Sunday, December 2, 2012

Overlooked Rules About the OSHA Workplace Notification Poster

You are probably aware that OSHA standards mandate that affected employers display the workplace notification poster (aka the OSHA poster) in their workplaces. However, many employers are not aware of some of the intricate details buried in the standards associated with the OSHA poster, and that occasionally results in their receiving a citation from OSHA. So I thought I’d cover some of those often-overlooked details in this month’s blog post.
The OSHA standards related to their workplace poster are contained in section 1903.2 of the regulations. And right off the bat you will see paragraph 1903.2(a), which requires the Federal OSHA poster be displayed at each establishment “in a conspicuous place or places where notices to employees are customarily posted.” That usually can be achieved by placing it on the wall in the break room or on the employee bulletin board next to the time clock.
But what are you supposed to do if you have employees that do not actually work at your facility, but instead report directly to some other location such as a construction site? According to paragraph 1903(b)(2), where employers are engaged in activities which are physically dispersed, such as agriculture, construction, transportation, communications, and electric, gas and sanitary services, the OSHA poster must be displayed at the location to which those employees report each day. That is why you often see OSHA posters displayed at office trailers at construction sites. The standard goes on to say that where employees do not usually work at, or report to, a single establishment, such as some traveling salesmen, technicians, engineers, etc., the OSHA poster must be displayed at the location from which the employees operate to carry out their activities. So make certain you have the OSHA poster displayed at each location required by the standard.

One other requirement that many people have never read is the last sentence of paragraph 1903(a), the one saying you must take steps to insure that your OSHA posters are not “altered, defaced, or covered by other material”. That means no more company memos about important upcoming events like the company picnic stapled over the top of the OSHA poster!  You should occasionally conduct inspections to make sure your OSHA posters are clearly visible, unencumbered, and free from damage, and replace them if and when necessary. A good idea I see implemented at several workplaces is to place the postings in a display case or bulletin board behind a clear Plexiglas cover.

During some site inspections, I have seen where the employer printed a copy of the OSHA poster off the OSHA website onto a standard piece of copy paper (8.5” by 11”) for display at their worksite. However, doing so would be a violation of 1903.2(a)(3), which mandates the poster be printed on paper measuring at least 8.5” by 14”; that standard also addresses details such as minimum font sizes . . .
And what about you employers located in those states operating their own State OSHA program? Paragraph 1903(a)(2) requires you to display the State version of the OSHA poster in those workplaces covered by a state-run OSHA program. But pay careful attention, because there are many workplaces located within states that have implemented a State OSHA program which still fall under the jurisdiction of Federal OSHA; in those cases, the Federal OSHA poster would still need to be displayed. If you are uncertain about which OSHA program (state or federal) has jurisdiction over a particular workplace, re-visit our earlier post to this blog addressing that topic (click here).

Last but not least, what are you required to do if you have employees who do not read or speak English? According to an OSHA letter of interpretation addressing that very question (click here to see the letter), the standard requires employers to post the OSHA poster which is available in English, but does not specify or require that the notice be posted in a foreign language. However, that letter goes on to explain that OSHA encourages employers that have Spanish-speaking workers to post an additional poster in Spanish, which is available on the OSHA website or through private vendors (click here). In fact, OSHA recently added a version of their poster printed in Polish (click here) and Portuguese (click here) to their website. And some of the state-OSHA websites have versions of their posters available in many other exotic languages (click here) on their websites.

As you can see, there is more to compliance with the OSHA workplace notification standards that just sticking a poster up on a bulletin board and forgetting about it. You must make sure you have the correct version of the poster displayed (federal or state OSHA), make certain posters are displayed at all sites where off-site workers report, ensure the poster meet minimum size requirements specified by OSHA, and maintain your posters so they are legible and visible at all times. And where feasible, you are also encouraged to display OSHA posters in languages familiar to your workforce.
If you need a resource offering comprehensive Labor Law Posters that include up-to-date versions of the OSHA notices for federal and state OSHA programs available in English and Spanish, visit our sister website (click here).

And if you’d like to share with our readers your stories or experiences related to your OSHA posters, please provide that information in the “comments” section below. And last but not least, please pass a link to this blog post along to others in your network who you think may benefit by this information.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Answers to Top Five Questions about Hard Hats

When I teach OSHA 10-hour or 30-hour classes for construction and general industry, we inevitably talk about head protection; and that means we discuss hard hats. Over the years I’ve noticed there are five questions about hard hats that are repeatedly asked by trainees during that section of the class. However, the Federal OSHA standards on head protection do not directly address these five questions (although some of the state OSHA programs might). And if you’ve ever researched the Federal OSHA letters of interpretation about hard hat use in construction (see list) or general industry (see list), you’ve found they generally defer to the hard hat manufacturers on issues about proper use and care, recommending employers follow their guidance.
So I thought I’d list these five questions that often come up about hard hats, and provide the answers that are provided by three of the major manufacturers of hard hats on their web sites. And you may be surprised (or maybe not) to find that the manufacturers are not always in agreement on the answers . . . 
>>> CLICK HERE to continue reading this blog post >>>

Monday, October 1, 2012

The OSHA Standard You May Not Realize Applies to You!

In this month’s blog post, I thought I’d share with you the one OSHA standard that I’ve seen many employers overlook time and time again whenever I conduct mock-OSHA inspections. And the excuse provided by so many employers for non-compliance with this standard? They had no idea the standard applied to them, or in many cases, that the standard even existed. 

