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On The Horizon
Trends to Watch
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Safety Focus
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Recent articles found in the
No. 1 source of actionable information
to help managers stay current with safety regulations

 

OSHA’s response to judge who ruled against it:
Drop dead!

Agency’s staff didn’t agree with decision, so they ignored it

OSHA’s new willingness to thumb its nose at the law could set a dangerous precedent for safety managers like you. Although OSHA is supposed to follow the laws enacted by Congress and the rulings issued by judges who interpret those laws, the agency no longer wants to play that game. The trouble started when an administrative law judge ruled against OSHA in a case involving Petro Hunt, Dallas. Following an inspection prompted by a flash fire, the safety police cited the company for failing to provide workers with flame-resistant clothing. The citation was based on a 2010 OSHA memo to its enforcement staff. But an administrative law judge tossed out the penalty, noting that OSHA’s enforcement memo amounted to “improper rulemaking.”

Long walk, short pier
No bother, said OSHA. A short five days later, the agency cited another company, Horizontal Well Drillers, Jacksboro, TX, with a penalty for – you guessed it – failing to provide workers with flame-resistant clothing. The agency’s refusal to abide by the ruling of the administrative law judge leaves you with a confusing road map in your efforts to meet the government’s safety regulations. Until the matter is resolved, it makes sense to err on the side of caution. If you’re unsure whether you’re required to provide protective equipment to your people, analyze each potentially dangerous job to figure out whether safety gear could help safeguard workers.  If so, provide it. If not, be sure to document your analysis of the job and the reasons for your decision.

Workers won’t let you know about their hearing problems
Research has revealed a big disconnect between the ability of workers to recognize that they’re suffering from hearing loss and their actual hearing loss based on audiometric testing. (See Safety News)

Several OSHA regulations designated as job killers
A report from the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform points to several OSHA regulations – including the proposed Injury and Illness Prevention (I2P2) standard – as significant impediments to job growth.

Lawsuit seeks to penalize regulators for bad inspections
Could regulatory agencies soon be held responsible for worker deaths that might have been caused by their slipshod safety inspections? (See Federal Regulatory Notices)

Hearing loss among workers not usually considered at risk
A NIOSH study has uncovered hearing loss among workers in industries usually not associated with high noise levels, including real estate, finance and insurance.

Labor union targets firm’s safety-incentive program
A labor union is trying to stir up trouble for an employer because it doesn’t like the company’s safety-incentive program. (See Trends to Watch)

On the Horizon

Will OSHA ever stop criticizing corporate incentive programs?

It’s true: When it comes to safety-incentive programs, the top brass at OSHA will not miss an opportunity to criticize industry practices. An example of the agency’s obsession with incentive programs came during a recent hearing held by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB). After updating the board on OSHA’s national emphasis program for the refining industry, Jordan Barab, deputy OSHA secretary,  took a swipe at incentive programs used by chemical plants and refineries.

Discourage reporting
He said programs that offer workers a day off or some other incentive related to low injury rates discourage employees from reporting injuries. Barab also said that OSHA has told at least one company that an incentive program based on injury and illness numbers will not be tolerated by OSHA. That’s on top of a March memo that advised OSHA enforcement officers to focus on safety incentives.

Why you can’t count on workers to tell you that they can’t hear well

Don’t count on workers exposed to high noise levels to tell you or their supervisors that they can’t hear well.  A recent study reveals a disconnect between the ability of people to notice their own hearing loss and their actual hearing loss. Researchers at the University of Michigan School of Nursing, Ann Arbor, MI, studied workers at a manufacturing plant with high noise levels. First, they asked staffers to rate their ability to hear. Then they conducted audiometric tests to determine actual hearing skills. It turns out that only 24% of the workers rated their hearing ability as poor, yet in reality 42% of the employees had poor hearing, based on the audiometric tests.

Bigger disconnect
Further, there was a bigger disconnect between perceived hearing ability and actual hearing ability for staffers exposed to lower noise levels, meaning that people not normally exposed to excessive noise are even less likely to know when they’re suffering from hearing loss. Worse, workers reported that they used hearing protection only 69% to 80% of the time they were exposed to high noise levels. It’s scary when you remember that NIOSH estimates that failure to use hearing protection for just 30 minutes of exposure to high noise levels reduces the effectiveness of the safety gear by as much as 50%.

