A review of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration''s (OSHA) lockout/tagout standard, one of five standards most frequently violated in the workplace, indicates that the standard should be continued without change.
OSHA completed a lookback review of its lockout/tagout standard, 29 CFR 1910.147. The review reveals that:
- The standard protects 3.3 million workers at 1 million facilities;
- The standard has reduced fatalities from unexpected activation of machinery at facilities in the automobile and steel making industries by 20 percent to 55 percent in the years since promulgation;
- The standard does not impose a significant impact on small business;
- There is still a substantial amount of noncompliance; and
- Public commenters agree that the standard should remain in effect.
The most typical situation covered by the standard is to protect employees from death or injury when a machine is unexpectedly turned on by an operator while another employee is servicing or repairing the machine.
Three sources of data were submitted, OSHA reported, that demonstrate the rule''s effectiveness: the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW); the United Steelworkers of America (USWA); and a study of sawmill injuries in Maine.
The UAW database shows a significant decline in lockout-related fatalities. In the years between 1989 (when the final rule was published) and 1997, lockout-related fatalities declined by 20 percent per year. When the concomitant increase in the proportion of auto workers exposed to lockout hazards is taken into account, UAW believes that a 30 percent annual decline in the rate of these fatalities has occurred.
The USWA database tells a similar story. Over a seven year period (1990 to 1997), a 55 percent reduction in lockout/tagout-related fatalities occurred at the 10 basic steel-producing companies represented in the database.
The third study involved an epidemiological analysis of wood product industry workers in Maine showed that injured workers were three times less likely than uninjured workers to work in an establishment having a lockout/tagout program. Although data from this epidemiological study do not establish a direct link between injuries and the absence of lockout/tagout programs, they do suggest an association between these factors.
In addition, commenters (including companies like Bell Atlantic and Kodak), employer groups (such as Organization Resources Counselors) and professional societies (such as the American Society of Safety Engineers) agreed with unions that the standard had been effective in saving lives and preventing injuries.
Some participants suggested that OSHA revise certain provisions of the rule they felt were complex. However, most commenters urged OSHA to address these issues by providing compliance assistance materials rather than by reopening rulemaking. In response to these suggestions, OSHA decided to provide additional compliance assistance materials. Specifically, OSHA intends to:
- Review and update the lockout/tagout compliance directive, STD 1-7.3;
- Review existing interpretations relating to the standard and develop interpretations to address questions raised by review participants; and
- Develop, in conjunction with the National Automobile Dealers Association, compliance assistance materials for industries engaged in vehicle maintenance and repair.
Lookback reviews evaluate the effectiveness of a standard in achieving the statutory goals of the act under which it was promulgated and determines whether action is needed to revise or rescind the standard. They also evaluate whether changes need to be made to the standard to mitigate any impacts on a substantial number of small entities.
Copies of the report may be obtained from the OSHA Publication Office by writing to Room N2101, 200 Constitution Ave. NW., Washington, DC 20210, or by calling (202) 693-1888.
by Todd Nighswonger