Monday, December 5, 2011

How OSHA Nearly Killed Christmas!

Every December, my wife and kids beg me to put Christmas lights on our house, like all the neighbors do. But I cannot for the life of me figure out how to do it in a way that is both safe and affordable, or that does not violate at least 23 OSHA regulations. After all, I’m a safety professional, and I’ve gotta set a good example. So I gave them a made-up story about how our home owner’s insurance policy has a “special rider” that disallows Christmas lights because they’re considered a fire hazard, and that got me off the hook for one more year.  But this year, I also began to wonder; how would Santa Claus comply with OSHA regulations?  So I did a little research.

Now everyone probably realizes that Santa’s workshop is exempt from OSHA regulations, because it is not located in the United States or one of its territories; it sits on the North Pole at the top of the Arctic, out of OSHA’s jurisdiction. This is made further evident if you watch the animated Christmas special, “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Did you ever notice that the machinery in Santa’s workshop that has no guards installed? All the nip points on the belts and pulleys are exposed to contact, in violation of 1910.219(d). Also, not one single elf is wearing safety glasses or ear plugs as required by 1910.133(a) and 1910.95(b)(1), respectively, in spite of all the sawing, drilling and hammering that is going on!  But once Santa gets into the good ol’ USA, things are different; because here, he must comply with OSHA regulations.

It wasn’t until recently that Santa Claus decided that he needed to do a much better job of following OSHA safety regulations, because his workers comp insurance rates were going through the roof. Also, he wanted to avoid the bad press associated with one of those news releases that OSHA started issuing to embarrass “bad actors” with multiple violations. So Santa decided to bring four elves along on his annual Christmas Eve trip to assist him with complying with the OSHA rules.

When Santa landed his reindeer-powered sleigh atop the first roof in the US (somewhere in northern Maine, I believe), he jumped out of the sleigh and started heading over to the chimney when one of the elves shouted for him to “STOP”! It was Sammy, Santa’s first-ever Safety Coordinator elf. “Claus, you have no fall protection”, explained Sammy, “So we’ll have to perform a JSA to figure out the safest way to get you over to the chimney without you falling off the roof”.

Ol' Saint Nick had only read enough of the OSHA fall protection standards to be considered dangerous, so when he said “Let’s designate one of the elves to be our safety monitor, per 1926.502(h)”, all the elves started snickering. "No can do, Claus”, cried Sammy. “This work is not covered by the construction regs, it falls under general industry. So we’ll have to build a set of guardrails from the sleigh over to the chimney, with 42 inch top-rails, mid-rails and 4 inch toe-boards per 1910.23(c).” “Wait,” declared another elf, “all the hammering will wake the kids inside the house; we’ll have to figure out something else.” So they convened a meeting of the Safety Committee to figure out what to do.

They decided Sammy should use his smart phone to access the OSHA website to look for an alternative. He eventually found an OSHA letter of interpretation that allowed them to use an alternate means of fall protection, such as a properly engineered fall protection system, in lieu of guardrails, as long as the alternate system offered equal or better protection than the guard rails. So Sammy called on Johnny, one of the other elves sitting in the sleigh, to help; Johnny is a RPE (that’s registered professional engineer, not registered professional elf). Johnny designed a fall prevention system for Santa to use, complete with safety harness, lifelines, retractable lanyard, and designated points of attachment that can support at least 5,000 pounds per man attached.

Then Santa slipped on his safety harness (probably one of those special body harnesses designed for “husky” workers), attached his lanyard to the horizontal lifeline, and slowly crept across the roof over to the chimney. But when he started to climb up the chimney, Sammy again shouted for Santa to stop. Seems there was an overhead electrical line running overhead near the chimney, and Santa was about to encroach into the danger zone, a direct violation of 1910.333(c)(3). Because Santa had not been trained as a “qualified person” per the OSHA electrical standards, Sammy called for another elf, Ernie the Qualified Electrician, to install insulators on the overhead electrical line, per the requirements specified in 1910.269, the Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution standard.

Once that hazardous situation was rectified, Santa attached his double-legged lanyard to a vertical lifeline, climbed to the top of the chimney, and was ready began his decent down into the house. But first, Sammy had to use his gas detector to check for a hazardous atmosphere inside the chimney (confined space). “Too much CO” asked Santa? “Nah, only 15 ppm, so we can set up the blower and then enter under the alternate procedures specified in 1910.146(c)(5)”, said Sammy. Once the blower was in place, Santa started sliding down the chimney.

Halfway down, Santa mumbled something about it being a little warm inside the chimney. “Getting hot” asked Sammy?  “Better stop right there, Claus.” Then Sammy pulled out his smart phone again and downloaded OSHA’s new app designed to protect workers from heat-related illnesses. Sammy entered all the necessary data into the program to get guidance on proper procedures to follow; however the app crashed three times before he could finally get it to work. But after several minutes, Sammy finally got the life-saving instructions he needed, and shouted down to Santa; “Claus, OSHA says you need to take a drink of water.”

