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 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 -