But before I reveal which standard it is, I want you to think back, way back, and determine if one or more of the following events have occurred at your company or organization during the past thirty (30) years:
·         An air survey was performed to determine employee exposure to a chemical or substance;
·         A noise survey and/or dosimetry study was performed to determine employee exposure to noise levels;
·         An employee was subject to biological monitoring (e.g.: blood test), medical surveillance and/or medical monitoring due to working with a hazardous chemical or substance (like lead, asbestos or hexavalent chromium);
·         One or more employees received a medical examination by a physician or other licensed healthcare provider prior to wearing a respirator; 
·         Your company or organization developed a written Exposure Control Plan per the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens standard;
·         An employee accepted the hepatitis B vaccination series as part of your Bloodborne Pathogens program, and/or received a medical evaluation (and possibly follow-up care) due to an exposure incident involving blood or other potentially-infectious materials;
·         Your company has old material safety data sheets (MSDSs) for hazardous chemicals and products that are no longer in use at your site.
If you answered yes to one or more of these, there will be some kind of document or written record associated with that item. And that document or record is subject to the record preservation and access requirements of OSHA standard 1910.1020, titled “Employee Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records.”
In a nutshell, the OSHA 1910.1020 standard requires the employer to do two things:
A)  Maintain certain exposure records (including old MSDSs) and/or written programs for 30 years, and certain medical records for the duration of an affected worker's employment plus 30 years; and, 
B)  Notify affected employees when they first start work and at least annually thereafter of the existence of these records and their availability to the worker or their designated representative (e.g.: authorized union representative; an attorney or other person to whom the employee has given specific written consent to exercise a right of access).
There are many types of records other than the few listed above that are covered by this standard too; just refer to 1910.1020(c)(5) and (6) for an overview of applicable documents. And in some cases, the record retention and availability requirements are actually listed in one of OSHA’s substance-specific standards; for example, the requirement to make available a copy of your written Bloodborne Pathogens (BBP) Exposure Control Plan is actually listed in 1910.1030(c)(1)(iii), while the preservation requirements for BBP-related medical records is stated in 1910.1030(h)(1)(iv). In addition, the OSHA Respiratory Protection standard contains a requirement for maintaining and making available employee medical examination records per 1910.1020 [see 1910.134(m)(1)]. So review all OSHA standards, especially those substance-specific standards within Subpart Z, for similar requirements. And even though this is a 1910 general industry standard, it applies to employers engaged in the maritime and construction industries too [see scope and application at 1910.1020(b)(1)].
There are a few caveats to the rule for maintaining some exposure and medical records. For example, instead of keeping hard copies of MSDSs for items no longer in use at the facility on file for 30 years, you can instead create and maintain a list containing the identity (chemical names if known) of the substances or agents, where they were used, and when they were used, and keep that list on file for the thirty (30) year retention period [see 1910.1020(d)(1)(ii)(B)]. In addition, some OSHA health standards have different record-retention policies (such as the standard for ionizing radiation). And the medical records of employees who have worked for less than one (1) year for the employer need not be retained beyond the term of employment if they are provided to the employee upon the termination of their employment [see 1910.1020(d)(1)(i)(C)]. So carefully check all OSHA standards in Subpart Z for any exceptions.
Preserving these records is only half the battle. It is also vitally important not to overlook the OSHA requirement to notify employees of the existence of these records and their right to access them. As previously mentioned, this notification must take place when the employee is hired, as well as annually thereafter [see 1910.1020(g)(1)(i) – (iii)]. The initial notification can be achieved by incorporating this information into your orientation for new employees who are affected by this standard. And the annual re-notification can be handled through an annual training session, although I have seen numerous companies post a memo with the annual re-notification on their employee bulletin boards next to their state or Federal OSHA poster, and leaving it in place until it is time to repost the updated information twelve (12) months later. Here is a link to a free sample poster similar to what I’ve seen used for such notifications. Of course, this notification must be presented in a language that is understood by affected employees.
Keep in mind that the employee making the request for exposure records does not have to be the same worker who was physically involved in the actual exposure monitoring event (such as an air or noise survey); Employees are allowed access to exposure records of other employees with past or present job duties or working conditions related to or similar to those of the employee making the request [see 1910.1020(e)(2)(i)(A)(2)]. This is based on the assumption that such records reasonably indicate the amount and nature of the toxic substances or harmful physical agents to which the requesting employee is or has been subjected.
One other important thing to know is that this standard does not give an employee or their designated representative the right to just dig through your files and make copies of whatever records they want. The OSHA standard requires them to make a very detailed written request of the record(s) they want (click here for a sample request letter). Then the employer has fifteen (15) working days to make the record(s) available for review and/or copying [see 1910.1020(e)(1)(i)].
So check out the details in this often-overlooked OSHA standard, and make certain you are maintaining all required records, and just as importantly, you are notifying affected workers of their rights to access as required. And if you want to see OSHA’s 30+ letters of interpretation on this topic, here is a link for those as well.
If you’d like to share with our other readers how you handle the employee notification requirements at your company or organization, or if you know of a specific record covered by this OSHA standard that is not listed in this blog post, please provide that information in the “comments” section below. And last but not least, please pass a link to this blog post along to others in your network who you think may benefit by this information.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

“Best Practices”? Or Safety Run Amuck.

Occasionally I am asked by attorneys to serve as an expert witness on lawsuits involving workplace injuries and fatalities. One of the most fascinating cases I worked on involved an office worker suing her employer for gross negligence because a maintenance man operating a scissor-lift ran over her foot as she exited her cubicle. Now why, you may wonder, would a scissor-lift be traveling down an aisle way in the office? The short answer is, the company was following the “best practice” for changing a light bulb. Perhaps I should back up several years to explain how this accident came to be. But be warned, while reading this story you may not know whether you should laugh or cry.