OSHA isn’t shy about designating companies as severe violators
Make no mistake: OSHA is on the prowl for companies that it can designate as so-called severe violators. Since the agency rolled out its severe violators enforcement program two years ago, OSHA hasn’t been shy about marking firms as severe violators. Numbers recently released by OSHA show that 330 companies had been hit with the designation by the end of June 2012. In comparison, only 182 firms had been classified as severe violators by the end of June 2011. According to OSHA’s enforcement rules, a company can be declared a severe violator if it has suffered a fatality or injuries to three or more workers or has been slapped with a significant violation of safety rules. Not all violations are the same, however. For instance, only companies cited for high-emphasis hazards such as falls, amputations, combustible dust, or silica exposure can make the list.

Was it OK for dangerous job to stretch over two shifts?

“You have a lot going on out there,” said Alice, the compliance officer.
“We’re in the middle of moving a very heavy load today. It’s a delicate operation,” said Ralph, the safety manager.
“I can see that,” said Alice. “But there’s something that I’m curious about.”
“What’s that?” asked Ralph.
“If I’m not mistaken, your crew is going to change shifts before the job is done,” Alice said.
“The crew turns over in about half an hour,” confirmed Ralph.
“That seems like unusual timing,” said Alice. “You’ve got two cranes being used to lift that heavy load.
“In that case, one person needs to take responsibility for the job,” she pointed out.
“That would be me,” said Ralph.
“But you’ll have two different crews handling the job,” observed Alice.

 Not a factor
“Our crews are well-trained,” said Ralph. “Safety isn’t compromised just because we have a new shift starting. Besides, the same supervisor is covering both shifts, so there will at least be continuity to our supervision.” “You’re taking a big risk. I’m going to cite you for jeopardizing the safety of workers by changing shifts during a dangerous job,” said Alice. “You’re just nitpicking,” Ralph shot back. “We’ll fight this.” Did the company win?

Yes. The company won.
An administrative law judge overturned the citation. Sure, OSHA regulations require that one person be in charge of the operation when two or more cranes are being used to lift  a load. However, the judge decided that the company was meeting the letter of the law.

Reason: Even though the job would’ve been completed by two different shifts, only one manager was in charge of the overall operation.

 What it means: Relay crucial information
Let’s face it: Shift changes are going to happen, and safety-sensitive jobs will sometimes be handled by multiple shifts. That’s why, as a safety manager, you want to work with supervisors to make sure that all relevant important safety information is communicated from one shift to the next. One idea: Consider creating a standardized form for supervisors to fill out at the end of every shift. Have supervisors note any near misses or equipment concerns that were reported. Then have them physically hand the sheet to the incoming supervisor so that any questions can be answered immediately – before the next shift begins its work.

Based on National Steel and Shipbuilding v. CalOSHA.

Labor Relations
Union cries foul over incentive program
You might have thought it was bad enough for the federal government to try to micromanage your safety incentive program. Now labor unions are looking to poke their noses into your program too. Consider a recent complaint to CalOSHA from Unite Here, New York, against the Embassy Suites hotel in Irvine, CA, in which the union said that the hotel’s incentive program is illegal. Unite Here’s complaint targeted the hotel’s Safety Bingo program, which calls for the employer to add money to a pot. Each day, a number is pulled until someone wins the money. If there’s an injury, however, the pot goes back to zero. Unite Here alleges that the program discourages workers from reporting injuries, fails to encourage employees to report hazards without the fear of reprisal and leads to inaccuracies in the hotel’s injury logs.

Enforcement
OSHA to circumvent state safety agency
Keep an eye on a new effort by OSHA to circumvent state safety agencies in order to ramp up enforcement. The federal agency just proposed to downgrade the status of Hawaii OSHA’s program so that the federal safety police can increase their inspection activities in the state.  In the proposal, OSHA said the Hawaiian agency has significant problems related to enforcement, training and staffing. For instance, the state only has five safety inspectors and five health inspectors when it should have nine of each. The downgrade will remain in effect until federal OSHA determines that Hawaii OSHA is able to enforce safety laws in a manner that’s at least as effective as the federal agency’s enforcement.

Five-second pause to cut down on incidents
Get supervisors to encourage forklift operators to stop their vehicles for five seconds whenever they go from inside a facility into the sun or from outside back into the building. This brief pause provides their eyes with a chance to adjust to the lighting change, helping to prevent incidents.

 Sensible safety rule for those working outside
At their next safety meeting, supervisors should tell staffers who might work outdoors about the 30-30 rule for lightning. If thunder occurs less than 30 seconds after lightning, they should seek shelter as quickly as possible. Once the storm has passed, they should wait at least 30 minutes after the last flash before leaving the shelter.

