As OSHA Rules Change, Employers Must Plan Ahead

When it comes to workplace injury claims filed, “overall it’s gotten better,” but preventable illnesses and injuries are still costing employers billions of dollars, and employees their lives.

So said Lisa Weis, compliance assistance specialist with the Cleveland office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. Weis addressed 230 members of the Mahoning Valley Safety Council at its annual OSHA update Wednesday afternoon at the Metroplex Expo Center in Girard.

Some 4,000 Americans die annually from workplace injuries and 50,000 die of illnesses from workplace exposure. More than 3 million suffer serious, nonfatal injuries and illnesses each year. All of this costs the economy about $198.2 billion per year, Weis said.

“These are statistics that we at our local OSHA office experience … on a day-to-day basis,” she said, whether it’s someone calling in a complaint or an employer calling in a fatality or amputation. “We want to make the community aware of what’s going on in our workplaces and hopefully make a difference at your facility.”

Of the fatalities recorded in OSHA’s Region V, which includes Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin, the three primary causes are workers struck by something, falls and workers caught in something. From fiscal year 2004 to 2016, those causes resulted in 1,268 fatalities, or 80% of all fatalities, Weis reported.

For companies that have recorded fatalities in those three categories, Weis recommends giving the workplace a second and third look at how employees are exposed to those hazards. That review begins with determining the OSHA standards that apply to the business.

OSHA updates include new standards on silica, walking-working surfaces and beryllium. Regarding silica, previous permissible exposure limits, or PEL, were “way too high compared to allowable levels,” and didn’t adequately protect workers from issues linked to exposure to breathable crystalline silica, Weis said, which can cause silicosis, lung disease and lung cancer.

In addition to requiring proper respiratory equipment, the new standard decreases the PEL on silica exposure to 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air. You can read complete details of the respirable crystalline silica standard here.

“OSHA’s been working on [silica] for about 10 years,” Weis said. “If you haven’t thought about that yet, you have a big job in front of you.”

Silica is especially prevalent at construction job sites, she said, and exposure can occur when saws, grinder or drills are used on concrete, brick, block, stone and mortar.

Construction employers needed to comply with all requirements by Oct. 23, 2017, while general industry employers have until June 23 to comply. Hydraulic fracturing operations in the oil and gas industry must implement engineering controls to limit silica exposures to the PEL by June 23, 2021.

New technology and industry practices for walking-working surfaces and personal protective equipment for fall protection will affect about 6.9 million general industry employers and 112.3 million workers, she said. However, the changes are expected to prevent 29 fatalities and 5,842 injuries annually.

Major changes include:

Fall protection flexibility for employers.
Updated scaffold requirements.
Phase-in of ladder safety systems or personal fall arrest systems on fixed ladders.
Phase-out of “qualified climbers” on outdoor advertising structures.
Inspecting and certifying permanent anchorages for rope descent systems.
Additional requirements for personal fall protection equipment.
The overall rule took effect Jan. 17, 2017, and a complete timeline can be viewed here.

The beryllium standard reduces the beryllium exposure PEL to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter, down from two micrograms. The standard is estimated to save 94 lives and prevent 46 new cases of chronic beryllium disease annually. This change took effect May 20, 2017.

While not a new change, Weis reminded attendees of the expanded list of injuries and illnesses that employers must report that took effect Jan. 1, 2015. In the past, employers only had to report to OSHA if there was a fatality or if three or more people were hospitalized, “and that has really changed,” she said.

Now, in addition to fatalities, employers have to report incidents to OSHA if one person is hospitalized, if there is an amputation, or if there is loss of an eye. Fatality calls have to be made within eight hours of the incident and the others have to be done within 24 hours, she said.

OSHA penalties also increased, with annual adjustments for inflation, she said. As of Jan. 13, penalty amounts are $12,934 per serious violation and per day beyond the abatement date for violations not abated and $129,336 for each willful or repeated violation.

Lack of fall protection topped the list of top-10 violations during fiscal 2017 inspections, she said. Other violations include – in order of frequency – hazard communication, scaffolding, respiratory protection, lockout/tagout, ladders, powered industrial trucks, machine guarding, fall protection and training, and electrical wiring methods.

The hazard communication, or HazComm, standard requires employers to inform workers about the identities and hazards of chemicals they are working with as well ensuring workers are properly trained. This is a common citation that, she said, should not be happening.

“We’re still citing people for not having a written HazComm program,” she said. “If you’re not up to snuff on HazComm, go back and take a look at the standard, do the training and make sure that you’re not in violation. That’s an easy standard to be in compliance with.”

A lack of lockout/tagout procedures, which ensures equipment is properly disabled to prevent the release of hazardous energy, “greatly contribute to the number of amputations that I’ve seen out there,” she said.

“There are no obscure topics here that we’re talking about,” she said. “These are all mainstream issues that employees are exposed to.”

In addition to identifying standards that apply to a business, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure workers are properly trained on those topics, she said. Training should be a part of a company’s safety and health program, along with providing medical exams when required by OSHA, providing workers access to their exposure and medical records, posting OSHA citations and abatement verification notices, paying for and training workers to use PPE and not retaliating against workers who file complaints.

Weis stressed the importance of implementing a safety and health program for creating a safe and healthy workplace, but also as a way to save money. In a study of small employers in Ohio enrolled in OSHA’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program, 52% of employers saw a decrease in the average number of claims, costs per claim dropped 80%, average time lost per claim decreased 87% and claims per million dollars of payroll decreased 88%.

“It’s the writing on the wall,” she said. “If you have these kinds of programs in place it’s very beneficial and you’re going to save money along the way.”

To help provide specific training for workers, OSHA works with other organizations to hold safety events throughout the year.

National Safety Stand-Down is a week-long event that addresses falls on construction sites, which is the leading cause of death for construction workers, said Dave Constantino, loss prevention supervisor for the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. Of the 991 construction fatalities recorded in 2016, 370 were caused by falls from elevation.

In an effort to raise awareness about employee safety and discuss fall prevention practices, BWC and OSHA are hosting the annual National Safety Stand-Down event May 7 to 11 from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. at Boak & Sons Inc., 75 Victoria Road in Youngstown.

“Most employers want to provide a safe and healthy workplace for people,” Constantino said. “We’re having it early so people can come to Stand-Down, get one hour of intense safety training, then go back to work.”

This article was first published by Business Journal Daily.

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