Quite a few years before this accident occurred, another maintenance man working for the same company had set up a 20-foot metal extension ladder against the exterior of the building to change a burned-out bulb that provided light to the parking area. Apparently the light fixture was mounted about 23 feet above the ground, and the soil was soggy from a leaky sprinkler pipe. You can probably see where this is headed, so to make a long story short; the maintenance man was standing on the next-to-the-top rung of the extension ladder, stretching to reach up over his head to change the bulb, when he received a small electrical shock that caused him to recoil. And that in turn caused him to fall off the ladder to the ground below, where he was seriously injured.

As a result of this accident, the owner of the business insisted that the safety manager implement “best practices” for ladder use to insure something like this never happened again. “Best practices” was the new buzzword in corporate America at that time, so everything the company did, the owner insisted be done in line with “best practices”. Personally, I get tired of hearing people, including safety professionals, pronounce every single policy they implement as a “best practice”; in fact, I’d guess you have to say it is one of my pet peeves. But none the less, it is something that is firmly entrenched in business vernacular, even though there is no organization or mechanism in place to validate most of these claims.

Back to my story; as you can probably guess, the safety manager quickly developed and implemented a comprehensive ladder safety program that included written policies on the proper selection and set-up of ladders, followed by training for affected workers. But the safety manager did not stop there; he decided to go above and beyond to mandate that employees always wear a fall protection harness attached to a lanyard or safety line before they set their foot on a ladder. One hundred percent fall protection all the time. No exceptions. Period!

Apparently the safety manager did not give deep consideration to the potential ramifications of this new policy. So it’s no surprise that the poop hit the fan a few months later when the company owner stopped by the safety manager’s office and chewed him out because he saw a (different) maintenance man who had climbed onto a step-ladder in the office lobby area, and he was not following their established “best practice”. So the safety manager responded by running downstairs to the scene of the crime and sure-enough, there was the worker standing on the third rung of an eight-foot stepladder changing a fluorescent light bulb, and he was not using fall protection gear. The safety manager chastised the worker for not tying off, and you can probably guess what the worker’s response was; “exactly where the heck do you suggest I tie off?”

The safety manager grabbed a broom from a nearby janitorial closet and used the handle to push over some ceiling tiles. Then he shined a flashlight into the hole so he could see up into the area above the ceiling grid. He was trying to find a suitable tie-off point for the safety line, but all he could see was a bunch of conduit, sprinkler pipes, and a flimsy-looking bar joist. Then the maintenance man told him to quit wasting his time, because even if he could find a suitable tie-off point, they had no way to climb up there to connect the safety line because they were not allowed to use a ladder unless they were already tied off!

So the safety manager told the maintenance worker to put off changing light bulbs in the office area until he could come up with something else that would work. And after racking his brain for a couple of days, the safety manager implemented a new “best practice”; from now on, workers must utilize a scissor-lift when changing light bulbs inside the office building.

Over the next few years they discovered a few bugs in their “best practice” that required the procedure to be further revised, such as on the day they realized they needed to change a light bulb on the second floor of the office building. Their elevator was too small for the scissor-lift to fit inside (and the lift was probably too heavy). So they ended up purchasing another scissor-lift to use on the second floor, disassembled and transported it upstairs in pieces, and then reassembled it, where it would remain exclusively for use when a light bulb needed to be changed.

Of course, the Fire Marshall had to express his displeasure when, during his annual inspection a few months later, he found the scissor lift parked in an aisle-way in the back corner of the office area, blocking access to an emergency exit. Due to a lack of an adequate parking spot for the scissor-lift, the company decided their only choice was to have someone move out of one of the offices situated along the outer wall, and then use that office to store the lift. But it couldn’t be just any office; clearance restrictions created by the rows of cubicle wall panels adjacent to the offices required them to park the scissor-lift in one of the corner offices; the Vice President of Human Resources was not pleased! So she booted the safety manager (who happened to report to her) out of his office and into a cubicle, and she relocated to his old, smaller office. Not the ideal situation, but a sacrifice that had to be made for the sake of “best practices”.

Over time, other challenges resulted in the evolution of their “best practice" for changing a light bulb, such as the time when the scissor-lift was being driven down an aisle-way and one of the carpeted floor panel that was situated over a hollow chase for computer wires collapsed. That resulted in the need for the revision of office floor plan maps, originally created for displaying their emergency evacuation routes, so they could also pinpoint where similar false floor panels were located. Then they fabricated special “floor plates” out of sheets of precisely-trimmed 1-inch thick plywood that they would place over portions of the floor with a void beneath when they drove the scissor-lift over them so they could prevent another collapse .

But a couple of years after that, they had to go back and bevel the edges of the sheets of plywood and paint them safety yellow, because a worker stubbed her toe on the edge of one of them as she was walking over it to get to the copy machine and split a toenail. Then about two years ago, the company had to revise their “best practice” once again, this time to require the placement of orange traffic cones to block off all pedestrian traffic in the area when the plywood sheets were laid down because an employee claims to have jarred his back when he stepped off of a piece and had to have surgery.

So now we approach the day of the accident that resulted in the lawsuit I told you about. In spite of the company implementing the “best practice” for changing a light bulb (a procedure that had been developed, formalized, and refined multiple times into a seven page document and an investment of thousands of dollars for equipment, materials, and labor), it became apparent that their procedure did not address one other potential hazard. As the maintenance man was backing the scissor-lift down an aisle-way and around a corner, he accidentally struck one of the cubicle walls, causing it to collapse.

Luckily nobody was inside that particular cubicle at the time, but it did create quite a racket. And a brand new laptop computer and printer were trashed when they were struck by the falling wall. As soon as he realized what he had done, the maintenance man shoved the scissor-lift into the opposite gear and lurched forward; at about the same time the plaintiff in this lawsuit came running out of an adjacent cubicle to see what had happened. And that was when her foot got run over by one of the wheels on the scissor-lift.

