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.

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