But Santa never carried a canteen of water on him; he was accustomed to drinking all that free milk that families leave on the mantle with the cookies. So the elves improvised; they put some snow in an old McDonald’s cup they found under the sleigh seat and used their body heat to melt it into drinking water for Santa (an unintentional violation of 1910.141(b), potable water). Of course, that took several minutes, as the elves had difficulty finding snow that was not yellow (it seems that reindeer have small bladders). “Next year”, declared Sammy, “we need to bring a cooler full of drinking water for Claus”. “I prefer Sqwincher”, shouted back Santa. “But not the lemon-lime kind, I like the fruit punch flavor”!

Once Santa and his safety coordinator elf finally made it to the bottom of the chimney, they noticed there were some glowing embers beneath the ash in the fireplace. So Sammy declared that the operation was now considered “hot work”. Santa had to stop work while Sammy filled out a hot-work permit, then he called down the fourth elf, Fred, to act as the designated fire watch. Of course, Sammy had to first make sure that the portable fire extinguisher was fully charged and had its annual inspection tag attached, per 1910.157(e)(3). Then Sammy conducted a quick training session for Fred on the use of the extinguisher, since he was due for his annual refresher training per paragraph (g)(2). And Santa really had to bite his tongue when Sammy reminded him that they would have to wait 30 more minutes after they completed the “hot work”, because OSHA required the fire watch to stick around that long to make sure there were no stray sparks smoldering that could start a fire.

After confirming that all the elements of a fire prevention program were in place, per 1910.39, Sammy pronounced that Santa could proceed with distributing the gifts, just as soon as Ernie finished replacing the electrical plug on the extension cord for the tree lights; it seems the home-owner broke off the grounding pole (1910.304(g)(5)). And finally, after much ado, all the gifts were placed under the Christmas tree. Sammy announced they completed their tasks with no OSHA-recordable injuries or illnesses to enter on the OSHA Form 300, per 1904. So Santa and the elves gave each other high-fives, had a “safety luncheon”, and then everyone headed back onto the roof to load up in the sleigh so they could head to the next stop.

As soon as they were airborne, Santa decided to send a text to Mrs. Clause to let her know he would be running later than normal this year, due to the extra time it took them to comply with all the safety rules. But when Sammy saw what Santa was doing, he quickly snatched the phone out of Santa’s hand and chastised him for texting while driving.

“Claus, didn’t you read the new OSHA Alert about the dangers of texting while driving?” asked Sammy. “You need not worry”, replied Santa, “I’ll be careful. Besides, there’s not even an actual OSHA regulation that says I can’t text while driving.” “True”, said Sammy, “but you do have a General Duty, Claus, to provide us with a place of employment free from recognized hazards!”

(Note: if you did not get that last joke, refer to paragraph (5)(a)(1) of the OSHA Act of 1970).

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This will be my final post to the OSHA Training Blog for the year. I’m going to take a couple of weeks off to relax and enjoy the holidays with family and friends, and I hope you get to do the same. But don’t worry; I’ll be back early next year with another blog post on some important (and probably much more serious) OSHA related topic. Also, I am getting closer to having our new website, oshatraining.com, ready to launch; I think you’ll be impressed with the end result.

If you have a comment you want to make about our blog, including suggestions for future posts, please do so in the space provided below. And feel free to pass a link to this blog post along to others in your network who you think may benefit from this information. Happy Holidays, and I look forward to re-connecting with you in January.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Don’t Overlook OSHA’s “Unscheduled” Refresher Training Requirements

When I conduct mock-OSHA inspections for companies, we spend a lot of time focusing on their employee safety training efforts. What we typically find is that most employers provide a new employee safety orientation to get the newbies up to speed on the mandatory OSHA topics (and more). And most employers also schedule annual refresher training on topics mandated by OSHA. And the safety managers that have a more progressive safety program also remember to provide additional training when a new hazard/procedure/piece of equipment is introduced into the workplace. However, there is one other category of required OSHA training that get overlooked all too often; the “unscheduled” refresher training!

Did you know there are more than 80 individual OSHA general industry standards that specifically require the employer to provide “initial” training to affected employees? And out of those standards, approximately 35 also require refresher training, usually on an annual basis. However, there are also 10 or so of those OSHA standards that have one additional training requirement; they mandate re-training for an employee on applicable topics in any instance where that employee indicates (usually through his or her behavior) that they did not adequately grasp or retain the training that has already been provided.  Here are five examples of the kind of OSHA standards I am talking about:

* Personal Protective Equipment / 1910.132(f)(3) - When the employer has reason to believe that any affected employee who has already been trained does not have the understanding and skill required by paragraph (f)(2) of this section, the employer shall retrain each such employee . . .

* Respiratory Protection / 1910.134(k)(5) - Retraining shall be administered annually, and when the following situations occur:

(ii) Inadequacies in the employee's knowledge or use of the respirator indicate that the employee has not retained the requisite understanding or skill;

* Permit-required Confined Spaces / 1910.146(g)(2) -  Training shall be provided to each affected employee:

(iv) Whenever the employer has reason to believe either that there are deviations from the permit space entry procedures required by paragraph (d)(3) of this section or that there are inadequacies in the employee's knowledge or use of these procedures.

* Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout-Tagout) / 1910.147(c)(7)(iii)(B) - Additional retraining shall also be conducted whenever a periodic inspection under paragraph (c)(6) of this section reveals, or whenever the employer has reason to believe that there are deviations from or inadequacies in the employee's knowledge or use of the energy control procedures.