Now the moral of the story is NOT to discourage someone from trying to make a job safer by improving upon the procedure in place. That’s what safety people are supposed to do when they find a hazard that is not being adequately addressed. Frankly, I’m impressed the safety manager implemented a comprehensive ladder safety program that consisted of proper ladder selection, set-up and use after the initial accident occurred many years ago. But in hindsight, he probably wishes that he would have stopped right there, at least when it came to applying their "best practice" of requiring 100-percent tie-off when using a ladder to change burned-out light bulbs in the office. Now I’m just hoping the company does not implement a new "best practice" that requires office workers to wear steel-toe shoes! And still lost in all of this was the irony that every time the maintenance man had to mount the scissor-lift, he actually had to climb up a short built-in ladder affixed to one end of the lift.  

No, the point of my sharing this story with you is just to remind fellow safety professionals that we should not implement a new or revised safety procedure without thoroughly considering all the potential ramifications. And while I’m at it, let me ask you to do me a favor; the next time you develop or update one of your safety policies, please try and avoid pronouncing it a “best practice”, unless you have some kind of validation to back it up. Perhaps you could instead say something like “this is the safety policy or practice that works best for us”.

If you’d like to share a story about your experiences with a safety improvement that ran amuck, or make some other comment about this blog post, please do so in the “comments” section below. And last but not least, please pass a link to this blog post along to others in your network who you think may benefit (or at least be amused) by this information.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

OSHA Training: The "Invisible" Employees

Hello – can you see me? I must be invisible when it comes to OSHA training. Or maybe I am just exempt from all safety training regulations? Surely not!

I mean, if there was a fire or explosion in our building, I am curious to know what the company expects me to do. Is there some kind of alarm or signal to warn us to evacuate, or a place where I am expected to assemble? How would they know I got out safely? I wonder, but yet I have never been trained about this sort of thing.

And if a nearby co-worker suffered a heart attack or other serious medical emergency, I am not sure exactly how I should react. Does our company have a procedure in place? Maybe I just call an ambulance? Does anyone here know first aid or CPR? I have no idea, as our company’s safety manager never trained me about this sort of thing either. And while I’m at it, what am I supposed to do if a tornado is reported to be headed in our direction? Do I go get in my car and drive away? Or crawl under a table somewhere? I don’t know what the company expects of me, as I have never been instructed on what to do in this situation, either. I guess maybe I’m on my own.

I have also wondered on occasion what to do if there was ever a small fire break out in my work area. I mean, it is possible. In fact, there is a portable fire extinguisher hanging on the wall just 20 feet away from my work station. I guess I could grab it and try to extinguish the fire, but I’m not sure if I would be doing it right, or maybe I am not supposed to try to use it. You’d think our safety manager would provide me with some information on how to use those things, but I guess it’s not important.

Also, when I have to walk through a certain work area in our facility, I often wonder what that strong odor is that I smell. It makes my eyes water and my nose run. Is it coming from one of those drums back there? Is it something that I should be concerned about? I see other employees over there wearing facemasks sometimes, and I wonder if I need one, or maybe I should not be walking back there. But I don’t have a clue, as I have never been included in a safety meeting at work. And you would think the company would have some kind of papers available that tell me what I’d like to know about all those chemicals.

There is a hardhat hanging on a hook next to my workstation. It was given to me by a guy who works in a certain work area that I occasionally have to walk through to get to the manager’s office; he once scolded me for not wearing one, and told me I had to wear it whenever I go back there, just like everybody else. But it does not fit me very good, and I think the headband might be broken, but I’m not sure. So I just put it on my head every time I walk through there so I don’t cause a stir. I wonder if I should also be wearing a pair of those safety glasses like they all do, too, instead of my regular prescription glasses.

And one last thing I’d like to bring up. There is one of the maintenance guys working on a piece of equipment right over there, near my workstation. I really need to use that equipment to get some work done because my boss says she needs in a hurry. Oh look; the maintenance guy is gone right now, probably on a break or something. Certainly it would be okay just to walk over there and flip on the switch and use that piece of equipment until he gets back. I guess that could not hurt anything. Besides, if it wasn’t okay, surely someone would have given me some training telling me I shouldn’t do that.

I am the most overlooked employee at your facility; in fact, when it comes to OSHA safety training, I must be invisible. I heard our company has a safety manager on staff that spends a lot of his time training the other employees. But I guess workers like me are not to be concerned about all that safety stuff, since we are never called together for safety training. Or like I said, maybe we are invisible.

Who am I? Just walk into the office and look around, you’ll see me there. I am your office receptionist, or maybe I am the accounting clerk, or even the assistant sales manager manning the phones all day. Maybe I’m the young intern working in the drafting department. Or I could be the project manager’s assistant who works in the office trailer at your construction site. We are employees too, but when it comes to safety training, people like me who work in the office might as well be invisible.

There are OSHA regulations that require information and training for affected workers in these situations, even if they work in the office. And for you readers who are not sure which OSHA standards could be applicable, check these links:

Hopefully this blog post will give you reason to pause and think about any “invisible” employees that may be working for your company or organization who might have been overlooked when it comes to OSHA training. So open your eyes and take a good hard look around.

If you’d like to make a comment about this blog post, please do so in the “comments” section below. Also, list any other hazards that office workers are required to receive OSHA training on, if any come to mind. 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.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

OSHA Training Myths Busted! - Powered Industrial Truck Operator Training and Evaluations

Over the years I’ve conducted numerous mock-OSHA compliance audits of safety training records, and have picked up on some common mistakes that are repeatedly made by many businesses and organizations. When I discuss these deficiencies with the clients, I tend to hear the same misunderstandings or “myths” about the OSHA regulations that lead to their mistakes. Because these same myths come up repeatedly, I’ve decided to discuss a few of them in this blog from time to time to help raise awareness of these erroneous beliefs, and to clarify what is actually required so others can avoid making the same mistakes (and avoid OSHA citations, too).

