OSHA on Fire in July and August with Employee and Chemical Safety Compliance Action

July and August were especially productive months for OSHA with moves to shore up worker protections on several fronts. Headlines included new Injury and Illness Recordkeeping Rules for Federal Agencies, a new proposed rule on crystalline silica, and settlements with several large employers.

Federal Injury and Illness Recordkeeping

When it comes to injuries and illnesses, OSHA has a lot of regulatory balls in the air. First there is the push for an Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2) Standard that would require employers to develop strategies for proactively and systematically rooting out workplace hazards. Next, OSHA is making changes to what has to be recorded and when for OSHA Recordkeeping purposes. If it has its way, OSHA will require reporting within 8 hours for hospitalizations of one more employees and amputations. Currently, 8 hour reporting is only required for deaths and the hospitalization of three or more employees. Finally, OSHA is making changes to the way employers report injuries and illnesses and how often. When all is said and done, OSHA may have more employers report more information and to do it on an annual basis — electronically. But while safety professionals and HR managers await word, OSHA took some action on the Federal employer front, finalizing a rule that requires “all federal agencies to submit their OSHA-required injury and illness data to the Bureau of Labor Statistics every year.” The rule also clarifies OSHA’s position that volunteers are considered employees and are required to be included in injury and illness data. The Final Rule can be read in its entirety here.

Proposed Rule on Crystalline Silica

In a move that was long anticipated, OSHA took a step toward a new standard on Crystalline Silica by issuing a proposed rule that aims to limit worker exposure to the silica. Silica is mineral found in rock, sand, stone, bricks and other such material, that during normal operations — cutting, crushing, sawing, drilling — with those materials can become airborne and easily inhaled by workers. According to OSHA’s website, silica is 100 times smaller than ordinary sand and is used in many operations like hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Workers exposed to silica are at risk to lung cancer, kidney disease and other chronic respiratory diseases. OSHA Director, Dr. David Michaels, announced the proposal by saying, “Exposure to silica dust can be extremely hazardous, and limiting that exposure is essential. Every year, affected workers not only lose their ability to work, but also to breathe. OSHA estimates that the proposed rule will save nearly 700 lives per year and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis annually, once the full effects of the rule are realized.” The hazards of silica have been known for some time. As far back as 1938, the Department of Labor produced the following video.

Currently, OSHA is enforcing 40 year old permissible exposure limits (PELs), which it believes are outdated and inadequate. Under the proposed standard, PELs for silica would be lowered to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8 hour day. A new standard would also dictate how silica exposure is measured, steps for reducing the hazard, and improve employee awareness and training on the hazards. The Notice of Proposed Rule Making can be read here. OSHA encourages employers to participate in public hearings starting in March 2014 and/or to submit comments to www.regulations.gov Docket No. OSHA-2010-0034.

OSHA Settles with Wal-Mart | ConAgra Foods | U.S. Postal Service

Over the past few months, OSHA has announced a number of high profile settlements with several large employers, including Wal-Mart, ConAgra Foods and the U.S. Postal Service. The Wal-Mart settlement, affecting all 2,857 Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores, centers on improving safety procedures related to the use of trash compactors and Hazard Communication. On the HazCom front, Wal-Mart agreed to improve its hazard communications training and to reduce employee exposure to undiluted cleaning chemicals. In addition to making changes to the above, Wal-Mart agreed to $190,000 in civil penalties. ConAgra Foods also settled with OSHA on issues related to worker protection from release of anhydrous ammonia which is used in refrigeration systems. As part of the settlement, ConAgra agreed to “implement controls to reduce hazards associated with release of ammonia from low pressures receivers (LPRs)…[by] enclosing older LPRs, providing better ventilation, and ensuring means of egress. ConAgra had been cited by OSHA under the Process Safety Management Standard, which, according to OSHA’s website, lists requirements for managing hazards associated with highly hazardous chemicals. In one of its largest settlements this summer, OSHA locked the U.S. Postal Service into an agreement to improve safety in postal facilities “across the country.” According to OSHA’s news release, at issue where citations on electrical work practices. As part of its agreement, USPS revised its procedures to prohibit work on electrically energized equipment except for a small set of specialized tasks. Additionally, each facility is required to have an assigned electrical coordinator and provide special personal protective equipment (PPEs) like special gloves and full body arc flash protection. The USPS must also pay a $100,000 fine, but may escape a $3 Million penalty by completing the terms of the agreement in the provided time-frame.

1-Bromopropane Hazard Alert

OSHA issued an alert this summer warning of the hazards of 1-bromopropane, a solvent used in adhesives, dry cleaning and the cleaning of metals, plastics and other materials in commercial processes. OSHA’s concern is that use of 1-bromopropane is on the rise even though it has been linked neurological illnesses, cancer and reproductive issues. The alert, co-authored and released by OSHA and NIOSH, says exposure normally happens when employees breathe in vapor or mists, or through skin absorption. Regarding health effects, the alert states: “Exposure to 1-BP can cause irritation (for example, of the eyes, mucous membranes, upper airways and skin) and can damage the nervous system. Neurologic effects can appear as headaches, dizziness, loss of consciousness, slurred speech, confusion, difficulty walking, muscle twitching, and/or loss of feeling in arms and legs [Ichihara et al. 2012]. These effects may continue among affected persons even after exposure to 1-BP has ended [Majersik et al. 2007].” Health effects increase the longer the employee is exposed to 1-Bromopropane. Included in the alert are a series of steps employers can take to mitigate employee risk from exposure, including elimination and substitution controls, engineering controls, administrative controls, and PPEs.