* Powered Industrial Trucks / 1910.178(l)(4)(ii) - Refresher training in relevant topics shall be provided to the operator when:

(A) - The operator has been observed to operate the vehicle in an unsafe manner;

(B) - The operator has been involved in an accident or near-miss incident;

(C) - The operator has received an evaluation that reveals that the operator is not operating the truck safely;

Complying with these additional “unscheduled” re-training requirements can be much more difficult to manage than new employee orientations and annual refreshers. In fact, the safety manager may not even be aware that an incident has occurred that triggers one of these additional refresher training requirements. But there are ways of helping you stay on top of this.  

Review your injury and illness reports (including near-miss reports), first aid logs, safety inspection records, and safety committee minutes often, with an eye towards detecting incidents that indicate an employee may have deviated from proper procedures, or that they did not fully understand (or perhaps forgot) the training they had previously received. It’s also helpful to educate all company managers and supervisors of the need to bring to the attention of the safety manager any incidents that indicate inadequacies in worker knowledge, and then ensure mandatory re-training is provided and documented.

I bring these examples up because the more savvy OSHA compliance officers will try and get a look at these records, and also interview employees and supervisors, in an effort to single out incidents that require the additional training. And then they will check your training records to see whether or not refresher training was conducted.

By the way, there are similar re-training requirements appearing in a few other OSHA general industry standards in addition to the ones I listed above, including:  1910.119, 1910.177, 1910.269, 1910.1043, and 1910.1052. There are several construction and maritime standards that contain such re-training requirements as well.

So keep an eye out for any clue that indicates that an employee’s previous safety training may not have been fully effective, and then provide (and document) the additional re-training needed to address the deficiencies. And take a minute to read my related blog post if you have a behavior-based safety program, as the critical behaviors you select for observation can be impacted by these standards as well.

While it takes some extra effort to stay in compliance with OSHA’s “unscheduled” training requirements, it may save you some headaches during your next OSHA inspection. More importantly, the payback can be life-saving.

Are you aware of another OSHA regulation that I did not list that specifies unscheduled re-training? Or perhaps you have a story to share about an incident that demonstrates how you became aware of the need to provide this extra training? If so, or if you have other related comments about this topic, please share your knowledge with others by entering it into the comments section below.

And please, pass a link to this blog post along to others in your network who you think may benefit from this information.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Are OSHA Inspectors Pro Sports Fans?

Do OSHA inspectors ever watch pro football games on television? Do any of them ever take in a major league baseball game at a ballpark? My guess is no, based on the number of OSHA inspections conducted that involved teams from professional sports leagues.

To give you an idea of how many inspections have been conducted involving pro-sports teams, I ran searches on OSHA’s inspection search tool on their website (yes, I do have too much free time on my hands) to find inspection data as far back as 1972 for every pro football, basketball, and major-league baseball team located in the US (sorry hockey fans, but I don’t know any hockey team names, and aren’t they all located in Canada anyway?).  I don’t claim this is every inspection conducted within the group, just the ones that came up during my simple searches. Here is what I found:
  • Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – Partial Inspection / Accident – 2010 (no citations issued)
  • Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – Partial Inspection / Complaint – 2008 (no citations issued)
  • Los Angeles Dodgers – Accident / Failure to report fatality within 24 hours (maintenance man slipped and fell, died much later) – 2007 (two citations, $5,375)
  • Denver Broncos - Partial Inspection / Planned inspection (emphasis on falls) – 2006 (no citations issued)
  • Dallas Cowboys – Partial inspection / Referral (related to structure collapse during storm) – 2009 (no citations issued)
  • New Orleans Saints – Partial inspection / Accident (electrical safety related work practices) – 2003 (one citation for $2,100)
  • Chicago Bears – Partial inspection / Complaint (aerial lift) – 2009 (one citation for $2,450)
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Partial inspection / Referral – 2006 (one citation for $1,375)
  • New York Mets – Partial inspection / Complaint – 2004 (no citations issued)
  • Seattle Mariners – Partial Inspection / Non-program related – 2004 (one citation for $700)

Ten inspections. Only ten!  Since 1972!!!  And they are almost all related to a complaint or accident. And only four of these inspections netted a citation.  

I’ve researched this matter some on the internet, and have seen speculation that OSHA does not inspect pro teams because their players are not considered “employees”, but rather “independent contractors” under contract to the team (and therefore exempt from OSHA). But how well does that strategy work when a roofing contractor claims that he has hired “independent contractors” to work on a work-crew?  Not too well at all.  I’ve also seen statements suggesting that many workers at pro sports venues (like food vendors, maintenance, and security) may actually be employees of other companies that have contracted with the pro sports teams to perform work at the stadiums and ballparks, so if there is a violation involving one of these workers, the team would not get the citation. But even if that is the case, you've still got to think one of the teams would’ve been cited for at least one hazard under OSHA’s multi-employer citation policy.