So today I will focus on three common “myths” related to the OSHA training standards for Powered Industrial Truck Operators.

Myth #1 - OSHA requires employers to conduct refresher training for their powered-industrial truck (PIT) operators every three years. 

FALSE! - OSHA standards do require initial training (formal “classroom” training and practical “hands on” training) and an evaluation (actual observation of performance) of all powered industrial truck (PIT) operators [see 1910.178(l)(2)(ii)]. The OSHA standard also requires additional refresher training and evaluations on pertinent topics be performed in special instances, such as when the operator is involved in an accident or near miss, observed operating unsafely, or there are changes in equipment or workplace conditions [see 1910.178(l)(4)(ii)]. But many employers also believe the OSHA standards require them to conduct refresher training for operators every three years, too. And that is where they can get themselves into trouble.

When you look closely at OSHA standard at issue here [see 1910.178(l)(4)(iii)], you will see it does not require refresher training every three years; it requires an evaluation of each powered industrial truck operator's performance be conducted at least once every three years. The evaluation is where the employer actually observes the operator performance in the workplace to ensure he or she is operating their PIT properly. Now I don’t have a problem if you want to provide refresher training every three years; knock yourself out. But be aware that if you only have a record of operator training conducted every three years to show an OSHA inspector instead of the mandatory operator evaluation that is required every three years, you are not in compliance with the OSHA standard referenced above. So always remember to conduct (and document) your PIT operator evaluations every three years.

Myth #2 - OSHA’s powered industrial truck operator training requirements do not apply to floor-operated battery-powered hand-lifts.

FALSE!  - The operator training standard applies to all classifications of powered industrial trucks, which includes not just sit-down rider forklifts, but also order-pickers, stand-up lifts, rough-terrain forklifts, tuggers, and the electric-powered mobile hand-lifts controlled by an operator who walks along with the lift (also known as a Class III powered industrial truck, see OSHA e-tool here for pictures).
I have audited many sites where the employer had meticulously trained and evaluated their operators of the traditional sit-down forklifts, but they were not aware the same rules also applied to the many employees who were operating hand-operated battery-powered pallet lifts. And I guarantee you that most (I hesitate to say all) OSHA inspectors are aware that the training and evaluation requirements apply to operators of these walk-behind battery powered lifts. So avoid problems with OSHA by setting up a specific program for training and evaluating your PIT operators who run floor-operated battery-powered hand-lifts.

Myth #3 - OSHA standards require powered industrial lift operators to carry a “driver’s license” to prove they are authorized to operate their lift.
FALSE!  -  The OSHA PIT operator training standard does require the employer to “certify” that each operator has been trained and evaluated [see 1910.178(l)(6) ]. The rule state that the certification must include the name of the operator, the date of the training, the date of the evaluation, and the identity of the person(s) performing the training and/or evaluation. There is no requirement, however, that requires the certification be carried by the operator.
Now I am not discouraging you from issuing a wallet-sized license to your PIT operators; in fact it can be a useful tool to spot-check for compliance on the floor.  But pay close attention to the requirements listed in the standard, because you must document ALL of the required details about the training and evaluation process. This can include in some instances three different names (the PIT operator name, the trainer name, and the evaluator name), as well as the date (or dates) the training and the evaluation were both conducted. That is a lot of information to cram onto a little wallet-sized card, especially if the training and the evaluation were performed by two different people on two different dates.

Very seldom have I seen wallet-sized cards that had all the required information, which sets the employer up for an OSHA citation if the wallet cards are the only documentation serving as operator certification. Furthermore, the cards tend to get lost or deteriorated over time, leaving you in a lurch during an OSHA inspection. So always utilize a full-fledged form to capture all the required information for each PIT operator (free sample certification form available here), and keep it on file in the office or someplace so it will not get lost or damaged, even if you issue forklift drivers licenses for your operators to carry.

So there is my two cents worth on the most common problems I see arising from misunderstanding related to the OSHA powered industrial truck operator training standards. I hope this helps clarify for some of you what is actually required, as opposed to some myth that you heard that could get you into trouble with OSHA.

Are there any other myths or misunderstandings related to PIT operator training and evaluation that you have come across that set up the employer for an OSHA citation? If you know of one and would like to share that information with our readers, or if you just want to make a comment about this blog post, please share your thoughts in the “comments” section below. 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.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Where Federal OSHA (or other agency) Jurisdiction Supersedes State OSHA

Most people associated with the field of occupational safety and health already know that states and territories of the United States of America have the option to implement their own “State Plan” OSHA program to regulate workplace safety within their boundaries. Approximately half the states and territories have opted to do just that. So affected employers in those states follow the state OSHA rules, display the state OSHA posters, report certain injuries and illnesses to state OSHA offices, and are subject to inspections by state OSHA personnel. However, you must make certain that you are aware that employers in certain workplaces located within the boundaries of state-plan OSHA states still fall under the jurisdiction of Federal OSHA, or in some cases, another quasi-OSHA organization.

The easiest way to determine which employers are covered by a certain state’s OSHA program and which remain under Federal OSHA (or other) coverage is to refer to the map at this link and click somewhere on the state in question. You will be directed to a page on the website that contains information about OSHA coverage within that specific state; including specific details about who is covered by what agency (refer to the paragraph on the page titled “Jurisdiction”).

