In an ongoing effort to keep up with the rapidly changing occupational hazards, OSHA focuses their efforts on specific areas each year. In 2014 they have selected a diverse set of topics that they will be taking a close look at. Whether OSHA is busy writing new standards, performing additional inspections or offering updated guidelines, virtually all industries should be aware of what OSHA will be doing over the course of 2014. The following ten subjects are either currently being reviewed, or are on the schedule for a close review later within the year.
Confined Spaces in Construction
Construction workers often have to work in confined spaces in order to complete the job. While this comes with known risks, OSHA is looking to ensure that employers are accurately identifying these risks and taking the appropriate steps to minimize them. This is an area where OSHA has been working on improving for some time, and have already put new rules in place. The update was required because of the fact that previous OSHA rules regarding working in confined spaces did not apply to construction sites.
OSHA worked with the construction industry on the final ruling for confined spaces in construction, which was put in place in February, 2014 after a series of proposals and times when the public could comment on the ruling. You can view additional information about the final ruling HERE.
Injury and Illness Recording and Reporting
The injury and illness recording and reporting guidelines from OSHA will be getting a variety of updates and improvements in 2014. These changes will help bring the recording and reporting standards up to date with modern technologies, this allowing digital reporting. In addition, there will be more stringent requirements for employers to report work related hospitalizations, fatalities and amputations within 24 hours.
This OSHA initiative can be broken down into two areas, one for temporary employees and one for full time workers. For temporary workers, there has been an electronic bulletin released that will help clarify many of the reporting requirements. The bulletin publication announcement specifically states, “The temporary worker Record-keeping Bulletin helps businesses determine which employer is responsible for recording work-related injuries and illness on the OSHA 300 log. This is the first in a series of guidance documents that will be released to support the initiative to raise awareness about compliance with OSHA requirements for temporary workers.” This bulletin was released March 13, 2014 and can be seen HERE.
The changes related to full time employees (which will also impact some temporary employees) is still open for public comment. The public comment period was extended through March 30th, 2014, largely due to many employers being upset at the new requirements. Specifically, OSHA is going to require that any organization with 250 or more employees has to electronically submit detailed injury reports on a quarterly basis. In some industries, that requirement is for employers with as few as 20 employees.
Electronic Submission of Injury and Illness Record-keeping Data
This is closely related to the previous OSHA initiative, and in some ways actually overlaps. There have been two public meetings about the updated requirements OSHA is proposing for the electronic submission of injury or illnesses. Of all the changes OSHA is pushing in 2014, this is one of the most feverishly debated issues because of the fact that it would require some organizations to make significant changes to their reporting structure.
The transcripts of the public meetings, which were conducted on January 9th, 2014 and January 10th, 2014 are available for review. It seems very likely that the proposed requirements will be passed. In the meeting there were many people representing employees who were supportive of the guidelines, including James Melius from the NYS Laborers Health & Safety Fund who said of the proposal,
I think it’s going to provide a significant benefit to both our union members as well as to our employers. I think more timely and transparent injury and illness data is going to be very useful in terms of better identifying workplaces that have problems.
-James Melius – NYS Laborers Health & Safety Fund
Electric Power Transmission and Distribution – Electrical Protective Equipment
The current safety standards addressing electric power transmission and distribution is nearly 40 years old, which is why OSHA feels it is time to move forward with some significant changes and improvements. In addition, brand new standards have had to be written based on the new ways things are done. Specifically this new set of rules, if passed, will address updates to foot protection requirements for those working with electrical power transmission, and also an update to aerial lift fall protection. When it comes to electrical hazards, it is always best to be well prepared and adequently protected, check out these helpful electrical safety signs HERE.
These are two areas where there have been significant advancements since the last update to the standards, and will help ensure employees in this industry will be better protected. The rule has already been written and subject to public comment in 2013, and is now ready for final action. No date has yet been set for the rule to be put in place, though it is expected to be in the first half of 2014.
