborne pathogens standards; therefore OSHA can enforce those standards for aircraft cabin crewmembers. Similarly, although there are FAA regulations governing noise levels outside aircraft, FAA regulations do not address measures to promote hearing conservation for employees inside the aircraft cabin, so OSHA's hearing conservation standard can apply there.”

Anyone wanting to comment on the policy has 30 days to do so once the policy notice is published in the Federal Register.

New Whistleblower Director
In November, OSHA announced the appointment of a new director, Beth Slavet, to oversee the agency’s Whistleblower Protection Program. According to OSHA’s announcement, Slavet has served as the chairman of the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board and spent over 30 years working with federal whistleblower statutes.

OSHA has elevated the status of its Whistleblowing Protection Program in the last year, including creating a new whistleblowing website. According to the website, OSHA’s jurisdiction over whistleblowing includes over 20 statutes in the following areas, “workplace safety, airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, motor vehicle safety, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, and securities laws.”

NOT SO RECENT – BUT IMPORTANT TOPICS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

RFI on PELs
A topic that got a lot of attention this summer was news that OSHA was going to be taking on a long overdue update of its Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs). According to OSHA’s PEL Webpage, PELs are regulatory limits on the allowable amount or concentration of hazardous substances in the air, based on 8-hour time weighted averages (TWA). At the summer NACOSH meeting, OSHA director Dr. Michaels said a Request for Information (RFI) would be forthcoming in the Fall of this year. Nothing has been issued as yet.

At the June meeting, Dr. Michaels said the majority of the 500 PELs had been adopted in 1971 and not updated since. In addition to updated the PELs, OSHA plans on developing an annotated PELs table that would include other occupational exposure limits (from NIOSH, CalOSHA, ACGIH TLVs).

I2P2
Anyone following OSHA – or following this blog, following OSHA – knows that OSHA has been championing injury and illness prevention programs (I2P2) in the last year and has plans in the works to develop its own I2P2 standard. Those plans have been stymied so far this year, with little visible progress being made beyond an increase in OSHA’s talking about the tenants of I2P2 in recent publications and speaking events.

According to information provided to NACOSH in June, the next step is for OSHA to submit additional information to SBREFA Committee – a committee born out of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act that is tasked with giving voice to small businesses in matters of OSHA compliance. OSHA originally submitted proposed language for an I2P2 proposal to the SBREFA in January of 2012, but then decided in June that it wanted to put the process on hold to provide additional alternatives to the SBREFA committee. In its June meeting, NACOSH recommended OSHA continue to make I2P2 a regulatory priority and to host a symposium with NIOSH and other stakeholders on the best practices of such programs.

CHEMICALS IN THE NEWS

CDC Says Tyson Chlorine Gas Leak the Result of Language Barrier
The Associate Press reported on a CDC report that faults language barriers and English chemical labels for a chlorine gas exposure that sickened nearly 200 people last year. According to the article, the employee was unable to read the chemical label of the container into which he was pouring bleach. The bleach reacted with a residual chemical still in the container which led to a chlorine gas release. Tyson counters that the employee was in fact a native English speaker who failed to read the label.

California’s Flame Retardant Law Violated
The Chicago Tribune is reporting that a number of major retailers are violating California’s flame retardant law. According to the article by Michael Hawthorne, “the law requires warning labels on products that could expose people to harmful amounts of chlorinated tris.” The Center for Environmental Health is bringing legal action against violators to push for greater compliance with the new laws. Chlorinated tris is included on California's Proposition 65 list of cancer-causing chemicals, a move the paper said was necessary to circumvent the Toxic Substance Controls Act which can act as roadblock to chemical regulatory banning.

Train Derails Over Mantua Creek in Paulsborol NJ Spilling Vinyl Chloride Into Creek
As reported in the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere, last week, a train carrying vinyl chloride derailed sending several train cars into Mantua Creek, just outside Philadelphia. In addition to spilling over 12,000 gallons of chemical into the water, much of the chemical released into the air, triggering an evacuation of the surrounding community.

According to a report by the Associated Press, some lawmakers are using the event to point out the need to end the” culture of self-regulation” that has railroad companies responsible for inspecting their own bridges and infrastructure. According to the article, the Coast-Guard has successfully removed the remaining chemicals from the derailed cars and a crane is moving into position to begin the heavy clean up.

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