What you’ll find, in general, is that Federal OSHA still retains jurisdiction over employers at workplaces such as the U.S. Post Offices and other federal installations in states operating a state-plan OSHA program, which seems logical. But I also learned (the hard way) a few years ago that in most state-plan states, Federal OSHA also retained jurisdiction over most Maritime operations, including workplaces such as but not limited to, ship and barge builders and repair facilities, long-shoring operations, and other privately-owned maritime operations situated on or along the navigable waters of the United States.

As an example of how complex the jurisdictional boundaries can be in the states that run their own OSHA program, consider the exceptions in the state of Iowa, as they are very specific:

"The Iowa State Plan applies to all public and private sector places of employment in the State with the exception of private sector maritime activities; marine terminals; longshoring; federal government-owned, contractor-operated military/munitions facilities; bridge construction projects spanning the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers between Iowa and other states; federal government employers and employees; and the United States Postal Service; which are subject to Federal OSHA jurisdiction. The U.S. Department of Labor, Employment Standards Administration exercises jurisdiction with respect to field sanitation and temporary labor camps."

So as you can see, jurudictional issues are not as simple as you may think, and can change from area to area within the state. (For further explaination, refer to the comment submitted (below) to this post by a retired OSHA Area Director).

Another area that caught my eye while doing research for this blog post is the Native American reservations. Many enterprises within these areas are usually not covered by state or federal OSHA. However, I was surprised to learn of an agency called Navajo Nation OSHA (NNOSHA), formed in 2000, that regulates employee safety at workplaces on their Tribe's land; I am not sure if other Tribes have their own organization to regulate work safety, but I did find this very interesting.

Are you aware of any other workplaces in state-plan OSHA states that are still regulated by Federal OSHA or some other agency? If you would like to share that information with our readers, or if you just want to make a comment about this blog post, please share your thoughts 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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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Finding OSHA Letters of Interpretation is a Snap (or a few clicks, actually)

Have you ever had a question about a particular OSHA standard? If so, the odds are good that your question has already been asked and answered by OSHA in what is known as a “letter of interpretation”. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued thousands of letters of interpretation over the years to answer questions posed by people about various health and safety standards. These letters are available on the OSHA website, and provide a valuable resource when you are researching a particular standard. But many people have difficulty finding the letter(s) that apply to the particular OSHA regulation(s) they are researching. So I wanted to make you aware of how easy it is to locate the OSHA letters you are seeking.

When you visit the OSHA website, they have a page for interpretation letters that lists each Part (e.g.: Part 1910, Part 1917 . ..) of the OSHA regulations. You can search for letters applicable to a particular OSHA standard by clicking on the Part in which the standard appears, then drilling down through each section and the corresponding list of letter titles until you find the letter(s) for the standard you need.

But for me, the easiest method to find out if there are any letters of interpretation (or OSHA directives) associated with a particular standard is to just go directly to the OSHA standard you are researching on the OSHA website and see if the standard heading is hyperlinked. For example, here is the link to the OSHA General Industry standards for Emergency Action Plans. Click on that link and you will see each paragraph of that section listed. Pay close attention to each paragraph heading (e.g.: 1910.38(a), 1910.38(b), 1910.38(c) . . .); some of them are blue and underlined, and some are gray and not underlined.

The ones that are blue and underlined are hyperlinked to a list of the letter(s) of interpretation (and OSHA directives too, where applicable) associated with that particular paragraph.  And the ones in gray do not have any letter of interpretation associated with the standard. For example, 1910.38(b) is the OSHA standard that details when it is and is not necessary to have your emergency action plan in writing. Once you access the page for that standard, click on the the hyperlinked heading for 1910.38(b), and you will be directed to a link to a  letter of interpretation that expands on that particular regulation.

Of course, you must keep in mind that OSHA letters of interpretation are very specific to the circumstances addressed in each particular letter, so do not over-reach and try to apply their guidance to a scenario that is different than the one posed in the letter. And it is possible there may be no letter associated with the particular standard you are researching, or, there may be several. Also keep in mind that OSHA letters of interpretation can become obsolete when the associated standard is revised. And be aware that OSHA will has been known to revise an old letter of interpretation on occasion, so check the ones that are of most importance to you every once in a while to make sure you have the latest information.

OSHA letters of interpretation can be very useful when researching an OSHA regulation, and finding them can be a snap (or a few clicks, actually) when you use the methods described above. Please let me know if you have any comments or questions regarding OSHA letters of interpretation by clicking the link to the "comments" section below, and please share a link to this blog post with others in your network that can benefit from this information.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Is it an OSHA Violation? That Depends . . . .

Have you ever wondered out loud why some OSHA standards for general industry (1910) and construction (1926) that address the same exact topic differ sometimes? Or have you even noticed?

To help me demonstrate to you why some of these differences can be so perplexing, let me first refresh your memory on a couple of the OSHA standards for two common items; fixed ladders and air contaminants (specifically, Stoddard solvent). Here are the OSHA standards that apply to each in the two different work environments:

In the OSHA general industry standards, a cage or well is required on fixed ladders when the total climb exceeds 20 feet [1910.27(d)(1)(ii)]. And in the general industry standards for air contaminants, OSHA sets the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for employee exposure to Stoddard solvent at 500 ppm (parts per million), based on an 8-hour TWA (time weighted average). [1910.1000]. 

In the OSHA construction standards, a cage or other ladder safety device is required for a fixed ladder when the total climb equals or exceeds 24 feet [1926.1053(a)(19)]. And in the OSHA construction standards for air contaminants, the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for Stoddard solvent is only 200 ppm, based on an 8-hour TWA. [1926.55].

