OSHA Gives a Preview of Rules in the Works for 2016

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has published its fall agenda for federal agencies, which includes over 70 proposed rules, prerules, or final rules for the Department of Labor and/or OSHA. (OSHA’s rulemaking process is a multi-stage affair that usually lasts several years, as this OSHA flowchart explains.) The new agenda contains timelines for stakeholder meetings, comment periods, and dates for when the rules are projected to become final. However, it is important to remember that schedules related to government regulation are often subject to change. That much said, there are still many important disclosures in this agenda that — whether they become law on-time, or not — have the potential to impact professionals in the EHS space.

At the top of the list is a proposed modification to 29 CFR par 1904.41 (OSHA’s annual survey form) and also to 29 CFR part 1904.35 (OSHA’s injury and illness recordkeeping requirement). Often known informally as “the electronic recordkeeping rule,” the new rule would add requirements for the electronic submission of injury and illness reports that employers are already required to keep. Specifically, there are three proposed requirements of the new rule:

  • Businesses with 250 or more employees would have to electronically submit illness and injury reporting on a quarterly basis.
  • Businesses with 20 or more employees in certain designated industries would be required to submit information electronically on an annual basis.
  • All businesses who receive notification from OSHA to electronically submit illness and injury records electronically would have to do so.

According to the new agenda, OSHA hopes to issue the final rule on these modifications no later than March of 2016. OSHA says the new electronic requirements are necessary: “to help OSHA, employers, employees, researchers, and the public more effectively prevent workplace injuries and illnesses, as well as support President Obama's Open Government Initiative to increase the ability of the public to easily find, download, and use the resulting dataset generated and held by the Federal Government.”

A final rule on occupational exposure to crystalline silica — a controversial and much-debated subject — also appears to be on the docket for 2016. The new agenda shows that OSHA intends to issue a final rule on crystalline silica standards by February of next year. In the entry, OSHA points out that 500 American workers died from silica exposure between 2009 and 2013, and notes that “It is likely that many more cases have occurred where silicosis went undetected.” OSHA also points out that the current formula for defining a safe permissible exposure limit (PEL) for crystalline silica was devised in 1968, and as not been updated since. OSHA says it believes the proposed rule, which would revise PELs, would save nearly 700 lives per year and prevent 1,600 cases of silicosis.

Another controversial item on the new agenda is revised PELs for beryllium. While only a proposed rule, the agenda shows that OSHA intends to analyze comments from its recent beryllium comment period by December of this year. This leaves the door open for OSHA to push for a final rule soon thereafter. Beryllium is widely-used in industries like aerospace, rocketry, and armament manufacturing. OSHA has previously said that lowering the current PELs for the substance would save about 100 lives per year.

Again, because federal rules and timelines are often revised, it’s a good idea to take these proposed deadlines with a grain of salt. However, it’s also always in the best interest of all employers to keep an eye on any EHS regulations that have the potential to impact them in the years ahead. A complete list of all the new agenda items is available online here.

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