OSHA Seeks Information to Update Shipyard Safety Standards

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is considering revising its shipyard safety standards, which haven't been updated since they were adopted in 1971.

The revised standards would target fall hazards related to shipbuilding and repairs, as well as other shipyard safety concerns.

Falls are the leading cause of fatalities for shipyard workers, OSHA said in a Sept. 8 press statement. The agency cited Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing that 40 percent of all shipyard fatalities between 1992 and 2014 involved falls to a lower level.  

The revisions would address access and egress hazards on ships and in shipyard buildings, including issues with stairs and ladders. The updates would also focus on the use of scaffolding and falling-object protection.

"Current standards do not cover all access/egress hazards and do not address advances in technology such as new scaffold systems," the agency said.

Request for Information

OSHA has requested comments and material to help it determine whether it should update the standards.

Specifically, the agency is interested in gathering information about shipyard employers' current practices to protect workers from fall hazards. It would also like to hear about any relevant advances in technology since the standards were first adopted.

"It's very early in the game," said Patrick Miller, an attorney with Sherman & Howard in Denver. OSHA will first gauge how much interest there is in updating these standards before deciding whether to move forward with a proposed rule, he explained.

Interested parties have until Dec. 7 to electronically submit comments and materials.

General Fall-Related Rule Expected Soon

While there aren't many employers that are subject to shipyard standards, Miller said that OSHA will be issuing a final rule very shortly regarding general industry standards to reduce walking-working surface hazards.

The agency uses the term "general industry" for all industries not included in agriculture, construction or maritime.

"[T]here are many employees who work on ladders, scaffolds, towers, outdoor advertising signs and similar surfaces where slips, trips or falls are likely to result in serious injury or death," the proposed general industry rule said.

The agency is seeking "to reduce the number of fall-related employee deaths and injuries by updating the rule to include new technology … and industry methods."

OSHA already did the work by updating the general industry standards, so it makes sense to update the shipyard standards too, Miller said.

He noted that OSHA recently updated its record-keeping and anti-retaliation rules. The final rule on general industry walking-working surfaces is the next big one to watch for, he said.

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