Now, to understand how exasperating these differences can be when applied to the two types of workplaces (general industry and construction), consider this scenario:

A worker climbs up to a 23 foot high mezzanine using a fixed ladder that has no cage or other ladder safety device installed, then starts to mix paint and Stoddard solvent together for some period of time; this results in employee exposure to the solvent at an 8-hour TWA exposure of 350 ppm.

Is the employer of this worker in violation of one or more of these regulations? Yes, one violation of an OSHA standard exists; but the one OSHA standard that is cited will differ, depending on which work environment (general industry versus construction) the employee is working.

An employer regulated by the general industry standards will receive one citation for the lack of a cage on the fixed ladder, but will not be cited for exposure to the Stoddard solvent because the worker’s exposure is within acceptable levels. Yet in a workplace regulated by the OSHA construction standards, one citation would be issued to the employer because their worker is over-exposed to the Stoddard solvent, but there is no citation related to the fixed ladder because it is not required to have a cage or other ladder safety device.

There’s gotta be some way I can turn this scenario into a sure-fire bet at a bar; I should be able to win a beer every time!

Other than a few slight differences such as those described here, the OSHA standards for fixed ladders and for air contaminants in 1910 and 1926 are essentially the same. So how do these differences come to be? Often times when OSHA creates a new standard, or updates an old one, they base their requirements on those contained in existing voluntary “consensus” standards (such as those published by groups like ANSI or ACGIH) that are in effect at that time. However, the consensus standards are regularly updated (sometimes as often as annually). So when OSHA creates (or updates) a general industry standard based on a particular consensus standard one year, and then they create (or update) a similar construction standard based on the same consensus standard at a later time (or visa-versa), the information in that consensus standard may have been changed. And that helps create some of the variations that appear in the two types of OSHA standards.

As a result of these variances between standards, many consultants, trainers, and employers who are well schooled in one version of the OSHA regulations (general industry or construction) unknowingly apply them incorrectly when they cross over to the other industry. So make sure you are fully aware of these (and other) subtle differences within these otherwise-similar OSHA standards as you apply them to the different work environments.

Do you know of any other examples of similar OSHA standards for construction and general industry with seemingly senseless differences such as the ones described in this blog post? If so, or if you just want to make a comment about this blog post, please share your thoughts with other readers 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.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

OSHA Says They Don’t Kill Jobs; Here’s Proof To The Contrary

Dr. David Michaels, head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), once famously defended his agency’s issuance of new OSHA safety regulations by stating: OSHA is not working to kill jobs; we're here to stop jobs from killing workers.”  However, unilateral decisions recently made by OSHA, a federal agency housed under the U.S. Department of Labor, seem to run counter to the job-killing portion of that philosophy, and it has nothing to do with the issuance of workplace safety regulations.

As you probably know, OSHA developed and has administered a very successful OSHA Outreach Training Program for several years, resulting in millions of workers receiving valuable training on OSHA regulations and hazard avoidance, much of it provided by self-employed individuals and gainfully employed OSHA-authorized Outreach trainers working for safety consulting firms. And for the last several years, these OSHA Outreach courses have been available for students to take online too. Love them or hate them, the online Outreach courses are here to stay, as OSHA recently announced the continued acceptance of these courses. However, OSHA suddenly decided to restrict how these online courses are made available to the general public.

OSHA has decided to no longer allow the online Outreach courses to be offered by “resellers” on their websites as of April 1st; the courses will only be allowed to be sold on the internet directly by those select few companies and organizations that OSHA recently approved as online providers. It has also been revealed that in a closed-door meeting, OSHA said they will restrict the use of the generic term “osha” in the URL of websites of firms selling online Outreach courses. Furthermore, OSHA said they will allow no safety consultant (nor anyone else for that matter) to make a profit by placing any button or ad that links back to an online course provider’s website.

When these new policies takes effect, the hundreds of safety consulting companies who have offered links to these courses on their websites for years and receive a commission will instantly be restrained from supplementing their income with online course sales. To many “mom and pop” consultants, this extra income is often the difference between staying in business and shutting their doors. So these policy changes will no doubt put a few of them out of business and their employees on the street. And the many workers employed as website developers, marketing reps, and sales and service agents for companies acting as resellers or advertisers for these courses will soon be getting pink slips too. Not exactly a job-friendly scenario.

There was no explanation given by OSHA for their sudden change of heart. I can only speculate that OSHA is possibly concerned about unethical marketing practices by some resellers (a big problem in the past that seems to have been all but wiped out). Or perhaps they do not have the resources to monitor the resellers. And as for the restriction of the URL’s, maybe OSHA thinks some poor soul could mistake a website with “osha” in the URL for the federal OSHA website. But these issues are easily addressed without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

OSHA could develop and publish mandatory policies for resellers on the OSHA website, just like they have done for the live Outreach trainers, and hold the resellers or course providers accountable for meeting the rules. Or they could turn the delivery and administration of the online Outreach Training course over to a self-funded, non-profit organization made up of the Online Outreach Training providers, similar to how the OTI’s run their Outreach programs in various areas of the country, and then hold them accountable for enforcing any necessary rules or guidelines.

As for the restriction on URL’s, take it from someone who once owned over 100 websites with “osha” appearing somewhere in the URL; I have received hundreds of calls and emails over the years from people looking for assistance because they could not locate the telephone number of their local OSHA Area Office on the federal OSHA website, but not once has someone called me thinking I was OSHA.  But if OSHA is truly concerned that a private website might be mistaken for their own, I’m sure the owners of those “offending” sites would be more than willing to place a disclaimer on their websites.