Fire emergency? Help them escape safely
Consider storing fire-retardant blankets, clothing and masks in areas where workers could easily access them should they need to pass through smoke and flames during a fire.

What they shouldn’t wear near live circuits
Whenever staffers will be working around live electrical circuits, they should not wear clothing that contains synthetic materials such as acetate, nylon, polyester, or rayon.
Reason: Clothing with these substances can burn and melt into the skin.

 Key consideration for high-heat assignments
Supervisors who assign tasks that might require people to work in high heat should try to consider the individual characteristics of each person.
Fact: Older workers, obese people and those on medication are at much higher risk for heat-related injuries.

Safety procedure routinely ignored
Keep in mind that safety procedures aren’t worth the paper they’re written on if supervisors fail to make sure that workers routinely follow them.
Organization: Calstrip Steel Corp., City of Commerce, CA.
Business: Steel mill.
Agency: California Division of Occupational Safety & Health.
Penalty: $28,800 (proposed).
Reason for fine: Managers didn’t ensure that workers adhered to a company policy that required a bridge crane to be locked out whenever workers were in manlifts in the crane’s zone of operation.
Note: One worker was killed and another was injured when the manlift they were standing in was struck by a bridge crane.  The crane operator reported that he never saw the manlift.

Couldn’t prove hazard assessment
Not only is your company responsible for conducting hazard assessments to determine the right personal protective equipment for each job, it also has to be able to provide written documentation of each assessment, including the date of the analysis and the name of the person who did it.|
Organization: Trio Foundry, Sandwich, IL.
Business: Aluminum processing.
Agency: OSHA.
Penalty: $113,300 (proposed).
Reason for fine: The company couldn’t produce a document showing that a hazard assessment had been conducted to determine the appropriate safety gear for a dangerous job.
Note: The operation was inspected as part of OSHA’s local emphasis program for the primary metals industry.

Target debilitating injuries that can lead to comp claims

You know that managers focused on output probably don’t want to spend a lot of time worrying about the risks of repetitive-motion injuries (RMIs).  However, these afflictions can lead to debilitating injuries for your employees and a jump in your comp rates. That’s why it pays to work with supervisors in an effort to educate staffers on the things that can be done to reduce RMIs. Before starting a repetitive task, workers should get into the habit of stretching the muscles they’ll be using.  One technique is the hand stretch: Staffers make a fist, then extend their fingers as far as possible. They hold that position for ten seconds, then relax. Workers repeat this exercise ten times or until their hands feel relaxed.

Remember posture
During the job, crew members should avoid awkward postures such as bending the wrists while using a tool, keeping their necks bent down or to the side, or working with their backs forward or twisted. They should also avoid positioning the work above shoulder height, and they should keep the work as close to their bodies as possible. It’s also important for people to take breaks during repetitive tasks. When a full 15-minute break isn’t realistic, they can at least take micro breaks of a few seconds every 15 minutes.  And if possible, they can cut down on RMIs by alternating between repetitive and non-repetitive tasks.

Litigation
Are agencies liable for poor safety inspections?
A recent court ruling increases the chances that government safety agencies might someday be held liable for shoddy workplace inspections. The widows of two workers who died in a fire at Aracoma Coal’s Alma Mine in Logan County, WV, sued MSHA, alleging that inspectors failed to spot several safety violations that led to the fire. After one court dismissed the case, the U.S. Circuit Court for the Fourth Circuit reinstated the lawsuit and asked the West Virginia Supreme Court to decide if MSHA could be held responsible for its substandard inspections.
Based on Bragg v. U.S.

Enforcement
Whistleblower program suggested in new report
In case you’re not sure whether government safety regulators are obsessed with protecting whistleblowers, consider a recent report from the National Research Council. The report recommends that the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement establish a whistleblower program as part of its efforts to regulate the offshore oil and gas drilling industry.

Reg Roundup
Lens failures; retreat mining; cleaning safety
• The National Fire Protection Association has warned that facepiece lenses for self-contained breathing apparatus can fail when exposed to superheated air.
• MSHA has made several safety recommendations on retreat mining, based on NIOSH’s investigation of the 2007 Crandall Canyon mine disaster in Emery County, UT, that killed six workers.
• A new Infosheet on cleaning-chemical safety can be accessed at
www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2012-126/pdfs/2012-126.pdf.

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