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OSHA Announces More Standards Improvements

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OSHA is looking to update 18 of its standards, part of an ongoing effort that began more than 20 years ago.

The changes, Standards Improvement Project-Phase IV, are part of a series begun in 1995 in response to a presidential executive order, “Improving Regulations and Regulatory Review.” That order aims to reduce regulatory burden while maintaining or enhancing employees’ safety and health.
OSHA announced that this latest phase will include revisions to its standards that may be confusing, outdated, or unnecessary in its recordkeeping, general industry, maritime, and construction standards. Previous changes were issued in 1998, 2005 and 2011.

"The changes we propose will modernize OSHA standards, help employers better understand their responsibilities, increase compliance, and reduce compliance costs," Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels said in a statement. "Most importantly, these revisions will improve the safety and health protections afforded to workers across all industries."

The agency's notice in the Oct. 4 Federal Register said these proposed revisions would save employers an estimated $3.2 million per year and are based on responses to a public Request for Information issued in 2012 along with recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health, OSHA's staff, and the Office of Management and Budget.

One revision, the removal of a single word, could have some bearing on the lockout/tagout standard. In addressing a federal court ruling, OSHA proposes to remove the word “unexpected” from the Control of Hazardous Energy standard (1910.147). That word currently appears in servicing and maintenance operations in the lockout/tagout section. Specifically, it applies to a situation “in which the unexpected energization or startup of the machines or equipment, or the release of stored energy could cause injury to the employees.”
OSHA said it intended “unexpected energization” to refer to any startup that happens before the employee servicing the equipment intended.

The Sixth Circuit, however, rejected OSHA’s interpretation of the standard, ruling that the lockout/tagout standard did not apply when a startup procedure provided a warning to a worker that machinery was about to start. In the case the court was asked to consider, workers were servicing machines that used a multi-step startup procedure that included time delays. The court said that startup using such procedures would not be unexpected.

But OSHA said it believes the court’s decision misconstrues the lockout/tagout standard by allowing employers to use warning and delay systems as an alternative to following the standards’ requirements. OSHA also points out that deleting “unexpected” from the standard would make it consistent with the lockout/tagout regulation that applies to shipyards, where the word does not appear in the same context.

OSHA notes that currently its inspectors apply 11 different factors to determine whether particular warning devices are adequate to comply with its standard.

Among the 17 other changes proposed in the latest round of revisions:
-Removing a requirement for employers to provide x-rays to screen for lung cancer for employees who face that exposure. Studies have found x-rays aren’t beneficial in the lung cancer screening process.
-Removing feral cats, under the shipyard regulations, from the category of “vermin” from which employees would have to be protected.
-Revising the minimum breaking-strength requirement for lifelines in the Safety belts, lifelines, and lanyards standard, § 1926.104(c), to 5,000 pounds. This change would bring that standard into conformity with the breaking-strength requirements in the fall protection systems criteria and practices (‘‘Fall Protection’’) standard at § 1926.502(d)(9). OSHA said it believes making identical specifications for the same equipment will avoid confusion and improve compliance.

Comments on the proposal must be submitted by Dec. 5, 2016.

Mr. Griffith has a received his bachelors degree in Environmental Health from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. He is a Certified Industrial Hygienist and president of Workplace Safety & Health Company. He has over 35 years of industrial hygiene, safety, loss control and consulting experience. Chemical monitoring, noise measurement, program development and management, risk assessment and computer management of health and safety data are areas of particular strength. Mr. Griffith is a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) at the local and national level. He is also active in the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

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