I would encourage the powers to be at OSHA to rethink their decisions, hold discussions in an open forum that incorporates input from affected individuals (just like when a proposed OSHA standard is issued), then work out solutions that preserve these jobs instead of throwing people out of work. And for all of you OSHA-authorized trainers who conduct live 10 and 30-hour training classes and are not affected by these changes to the online programs (and who may even loathe the online courses), you should be concerned too. For it could be just a matter of time before OSHA makes similar changes that affect your ability to market and offer live on-site Outreach classes directly to your customers.

In the interest of full disclosure; I used to be a major reseller of the online OSHA Outreach courses. But I sold off all my websites that offered online courses over a year ago, so I no longer make a profit from selling online OSHA Outreach courses. I do have links on one of my new websites to online Outreach courses offered through a buddy’s website, but I receive absolutely no compensation for any sales of their courses. Nor do I speak for the online training industry; my opinions are my own. And, no, I am not an OSHA-hater either; I actually have a general appreciation for many employees of the agency who perform what is often considered to be a thankless job.

But even though these changes do not affect me directly, I do feel compelled to act as an advocate for the many businesses and individuals that will see their livelihoods negatively affected by these unnecessary infringements on their ability to make a living.

In closing, I’d like to share a quote about the purpose of Government, attributed to the late, great President Ronald Reagan, which I read in an editorial written by Rep. Tim Walberg (R – MI), that recently appeared in the Washington Examiner:

"It is not my intention to do away with government. It is rather, to make it work-work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it."

Readers: If you agree with this philosophy, and feel these changes to the Outreach Training program are detrimental to the economic well-being of American workers and businesses, and/or that OSHA should focus on regulating workplace safety instead of the internet, contact Dr. Michaels [] or his boss Hilda Solis [], head of the U.S. Dept. of Labor (ironic, huh?), and let them know what you think. Better yet, share your concerns with your Senator, Congressman, or even President Obama [], as they all profess to be focused on preserving jobs instead of eliminating them. And especially to you safety professionals who offer Outreach training courses (live or online), you’d better speak out now if you are at all concerned, because the job you save may eventually be your own.

If you would like to make a comment about this blog post, please do so 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.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Most Overlooked Paragraph in the OSHA Standards

Several months ago I was reading posts made by members in one of the many social networking groups I belong to that are dedicated to occupational health and safety matters. The original discussion question inquired about the regulations that should be applied to workers who were not wearing fall protection harnesses while spreading metal decking on the roof of a steel structure at a jobsite she was visiting.

One very helpful reader responded that the work she saw being performed was regulated by OSHA’s Fall Protection standards in Subpart M of the 1926 construction standards, specifically 1926.502(b)(2), related to workers who are conducting “leading edge work”.  He explained how that particular OSHA standard allowed several options for fall protection while the workers were laying the decking, including the development and implementation of a written site-specific fall protection plan that met the requirements of 1926.502(k) if the company decided it was not feasible or created a greater hazard to use conventional fall protection. He then went into a lengthy explanation about the proper set-up and use of a controlled access zone and all the other elements of the written fall protection plan that are spelled out in that OSHA standard. It was all very detailed, very concise, and unfortunately, very wrong!

Let me state right off the bat that this blog post is NOT about degrading someone who made a mistake. I’ve made more than my share of mistakes over the years I have been in this business, that’s just how certain lessons get ingrained into our heads. Nor is this post about starting a debate on the preferred use of one form of fall protection over another (perhaps in a future blog post?). The purpose of this post is to point out a very common mistake made by many safety practitioners; the failure to read the paragraph establishing the "Scope and Application" of an OSHA standard.

Here’s where the breakdown occurred; If you refer to the first section of Subpart M in the OSHA construction regulations for fall protection (it’s section 1926.500, titled “Scope, application, and definitions applicable to this subpart”), you will see paragraph (a)(2), which states:

“Section 1926.501 sets forth those workplaces, conditions, operations, and circumstances for which fall protection shall be provided except as follows:”

The operative term here is “except”. Paragraph (a)(2) goes on to list several types of equipment and work activities that are NOT covered by the requirements of Subpart M, including but not limited to use of scaffolding (that section’s fall protection requirements are covered in Subpart L), stairways and ladders (that section’s fall protection requirements are covered in Subpart X), and steel erection (that section’s fall protection requirements are covered in Subpart R). And when you refer to Subpart R, section 1926.751, you will see that spreading metal deck on a structural steel building is defined as steel erection work; and the fall protection requirements for steel erectors are set forth in 1926.760.

Now what is the problem with citing the wrong OSHA standard here? First of all, the person who asked the question is now armed with the wrong information, so when she writes her report or goes to confront the sub-contractor and cites the wrong standard, she may get this thrown back in her face, causing her to lose some credibility. Secondly, had she told the sub-contractor that they were required by OSHA to follow Subpart M requirements and they agreed to do so, they would be working in violation of the much more detailed requirements for employee training and fall protection provisions contained in Subpart R, and that would not make the OSHA compliance inspector very happy if one came by to inspect the job. And third, if she chooses to go above and beyond OSHA requirements and re-write contract specifications for future jobs to require all sub-contractors to utilize only personal fall arrest systems in all situations when workers are exposed to the falls hazards addressed in Subpart M (therefore disallowing controlled access zones and other allowances made by OSHA), she can also incorporate references to Subpart R (and L and X and all the others) as well, so additional misunderstandings can be avoided.

So the next time you start to reference or implement an OSHA standard, take the time to back up and read the scope and application section of the OSHA standard (not every OSHA standard has one), and make certain that you are actually in the right Subpart. Because if you want to advise someone of OSHA requirements, or even if you choose to go above and beyond the minimum requirements of an OSHA standard, it would be wise to understand exactly where that standard actually does (or does not) apply before you get started.

If you would like to make a comment about this blog post, please do so in the “comments” section provided below. And please, pass a link to this blog post along to others in your network who you think may benefit from this information.