OSHA Releases Regulatory Plans for 2015 Actions on silica, infectious diseases and recordkeeping listed as top priorities

By Roy Maurer Dec 2, 2014
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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published its semiannual regulatory agenda, listing projected actions on 26 regulations and announcing its top priorities for 2015. Those priorities include:

  • Efforts to control exposure to crystalline silica.
  • Enhancements to current infectious disease protocols in health care and other high-risk environments. The small business review process for a possible infectious disease standard is currently ongoing and expected to be completed by the end of the year. Findings from a review of the agency’s bloodborne pathogens standard are expected in May 2015.
  • Issuance of a final rule requiring electronic submission of injury and illness data, which would be made publicly available.

Silica Proposal Comments Under Review

After publishing a proposed rule on workplace exposure to respirable crystalline silica in August 2013, OSHA received more than 1,700 comments from the public and testimony from over 200 stakeholders during public hearings. The agency projects that its analysis of the feedback will be completed by June 2015.

OSHA proposed lowering the permissible exposure limit for quartz, the most common form of crystalline silica, to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air from roughly 100 micrograms in general industry and from 250 micrograms in construction and shipyards. The proposal also contains ancillary provisions—updated requirements for exposure assessment and control, respiratory protection, medical surveillance, hazard communication, and recordkeeping—to match the lowered limit. The agency estimates that the proposed rule would ultimately save nearly 700 lives and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis annually. The Mine Safety and Health Administration intends to use information provided by OSHA to undertake its own regulatory action related to silica exposure in mines.

Recordkeeping, Reporting Rules

Publication of a final rule requiring electronic filing of work-related injuries and illnesses is scheduled for August 2015. “An updated and modernized reporting system would enable a more efficient and timely collection of data, and would improve the accuracy and availability of the relevant records and statistics,” the agency said.

OSHA is also proposing to amend its recordkeeping regulations to clarify that the duty to make and maintain accurate records of occupational injuries and illnesses is an ongoing obligation.

The duty continues “for as long as the employer must keep and make available records for the year in which the injury or illness occurred. The duty does not expire if the employer fails to create the necessary records when first required to do so,” OSHA said.

The proposed rule, already past due, was prompted by the 2012 Volks decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals holding that OSHA couldn’t cite an employer for alleged recordkeeping violations that exceeded the six-month statute of limitations in the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Final Rules: Confined Spaces, Slip and Fall Prevention

OSHA’s final rule on confined spaces in construction is scheduled for March 2015. The proposed rule, published in 2007, tailored provisions originally found in the agency’s confined spaces for general industry rule to construction work.

In June 2015, OSHA plans on issuing a final rule addressing slip, trip and fall hazards and establishing requirements for personal fall protection systems.

Proposed Rules: Beryllium, Crane Operator Certification

The first of the year should see a proposed rule on occupational exposure to beryllium, according to the agenda. Scheduled for January 2015, OSHA’s proposal may only lower the permissible exposure limit for the toxic metal, or may include other provisions such as extending medical surveillance and enhancing exposure assessment and control methods.

OSHA also plans to propose amendments to its rule on cranes and derricks in construction in January 2015. Proposed amendments include several corrections, clarifications and definitions omitted in the 2010 final rule.

In March 2015, OSHA aims to issue a proposed rule identifying criteria for employers to follow to ensure crane operators are “completely qualified” to operate cranes safely on construction worksites. The rule will also clarify issues surrounding operator certification, including the type and capacity requirement found in the 2010 rule.

“After publishing the final rule, a number of parties raised concerns about the standard’s requirement to certify operators by type and capacity of crane and questioned whether crane operator certification was sufficient for determining whether an operator could operate their equipment safely on a construction site,” OSHA said.

The agency extended the deadline for crane operator certification to Nov. 10, 2017, and plans to reconsider the type and capacity requirements for crane operator certification and whether certification is sufficient for safe operation by the 2017 deadline.

A proposed rule incorporating new fit-test protocols into OSHA’s respiratory protection standard is also planned for March 2015, according to the agenda. OSHA has received a submission to consider three new fit-test protocols used to select respirators.

Prerule Actions on Chemical Safety

OSHA’s comment period seeking input on effective ways to regulate occupational exposure to chemicals will come to an end April 8, 2015, according to the agenda.

A small business review panel is projected to convene in June 2015 related to updating OSHA’s process safety management standard to prevent major chemical accidents.

Combustible Dust, Backover Rules Downgraded to Long-Term Action

The agency’s next step on a combustible dust rulemaking has been pushed out to February 2016, when a small business review is scheduled. Action on a combustible dust standard has been stalled since 2010.

Downgrading combustible dust to the long-term action list suggests that OSHA is waiting for the National Fire Protection Association to finish updating its consensus standard, according to experts. “OSHA puts itself in a better position when it issues a proposed rule based on a national consensus standard,” said Tressi Cordaro, a shareholder in the Washington, D.C., office of Jackson Lewis, adding that it will likely serve as the basis for the proposed rule.

OSHA’s proposal aimed at preventing workers from being struck by vehicles that are backing up was also downgraded to the long-term list. The small business review of that proposal is now scheduled for June 2016. OSHA is interested in utilizing emerging technologies such as cameras and proximity detection systems to prevent accidents, as well as requiring the use of spotters and worksite traffic control plans. The rule would apply to general industry and construction employers.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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