Besides, there has to be plenty of other people actually employed by the teams that could be exposed to serious hazards.  Ever seen a trainer treating a player with a bloody nose on the sideline without wearing proper PPE?  Ever seen a member of the coaching staff observing or videotaping practice from the basket of an aerial lift without wearing a harness and lanyard attached to the boom or basket?  Bet you’ve seen a cheerleader or mascot live on national TV dancing and strutting along the unprotected edge of a platform or dugout while exposed to a 9-foot fall.  I’m just saying that if an OSHA compliance officer driving down the street ever saw a carpenter standing along the eve of a house with no fall protection, they’d probably pull right over and declare an imminent danger! But I guess cheerleaders and mascots don’t fall. Or, as I pondered before, maybe OSHA compliance officers don’t ever watch professional sports, so they don’t see these kinds of things.

Have you ever wondered about OSHA inspections at pro sports teams? Or maybe you know about an inspection that is not listed here? Or perhaps there is another highly-visible industry you feel is ignored by OSHA’s compliance officers. If so, or if you have other related comments about this topic, would you please share your experience with others in the comments section below?

And please, pass a link to this blog post along to others in your network who you think may benefit from this information (unless they are a hockey fan).

Monday, October 24, 2011

Want to Really Understand an OSHA Standard? Read the Preamble!

When OSHA issues a new or revised health or safety standard, inevitably questions will arise. Perhaps OSHA did not define a key term used in the standard, or maybe they used some subjective language that could be open to interpretation. Issues such as these can make it difficult for employers to implement the new regulation. However, questions can often be answered by simply taking the time to read the Preamble to the Final Rule printed in the Federal Register when OSHA publishes a new standard, most specifically the section titled “Summary and Explanation of the Standard.”

So what is this Preamble I am talking about? When OSHA promulgates a new or revised health or safety standard, they go through a long process by where they draft the proposed standard, publish it in the Federal Register as a Proposed Rule, and allow a period of time for stakeholders to comment on the proposed rule. After considering all the input provided by the stakeholders, OSHA will tweak the draft standard and then publish it in the Federal Register as a Final Rule, along with a wealth of other information gathered during the process. As a side note, this process usually takes 10+ years to complete, and in the end OSHA may actually abandon the proposed standard.

In the section of the Federal Register titled “Summary and Explanation of the Standard”, OSHA will break the proposed draft standard down paragraph by paragraph, and include the many comments, questions, and concerns expressed by the stakeholders about each paragraph. This process reveals many ambiguous areas contained within the originally drafted standard, and OSHA’s subsequent explanation or rebuttal provided within this section of the Preamble often provides valuable insight into OSHA’s intent when they created the standard.

Here are a couple of examples of what I am talking about, both originating from OSHA’s permit-required confined space entry standards for general industry:
  • Paragraph 1910.146(b) defines one of the three criteria of a “confined space” as "the space is large enough and so configured that an employee can bodily enter and perform assigned work". Many people are confused by the term “bodily enter”; it is not defined in the OSHA standard, and some people think it means that if the space is large enough and configured so an employee could place any part of their body inside the space, it would be a confined space. But in the Preamble to the Final Rule for the Permit-required Confined Space Entry Standard, the section that discusses this particular term explains that the standard is intended to cover only spaces that were large enough for the entire body of an employee to enter. So now we have a clear definition of the term “bodily enter” as it applies to this standard.

  • Paragraph 1910.146(c)(5)(i) allows the employer to utilize “alternate entry procedures” to enter certain permit-required confined spaces where they are able to demonstrate that the only hazard posed by the permit space is an actual or potential hazardous atmosphere, as long as the employer can demonstrate that continuous forced-air ventilation alone is sufficient to maintain the permit space “safe for entry”. Unfortunately, the OSHA standard does not quantify what OSHA considers to be “safe for entry”. But in the section of the Preamble to the Final Rule that discusses paragraph(c)(5), OSHA explains that employers may use “a guideline of 50 percent of the level of flammable or toxic substances that would constitute a hazardous atmosphere in making the determination”. So now we know that using forced air ventilation to maintain flammable gas at no more than 5% of its LEL (half of the OSHA limit for a “hazardous atmosphere when considering flammable gas) would be considered “safe for entry” when utilizing these alternate entry procedures.
Sure, many issues such as these are later clarified by OSHA in their letters of interpretations or directives, but those typically are created years after the standard has been published. So why wait? Be in the know from the beginning by reading the Preamble to the Final Rule whenever OSHA publishes a new or revised OSHA standard.

Where can you locate Preambles to Final Rules published by OSHA? Sometimes you can simply “Google” the particular Federal Register you are looking for (e.g.: preamble final rule 1910.146) and sort through the results. Or you can go to www.FederalRegister.gov to search for the document or topic you seek (here is the link for the preamble to the permit-required confined space standard).

Remember, however, that none of this applies to OSHA’s original standards that were issued back in the early ‘70’s, as those standards do not have a preamble. This applies only to those standards that were created or revised since then, such as but not limited to, Lockout/Tagout, Hazard Communication, Bloodborne Pathogens, Forklift Operator Training, Respiratory Protections, Personal Protective Equipment, Steel Erection, & Fall Protection and Prevention. One more important thing to keep in mind is that OSHA does occasionally issue technical corrections to standards through the Federal Register as well, so also search for any related preambles that address updates when researching a particular OSHA standard.

Have you ever found a helpful “nugget” of information that was buried inside the Preamble to a particular OSHA standard that you found especially valuable?  If so, or if you have other related comments about this topic, would you please share your experience with others in the comments section below?