Slips & Falls – Personal Fall Protection Systems
OSHA has proposed updates ready for a final ruling regarding personal fall protection systems. These standards, if implemented, will incorporate personal fall protection systems into 29 CFR 1910.23, which covers walking and working surfaces. This is due to new technologies which are now available to help protect employees who work with ladders or other equipment at heights. This final rule is expected to go through in June of 2014. It is always important to utilize proper fall protection in any situation which warrants it. Examples of pertinent fall protection equipment can be found HERE.
Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica
There is a proposal in place that is still being discussed in public hearings concerning respirable crystalline silica. This material is often found in construction sites as it is found in every type of rock formation. It is also used in manufacturing industries and in the creation of ceramics, glass and many other common materials used in construction.
OSHA is proposing a reduction in the permissible exposure limit to 8-hour time-weighted average of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The proposal is currently being discussed in public hearings which began March 18th, 2014 and are scheduled to continue until April 4th, 2014. There are dozens of experts from industries and organizations scheduled to speak at these hearings. You can see the full lineup of speakers, including the dates and times when they will be presenting, HERE. Once the public hearings are concluded, the proposal is expected to be submitted for final approval.
Injury and Illness Prevention Programs
OSHA is drafting a proposal which will, if passed, require employers to develop a formalized injury and illness prevention program (I2P2). The proposal is being written based off of existing regulations in place in California and other states. OSHA is expected to make the notice of the proposed rule-making in September, 2014. Once that notice has been made they will schedule public hearings and other steps in order to get the proposal pushed forward. It is doubtful that OSHA will be able to get everything completed and approved in 2014, but the initial proposal will certainly be created and available to review.
OSHA is working on a new or updated rule that will provide employers with guidelines concerning combustible dust, and the safety standards associated with this hazard. This subject has been on the ‘to-do’ list for OSHA since 2009, and they are finally making it a real priority. OSHA is being pushed to move on this by industry safety advocates, including the Chemical Safety Board (CSB). While this is a known hazard, and has been the confirmed cause of major explosions that resulted in fatalities in the past, OSHA may have difficulty getting it put in place.
According to ISHN.com, “OSHA has estimated the annual cost of implementing the rule at more than $100 million, which is expected to draw opposition from business groups.” This is a significant cost, and the objections from affected businesses will likely cause delays. OSHA, however, has put the issue of combustible dust on their list of things they want addressed in 2014, so business leaders will need to keep a close eye on the progress.
Crane Operator Certification
OSHA released a notice of proposed rule-making on February 10th, 2014, which would extend the enforcement date out for an existing rule for crane operator certification by three years. This extension pushes the enforcement out until November, 10th, 2017 so that they don’t become effective while rule-making is still taking place. The proposed rule-making announcement can be seen HERE. This indicates that while OSHA is certainly pushing forward with crane operator safety in 2014, the full completion is a longer term goal.
Exposure to Beryllium
OSHA is set to issue a proposed rule, which will regulate the occupational exposure to beryllium in April of 2014. This is in response to years of data and information gathering which began in November, 2002. They completed the Small Business Advocacy Review Panel report on this topic back in 2008, and a scientific review of the risk assessment in November, 2010. This is clearly a long term goal for OSHA, which they hope to have completed this year. The new standard would update and largely replace the 1999 guidelines, and greatly reduce the permissible exposure limits.
2014 and Beyond
OSHA is always struggling to focus their limited resources on the most important workplace hazards. This is a difficult balancing act, especially when many of the regulations and guidelines they create require years of research before they are completed. When OSHA releases a list of the areas where they will be focusing over the course of a year, it helps the agency get things done more efficiently, and also helps businesses know what types of changes they can be expecting. Whether or not OSHA will be able to check off everything on their 2014 list by New Year’s Day, there will undoubtedly be a lot of safety improvements made for 2014 and beyond.
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