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Online Exclusive: 5 Issues OSHA Will Target over the Remainder of 2013

Oct. 4, 2013
A Washington, D.C.-based attorney who represents clients in inspections, investigations and enforcement actions involving OSHA, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board and EPA reveals where he thinks OSHA will target its inspection efforts.

An industry contact recently asked me what five issues I expected OSHA would be focusing its general industry enforcement efforts on for the balance of this year.  Here was my response:

1. Emergency Exits & Exit Routes – A couple of months ago, OSHA issued an enforcement memorandum directing inspectors to scrutinize whether employers were providing and maintaining adequate means of emergency exit; i.e., unlocked, unobstructed, and clearly marked exit doors and exit routes in compliance with 29 C.F.R. 1910.36.  We just wrote a blog post about this Exit initiative on the OSHA Law Update blog.

The directive applies to all industries and all workplaces, so I expect that will be one item OSHA looks at carefully in all inspections for at least the rest of the calendar year.

2. Hazard Communication – Employers will be hearing a lot about OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard over the next few months.  OSHA revised its Hazard Communication Standard to align with the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), and published the new final rule last year. Two significant changes contained in the revised standard require chemical manufacturers and users to implement new labeling elements and create and maintain safety data sheets (SDS) that follow a new standardized format.

A portion of the new requirements kicks in this winter. Specifically, by Dec. 1, employers must have completed training on the new label elements and the new SDS format. Accordingly, I expect OSHA to spend some time addressing these issues in enforcement inspections to help spread the word that the new requirements have arrived. 

3. Lockout/Tagout and Machine Guarding – Just like with fall hazards, OSHA’s regulations addressing amputation hazards – i.e., lockout/tagout and machine guarding –both rank high on the list of most-frequently cited standards every year. Also, like fall hazards, OSHA currently has a special emphasis program focused on these hazards. Specifically, OSHA is in the midst of an Amputations National Emphasis Program, which targets compliance with the lockout/tagout and machine guarding standards. That NEP has led to some significant enforcement actions, and I anticipate seeing OSHA continue to look out for those types of issues during inspections the balance of the year.

4. Fall Protection – Fall hazards continue to rank among the leading causes of serious injuries and fatalities in both general industry and construction, and OSHA’s fall protection standards continue to rank among the most-frequently cited standards year after year. Accordingly, OSHA almost always maintains special emphasis programs targeting fall hazards. Nine of OSHA’s 10 regions have active local or regional emphasis programs focusing inspection resources on fall hazards in either or both general industry and construction.

5. Compliance with the Grain Standard – For the past few years, OSHA has been actively inspecting grain handling facilities in all major U.S. grain states under local emphasis programs.  While the LEPs continue to set a pretty high target for the number of grain elevator inspections annually, many regions have held back on inspections during the spring and summer, and plan to catch up on the annual target during the fall and winter (i.e., harvest season).  The reason is that there generally is not much activity at most grain elevators during the spring and summer months. 

Since employees are more often engaged in those work activities covered by the Grain LEPs during harvest season, such as entering bins, performing preventive maintenance, loading railcars, etc., the frequency of inspections at grain handling facilities will be particularly high for the rest of this year.

About the author: Eric J. Conn is head of the OSHA Practice Group at Epstein Becker Green in the Labor and Employment practice based out of the firm's Washington, DC, office. Conn leads the firm's efforts to provide occupational safety and health law services to its clients. He focuses his practice on all aspects of occupational safety and health law.

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