And please, pass a link to this blog post along to others in your network who you think may benefit from this information.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Watch Out For Those Sneaky Revisions in State-OSHA Regulations

You are probably well aware that Federal OSHA only has jurisdiction over workplaces in approximately half of the states and U.S. territories. The other half chose to create an OSHA-approved State OSHA Program. Those state programs were required to adopt health and safety standards that are at least as equally protective as those promulgated by Federal OSHA.

Most of the State-plan OSHA Programs chose to adopt all or some of the Federal OSHA standards verbatim. HOWEVER, some of these states made minor additions or alterations to the Federal standards they adopted. I’m not talking about adding unique standards for entire subjects (several states have done that). I am talking about taking a Federal standard they adopted and “tweaking it” a little. Some of these changes are very easy to overlook, but doing so could result in an employer or consultant missing an important requirement they need to know about to ensure compliance with the state regulation.

Here are just a few examples of some of the changes slipped into select state OSHA standards that could sneak up and bite you if you are not paying close attention. The states did not do this to trick anyone, they just thought of something to add that they felt could improve on a Federal standard:
  • In the state of Minnesota, the state program (MNOSHA) altered the Hazard Communication / Employee Right-to-Know standards to also cover harmful physical agents (such as heat, noise and radiation) and infectious agents (such as bloodborne pathogens), in addition to the hazardous substances covered in the Federal standard. Their state Haz-Com standard also requires annual refresher training, in addition to initial training required by the Fed’s.
  • In the State of Washington, their state program (WISHA) excavation standards are almost identical to those contained in the Federal Standards, except that they require a protective system overseen by a competent person be used in all excavations that are more than four feet deep, instead of five feet like the Fed’s.
  • In Tennessee, the state OSHA program (TOSHA) altered the Bloodborne Pathogens Standards to add a requirement that, in addition to documenting the route(s) of exposure and the circumstances under which the exposure incident occurred, per the federal standard, the employers written Exposure Control Plan also contain documentation of the type and brand of device in use when the exposure incident occurs.
  • In Hawaii, the state program (HIOSH) altered the steel erection standards to require fall protection for all employees involved in steel erection activities 10 feet above a lower level, instead of the 15 foot requirement (or 30 foot for connectors) listed in the Federal standard.
  • In the state of California, the state OSHA program (CAL/OSHA) safety standards for excavations are nearly identical to those of Federal OSHA’s; However, employers must also obtain (and pay for) a permit from the state OSHA program if any employee will be entering an excavation deeper than five feet.
Obviously you need to be aware these (and many other) unique standards if you have operations or provide training/consulting services in affected states. But the revised standards could also be important to know about if you ever have a general discussion about affected safety standards with co-workers or peers located in states that have created their own State OSHA program. And these altered state regulations are often a good source of information for safety practitioners looking to develop safety standards that go above and beyond the Federal requirements.

You can access information about altered and/or unique state OSHA standards by clicking on the name of any state appearing on the list located at the top-left of the page found at this link to the Federal OSHA website’s "State Occupational Safety and Health Plans" page. The page that comes up will explain, among other things, how that state’s safety and health standards may differ from the federal standards.

Have you ever been stung by a state OSHA inspector because you did not know about one of their altered safety standards? Or maybe you learned about a change that really took you by surprise? If so, or if you have other related comments about this topic, would you please share your experience with others in the comments section below? 

And please, pass a link to this blog post along to others in your network who you think may benefit from this information.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

OSHA Training Requirements: When Training Alone Will Not Suffice

Numerous OSHA standards require the employer to provide training (or instruction, or information . . .) to affected employees on various topics. And in many cases, a simple presentation of the required material (via discussion, video, or PowerPoint presentation) spelled out in the particular OSHA standard may suffice for the employer to comply with the regulation.

For example, the OSHA standard for portable fire extinguisher training (1910.157(g)) requires training for designated users, but it does not specify hands-on practice extinguishing a fire. Now I’m not saying it’s not a good idea to have users discharge a fire extinguisher, I’m just saying it is not specifically required by OSHA.

On the other hand, there are a few OSHA standards where training alone will not cut it! Some OSHA standards go a little further, or in some cases a lot further, and require the employer to conduct some type of practice, evaluation and/or confirmation that the training was understood by affected workers.

Here are a few examples of OSHA training standards that I’m talking about:

  • Respiratory Protection - 1910.134(k)(1) - Training and information. The employer shall ensure that each employee can demonstrate knowledge of at least the following:   (iv) How to inspect, put on and remove, use, and check the seals of the respirator;

  • Permit-required Confined Space Entry –1910.146(k)(1)(iii) - Each member of the rescue service shall practice making permit space rescues at least once every 12 months, by means of simulated rescue operations in which they remove dummies, mannekins <sic>, or actual persons from the actual permit spaces or from representative permit spaces. Representative permit spaces shall, with respect to opening size configuration, and accessibility, simulate the types of permit spaces from which rescue is to be performed.

  • Powered Industrial Trucks - 1910.178(l)(2)(ii) - Training shall consist of a combination of formal instruction (e.g., lecture, discussion, interactive computer learning, video tape, written material), practical training (demonstrations performed by the trainer and practical exercises performed by the trainee), and evaluation of the operator's performance in the workplace.

