OSHA Updates Aim to Reduce Burden on Employers

Agency issued its fourth change since 1995 under the Standards Improvement Project

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Employers may be able to streamline processes, reduce paperwork and save money under a new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule that takes effect July 15.

The final rule revised 14 standards for record keeping, general industry, the maritime industry and construction.

The revisions included:

  • Removing feral cats from the definition of vermin in the maritime standard.
  • Clarifying the criteria for determining if hearing loss is work-related under the record-keeping standard.
  • Eliminating the chest X-ray requirement from certain toxic and hazardous substances standards.

The revisions make it easier for employers to comply with workplace-safety requirements, said Sheila Kerwin, an attorney with Nilan Johnson Lewis in Minneapolis. By reducing duplicative regulations, creating consistent requirements and updating the standards for technology, the rule also aims to save companies money, she noted.

Collectively, U.S. companies could save up to $6.1 million a year because of the changes, according to an OSHA announcement.

Employers should carefully review the final rule to determine which revisions affect their business, said Trever Neuroth, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in Reston, Va. "After that, employers should review their safety policies and procedures to see if they are still aligned with the OSHA standard."

Employers should also alert their safety team members to any changes, Kerwin said. While some updates are merely clarifications and do not require changes in practice, some are aimed at streamlining processes and reducing paperwork, she noted.

[SHRM members-only how-to guide: How to Determine Regulatory Requirements for Safety]

"If an employer does change any of its policies, it should make sure that it communicates those changes to its workers," Neuroth said. "Employers can have the best written policies, but if the workers aren't aware of them, they are not worth the paper they are written on."

Key Changes

This was the fourth change to OSHA's Standards Improvement Project since 1995. Former President Bill Clinton's administration created the plan to streamline government regulations. Revisions were issued in 1998, 2005 and 2011, in part because many technological changes affected the workplace-safety industry.

While the changes were generally meant to reduce OSHA regulatory burdens, there are a few very specific changes in the requirements, Kerwin said.

She noted the following key changes that employers should review:

  • In remote areas where emergency service systems have difficulty locating mobile phones, employers must post in a conspicuous place either the latitude and longitude of the worksite or other location-identification information that the caller can provide to emergency services.
  • The minimum breaking strength required for lifelines is now 5,000 pounds, rather than 5,400 pounds.
  • Under 19 OSHA safety standards, employers no longer have to provide workers' Social Security numbers on certain forms, due to electronic privacy concerns.

Lockout/Tagout Changes Pending

Significantly, OSHA removed from its revisions a proposed change to its lockout/tagout (LOTO) standard, Neuroth said. "The agency's proposed change would have likely caused a greater regulatory and compliance burden to employers," he noted. The LOTO standard regulates the control of hazardous energy while machines and equipment are being fixed—including robotic systems that need a continuous supply of power.

Instead, OSHA has begun a separate rulemaking process for LOTO and recently issued a request for information on that standard. The agency wants to know how technological advances have improved the safety of control-circuit devices since the standard was published in 1989, according to the agency.

OSHA would like to hear from employers and other interested parties on the LOTO standard by Aug. 18.

"Employers should stay aware of proposed revisions to OSHA standards and be prepared to make public comments if they believe that compliance with the revised standards would be too burdensome," he suggested.

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