OSHA hitting hard at workplace incidents, illnesses

Aug. 1, 2014
Winners of the 2013 Great West Casualty Fleet Safety Contest received awards at the annual NTTC Safety & Security Conference annual meeting in San Antonio TX.

UNDER President Obama, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has stepped it up.

Over the last six years, enforcement by OSHA, operating under the Department of Labor, is at its highest level ever. More inspections are taking place and the penalties are higher.

As then-Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis put it in 2009, “Let me be clear: the Department of Labor is back in the enforcement business.”

In his presentation, “OSHA Regulatory Update,” Dustin R Rusch, health and safety/industrial hygiene practice leader for the Antea Group, said that OSHA’s position now is that it wants to be strong, but fair. Rusch spoke during the National Tank Truck Carriers Tank Truck Safety & Security Council annual meeting June 3-5 in San Antonio, Texas.

What’s being stressed now: a new direction, new legislation, aggressive enforcement and regulatory focus, major new directives not requiring rulemaking, direct final rulemaking, far-reaching penalty directives, and less cooperation with industry.

Rusch said OSHA’s stance now is basically, “We will shame you into compliance.” And it does that by issuing press releases to announce the large penalties and name the companies in violation. There are new standards, proposed guidelines and, most of all, expanded enforcement.

“Over the past four years, OSHA has become increasingly aggressive in its enforcement practices in every employment sector,” Rusch said. “Translation: OSHA believes the best path to compliance is through aggressive enforcement.”

He gave five important OSHA issues to monitor in 2014:

• A busy OSHA rulemaking docket.

• OSHA will focus on temporary worker safety.

• Hazard communication comes into focus.

• Injury and illness prevention programs.

• General Duty Clause (heat illness, workplace violence).

He said final rules have been issued regarding injury and illness recording and reporting, slips and falls (personal fall protective systems), and electric power transmission and distribution.

Items nearing proposal: modernizing recordkeeping (March 2015); the injury and illness prevention plan (I2P2, September); occupational exposure to crystalline silica (2016); blood-borne pathogens (pre-rule findings came in July); infectious diseases (agency determining whether a standard is needed); and combustible dust/chemical management and permissible exposure limits (PELs) (pre-rule).

He said there is an aggressive enforcement and regulatory focus, including more inspectors and more employers placed in the Severe Violators Enforcement Program (SVEP). There are national and local emphasis programs, with 13 specific national emphasis programs (NEPs) and 140 local emphasis programs (LEPs) (warehousing operations).

OSHA recently released a 2014 inspection plan to reduce injuries and illnesses at high-hazard workplaces. The goal is to conduct 31,400 safety inspections, 2,200 fewer safety inspections than in 2013. OSHA is going to focus more on the quality of inspections rather than quantity, he said.

The most cited standards:

• Fall protection (8,241 violations for fiscal 2013).

• Hazard communication (6,156).

• Scaffolding (5,423).

• Respiratory protection (3,879).

• Electrical, wiring methods (3,452).

• Powered industrial trucks (3,340).

• Ladders (3,311).

• Lockout/tagout (3,254).

• Electrical, general requirements (2,745).

• Machine guarding (2,701).

Rusch said the proof is in the penalties. He offered a few examples of OSHA news releases in 2013:

• November 18: OSHA cites Big Lots Stores Inc, proposes $169,000 in fines for exit access, crushing, struck-by hazards at West Babylon, New York, store.

• September 26: OSHA cites 7 Trade Fair Supermarkets in Queens, New York, for laceration, eye, exit hazards; proposes $128,000 in fines.

• July 16: OSHA cites Duane Reade Inc, proposes $71,500 in fines for exit access and fire safety hazards at 598 Broadway store in lower Manhattan.

• June 10: Three New York contractors face over $465,000 in OSHA fines for electrocution and other hazards at Long Island work site.

• June 5: Hawaii resort cited with 14 safety and health violations.

“OSHA has changed and, in response, the industry must change how it approaches OSHA compliance and enforcement,” Rusch said.

He said there must be a focus on the following:

Unclear purpose. “A sense of purpose drives the level of engagement in your health and safety and industrial hygiene programs.”

Unplanned events. “That’s people, environment, assets, and reputation.”

Unsafe acts and practices. “Front-line supervisors must let employees know that nothing less than safe work practices and the safest possible workplace will be accepted.” He cited a quote by Victorian Era philosopher Thomas Carlyle: “The greatest mistake is to imagine that we never err.”

Unintentional injuries. “Annual estimates are that three million workers experience a non-fatal injury/illness at a cost of $200 billion to the US economy. Needless destruction of life and health is morally unjustified. Give top priority and continuous regard to potentially dangerous situations and the corrective actions necessary to avoid.”

Unidentified hazards. “Hazard identification/recognition is the first step in incident prevention. The leading cause of incidents in the workplace is unidentified hazards. The ability to recognize hazards is often assumed but never taught.”

Unaware workers. “Is it possible workers are still unaware of potential hazards in their work environment? Complacency and habituation are two terms you need to know.”

Unassessed risk. “How likely? How often? How bad? Define the level of acceptable risk in your organization. Know the difference between risk tolerance and risk intelligence.”

Undesirable behavior. “Observational assessments are a must for proactive safety management and continuous improvement. Uncover the real reasons behind undesirable behavior so that it can be changed permanently.”

Unreported events. “Are workers suffering three times as many injuries and illnesses as official reports indicate? Reporting is both a right and a responsibility. You need to establish an ‘open’ reporting culture.”

Not identifying underlying causes. “Identifying root causes is the key to preventing similar recurrences. The focus needs to be on problem solving versus problem fixing. Address unsafe issues at the root.”

Unengaged employees. “Unengaged employees are 62% more likely to be involved in an incident. Bridge the gap between wanting and having engaged employees.”

Uncommon cause. “Safety is the most important thing we do. A movement needs a leader; a leader needs a movement. Promote, nurture, and advance the ‘prevention’
movement.”   ♦

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