  • Resistance Welding 1910.255(a)(3) - Personnel. Workmen designated to operate resistance welding equipment shall have been properly instructed and judged competent to operate such equipment.



As you can see, just holding a training session for affected employees is not enough in many cases; the employer is required to go further to confirm the training was effective. The methods that must be employed to meet these additional requirements vary according to which specific OSHA standard you are reading, but include drills, observations, and/or demonstrations of the workers skills.  So remember these additional requirements when you conduct OSHA safety training on these topics, or when you conduct an evaluation of your or a client’s training program.

I’m certain these are the only OSHA regulations with such requirements, just the ones that came to mind as I wrote this article. So I would like to enlist the expertise of my fellow safety professionals and ask them to share their knowledge with others, by posting in the comment section below, any OSHA standard they can think of that has a similar requirement. I also invite other comments about this topic, so please share them with our readers. 

And last but not least, please pass a link to this blog post along to others in your network who you think may benefit from this information.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Beware - Where Behavior Based Safety Programs and OSHA Standards Collide

Occasionally a company that has implemented an OSHA compliance program asks me for recommendations to help them “go to the next level” and “exceed OSHA compliance”. Often times I recommend they look into implementing a behavior based safety (BBS) program to compliment what they have in place. Many of you in the safety profession already know what a behavior based safety program is, but for those who do not, here is a very brief, over-simplified explanation;

A company enlists their employees to evaluate their jobs and identify a few “critical behaviors” that workers must execute to prevent injuries. For example, “always wear safety glasses when operating the drill press”, or “forklift operators must always look behind them as they travel in reverse”. Then several employees are trained and appointed as “observers” to occasionally watch and see whether or not affected co-workers are executing each critical behavior. The observers take no corrective action taken when someone is found not following the critical behavior; they are purely acting as observers who capture the data.
Observation data are then compiled and tallied (sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly) to create charts showing the “percentage safe” for each critical behavior, and those charts are then posted in the workplace for all to see. The idea is you create a consensus among workers for what constitutes “safe” behavior, and measure how well the practice is implemented. And as we all know, what gets measured and reported gets done.

Now, here’s the problem.

I was once retained by an attorney as a consultant and OSHA expert witness for the plaintiff in a case where an independent truck driver who was strapping down his load at a manufacturing plant was hit by a forklift traveling in reverse. The injured truck driver said the forklift operator never looked behind him when he put the forklift in reverse and backed into him, and the forklift operator claimed he couldn’t remember if he looked or not. The company claimed that all operators had been properly trained and evaluated, that they met all OSHA requirements for training forklift operators, that their forklift operators always looked behind them while backing up, and that at the worst this must have been an isolated incident of employee misconduct.

While visiting the plant to conduct an inspection of the forklift and the area where the accident occurred, I happened to notice that the company had several charts posted on their bulletin board for their behavior based safety program. And guess what one of the critical behaviors was? That’s right; it was “Forklift operators must look in the direction of travel at all times”, which is a requirement plucked right out of the OSHA standards for forklift operators. The plaintiffs’ attorney got hold of the company’s observation data for this critical behavior, and we found that the plants’ forklift operators as a whole (and they had a bunch) were non-compliant with this rule an average of 36 percent of the time over the past two years!

Now, what do the OSHA regulations say about forklift operators? OSHA standard 1910.178(l)(4)(ii) requires that “refresher training (and evaluation) in relevant topics shall be provided to the operator when the operator has been observed to operate the vehicle in an unsafe manner.” The OSHA standards also require the employer to “certify” (in writing) that each forklift operator has been trained and evaluated as required by the OSHA regulations; this would include all subsequent refresher training and operator evaluations conducted for operators seen operating unsafely, as outlined above.

So basically, the employer in this particular case had data they had collected that showed knowledge of a long-running problem that they did not address as specifically required by the OSHA regulations. As you can imagine, the case settled very quickly.  And I can also report that I know of a couple of other cases where OSHA compliance officers have used data from behavior based safety programs as evidence of employer knowledge of unabated safety violations in the workplace when they were writing up citations for violations of their standards.

Now, think of the many other “critical behaviors” that are commonly used in behavior based safety programs, like the use of safety glasses and other PPE, that have similar refresher training and documentation requirements spelled out in the OSHA standards. Can you see the conflict between the non-confrontational elements of a behavior based safety program, and the “you must provide refresher training” approach of these OSHA standards?

So my message is simple. I am not suggesting that you abandon your behavior based safety program if you have one in place. I have studied behavior based safety programs, have helped implement them, and have seen them be very successful. I’m just suggesting you be very careful when selecting your critical behaviors to monitor so you don’t set yourself up for a problem down the road when OSHA (or an OSHA expert) comes to inspect.

Have you ever had a similar experience with your behavior based safety program conflicting with the OSHA regulations?  Can you thing of other specific OSHA standards (besides forklifts and PPE) that have similar refresher training and documentation requirements that could be used against a company?

If you do, or if you have other related comments about this topic, would you please share them with others by entering them in the comments section below?  And please, pass a link to this blog post along to others in your network who you think may benefit from this information.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Preventing Workplace Fatalities – Are OSHA’s Hands Tied?

I just took a look at the latest revisions to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2009 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries counts (the latest year for which the data were available), available at http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/cfoi_revised09.pdf. Many trainers find the info makes good fodder when opening an OSHA 10 or 30 hour training course. A few of the statistics really jumped out at me me, and got me to thinking about the effectiveness of OSHA’s standards and their potential to prevent future workplace fatalities.

First a few of the basic stat’s from the BLS:  There were 4,551 workplace fatalities in 2009 (the latest year for which data are available), continuing an encouraging downward trend over the past several years. Those of you who are aware there were approximately 14,000 worker fatalities in 1969, the year before OSHA was created, can appreciate the vast drop in the raw number of fatalities, especially when you consider the worker population in the US was much larger in 2009 than in 1969.

No doubt the efforts of the fine folks at OSHA have greatly contributed to the drop. But we also must give credit to other influential factors, including; the decline of the industrial work base here in the US, the increased use of automation in the workplace, improvements in equipment and medical technology, the realities of controlling workers comp costs, the fear of lawsuits, and last but not least, the horrible economic recession of recent years.

But it was the following details that were buried in the report that really surprised me.

Did you know that 985 of the worker fatalities (21.64%) in 2009 are attributed to Highway Accidents (these fatalities include vehicle occupants resulting from traffic incidents on public roadways, shoulders, or surrounding areas)? And that 805 of the fatalities (17.69%) were attributed to Assaults and Violent Acts (542 were homicides, 263 were suicides)? That means that nearly 40% of all workplace fatalities (just those two categories combined) were due to an event or exposure for which OSHA has no specific safety standards!

Sure, you could argue the general duty clause has been cited by OSHA against employers in a few workplace violence cases, and OSHA has also issued a bulletin on distracted driving. But my point is there are no specific OSHA regulations in place to protect against the specific hazards that caused a very substantial portion of the worker fatalities.

And here is one more statistic of interest I found in the report:  Self-employed individuals (a category that includes self-employed workers and most business owners), who are specifically excluded from coverage of the OSH Act (and therefore OSHA regulations), accounted for almost 23.4% of all fatalities (1,063) in 2009! Should Congress amend the OSHA Act to cover these folks? Would that further impact workplace safety?

I am not trying to berate OSHA, nor am I suggesting they are becoming obsolete; without them the number of workplace fatalities would most probably rise, and with them we can continue to whittle down the overall number workplace fatalities.  But without some meaningful additions to their safety standards in these areas, it appears that OSHA’s central role in helping achieve everyone’s goal of “Zero Fatalities” in the workplace is greatly diminished. It also reinforces the fact that we in the safety community need to redouble our efforts to address these unregulated hazards where we can.

What have you done to address workplace violence? Or driver safety? I know these topics do not affect all of us, but I’m interested to hear what has been done with success at your (or your client’s) sites, or what you think should be done, and if that includes employee training.

Please share your efforts and ideas by submitting a comment (link below). And please, pass a link to this blog along to others in your network who can benefit from this information.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

OSHA Training – The “Hidden” Requirements

Do me a favor. Close your eyes for a few seconds and see how many OSHA regulations you can think of that include the phrase “the employer shall train employees . . . ” or substantially similar language. 

. . .   waiting 30 seconds . . .

Okay. For you readers who are involved with general industry operations, several OSHA standards probably came to mind, such as but not limited to PPE, hazard communication, portable fire extinguishers, hearing protection, confined space entry, lockout/tagout, respiratory protection, bloodborne pathogens, forklift operator, and probably a few more.  And you readers who deal with construction regulations also probably thought of fall protection, scaffolding, stairways and ladders, and a few others. 

In fact, these topics and a few more, where applicable, are no doubt included in your new employee orientations and regularly scheduled safety meetings. However, there are many OSHA standards that, while not containing language specifically requiring the employer to provide “training” for the employee, do contain verbiage that implies the employer must insure affected employee are knowledgeable about certain topics.

So be on the lookout for “trigger” words and phrases such as; “. . . the employer shall inform . . .”, “employees shall be instructed . . .”, or, “. . .  only authorized employees . . .” in the OSHA standards, as they could mean you need to provide some level of information or training to affected workers. 

Here are but a few specific examples of what I am describing in the OSHA standards:

·         In the injury/illness recordkeeping standards, 1904.35(a)(1) states – “You must inform each employee of how he or she is to report an injury or illness to you.”

·         In the general industry standards for emergency action plans, 1910.38(a)(ii) states – “The employer shall review the plan with each employee covered by the plan at the following times . . . “

·         In the general industry standards for flammable and combustible materials storage in flood-prone areas, 1910.106(b)(5)(v)(3) states the employer must insure –  “ . . . station operators and other employees depended upon to carry out such instructions are thoroughly informed as to the location and operation of such valves and other equipment necessary to effect these requirements.”

·         In the general industry standards for telecommunications, 1910.268(b)(2)(i) states – “Employees assigned to work with storage batteries shall be instructed in emergency procedures such as dealing with accidental acid spills.”

·         In the construction standards for gas welding and cutting, 1926.350(d) states – “The employer shall thoroughly instruct employees in the safe use of fuel gas as follows . . . “.

·         In the construction standards for aerial lifts, 1926.453(b)(2)(ii) states – “Only authorized persons shall operate an aerial lift.”

·         In the construction standards for signaling, 1926.201(a)(2) states – “Signaling directions by flagmen shall conform to American National Standards Institute D6.1-1971, Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways.”

So what did all those standards have in common? They all indirectly required you to inform, train, or confirm training of affected employees on these topics. Sometimes that entails putting the worker through an OSHA training class (in house or out), or in some limited cases, merely posting specific information about things like your procedures to obtain employee medical and exposure records on the bulletin board. While the terms used are different, they all aim to achieve the same basic thing; a well-informed, prepared worker.

In addition to the previously-mentioned trigger words, other OSHA standards make it the employer’s responsibility to assign employees who are “certified,” “competent,” or “qualified”—meaning that they have probably had special previous training, in or out of the workplace.  For example;

·         In the construction standards for cranes and derricks, 1926.1501(a)(5) (recently redesignated from 1926.550) states – "The employer shall designate a competent person who shall inspect all machinery and equipment prior to each use, and during use, to make sure it is in safe operating condition."

The term “competent person” appears in several more OSHA construction standards (e.g.: Excavations, Scaffolding, Fall Protection . . .). You’ll also see references to a “qualified person”, or even a “registered engineer”; all terms that imply that person has received some level of advanced training or education.

So my point is simple; in this “Google it” society in which we live, look beyond “the employer shall train employees” when researching OSHA training requirements, and be on the lookout for those hidden “trigger” words we discussed. You may find you have some more training to do!

If you’re aware of some other specific OSHA standards that contain a hidden “trigger” word and would like to share them with others, please cite them by submitting a comment (link below). And please, pass a link to this blog along to others in your network who can benefit from this information.

Until next time - chose to be safe!  - Curtis Chambers, CSP - oshatraining.com

Monday, July 18, 2011

Free OSHA Training? - Thank You Susan Harwood!

When dealing with OSHA’s regulations on a day-to-day basis, it’s easy to forget that the agency has several outreach programs in place to proactively assist employers and workers address workplace safety and health hazards. Over the years, I have seen numerous references to one such program; the Susan Harwood grants. But it was not until I dug into the Harwood Grant webpage recently that I became aware of the plethora of free materials and products produced by grantees that you can download for free. There are also some great safety training classes conducted by grantees available to employers and workers too.

The Harwood grants are awarded annually to non-profit organizations to develop training materials, products, and classes that address workplace safety and health hazards as a part of their grant activities. The products developed by grantees have been tailored to meet the needs of various training audiences (e.g., workers, employers, young workers, non-English speaking/limited English proficiency workers, and are available in a variety of formats such as training manuals, PowerPoint, PDF files, and more. Many OSHA training packages are also available in languages other than English, such as Spanish, Cambodian, Korean, Laotian, Vietnamese, and Mandarin Chinese.

In an effort to make the materials and products available to a broader audience for training or self-development, OSHA has posting many of these training materials on the Harwood Web page where they may be accessed and downloaded at no charge. For example, you can download this “Excavation and Trenching Awareness for the Construction Industrytraining program developed with Harwood Grant money by the University of Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute. Their program consists of PowerPoint slide presentations, instructor guides, pre and post-tests, and a competent person checklist, and are available in both English and Spanish.

There are many other OSHA training materials available on the Harwood Webpage for other construction and general industry topics too, such as ergonomics, combustible dust explosions, OSHA injury/illness recordkeeping, work-zone safety, and focus four. As additional products become available, OSHA will post them on the webpage.

The OSHA website states that these training materials are copyright protected and are not to be used for "commercial purposes". I checked with an OSHA representative about this, and she told me you cannot download these materials to sell, nor can a consultant use them to train students if charging a fee. They can, however, be downloaded by a company to train their own employees.

I also mentioned OSHA safety training classes available for workers and employers through these grants. You can see the list of recent Harwood grantees here.  Many of these training classes they provide are free, and some are available at a reduced fee. One example is some upcoming free training courses being conducted in August 2011 at Georgia Tech Research Institute to train employers on strategies on how to engage young workers in safety and health training. Sounds like a great opportunity to learn something new.  See their flyer and the registration form at http://www.startsafeonline.org/upcoming-training-opportunities-educators-and-employers .

To find specific information about other on-going training classes being conducted by grantees in your region, contact the Harwood Grant Program Coordinator at your OSHA Regional office.  http://www.osha.gov/html/RAmap.html

By the way, OSHA is currently soliciting applications under the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program for 2011, through which a total of $4.7 million is available to nonprofit, community and faith-based organizations, employer associations and labor unions. Information needed to apply for this grant is available at this link.

If you’ve ever benefited from utilizing materials or attended a training class developed by a Harwell grantee, tell us about your experience by submitting a comment (link below). And please, pass a link to this blog along to others in your network who can benefit from this information.

BONUS QUESTION: Who is Susan Harwood?  Hint: The answer can be found on the FAQ page about the program.

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Opportunity to Shine:

The ASSE Suncoast Chapter is seeking speakers for their PDC in Ft Myers FL in October 2011 – if interested, submit your proposed content and bio to asseswfl@comcast.net before September 20.