In the realm of occupational safety and health – OSHA’s agenda – these are the initiatives most relevant to construction:

  • Backing in work zones: About 25 construction workers die each year after being backed over in work zones by construction equipment with huge blind spots. States like Washington and Virginia have up-to-date standards to promote the use of new technology like back-up cameras and radar. OSHA is expected to issue a “request for information” in August to begin the process of revising their standards to prevent these fatalities and injuries. Information on this hazard is available at the National Work Zone Safety Clearinghouse and at NIOSH.
  • Confined spaces in construction: OSHA has had a rule for safety in confined space work in general industry for many years but not for similar work in construction. A new standard was proposed in 2007 and discussed at public hearings in 2008 (see LIFELINES ONLINE: LIUNA Supports Confined Space Standard in Construction). The final rule is expected to be published in November 2011.
  • Silica: OSHA first suggested a new standard to protect workers from silica in 1974. In 1998, it began the formal process of rulemaking. The data on the hazards of silica was reviewed by a panel of scientists in 2009-2010, and a proposed rule has been at OMB for review since February 2011 (see LIFELINES ONLINE: Silica: Clearing the Air). The proposal is expected to be published this summer with hearings on the proposal in October.
  • Post-tensioned concrete: OSHA is concerned about the dangers of reinforced concrete work, particular post-tensioned concrete. It is planning on issuing an “Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” (ANPR) this summer to ask for information from the public about how to best protect against these hazards.

Other proposals related to construction include:

  • I2P2: OSHA has drafted a proposed rule to require every business to develop an “Injury and Illness Prevention Plan” (I2P2) to identify hazards in its workplace and means to prevent injuries and illnesses (see LIFELINES ONLINE: OSHA Advances New I2P2 Standard). Such rules already exist in many states. This summer, OSHA is expected to send a draft of the regulation to the Small Business Administration (SBA) for review by a panel of small businesses. That normally takes three to four months. OSHA must respond to the panel’s input before a final rule is drafted and sent to OMB for review.
  • Hazard Communication: It has been almost 30 years since OSHA adopted rules for Hazard Communication which require employers to keep Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) on chemicals they use and make sure workers are trained on the potential hazards and safe handling. Studies show that MSDSs are often incomprehensible to workers and hazards are not clearly conveyed. MSDS and chemical labels are not uniform. In 2003, the UN adopted the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for labeling and identifying hazardous chemicals, and many countries have adopted this new system. In 2009, OSHA proposed adopting the GHS system and expects to finalize the new system this fall (see LIFELINES ONLINE: HazCom Standard Aims for 21st Century Protection).
  • Recordkeeping: Although OSHA requires most employers to keep a log (the Log 300) of all injuries and illnesses at their workplaces, it is widely acknowledged that these logs are inaccurate. Having accurate records helps employers get a better idea of where they need improvement and gives OSHA a better idea of where to focus its limited resources. OSHA is proposing to change the recordkeeping rules in several ways:
    • Adding a column to the log for employers to record injuries that are “musculoskeletal disorders.” These are the most common and most expensive injuries in construction. This revision has been stalled because of industry opposition;
    • Updating NAICS. Fourteen years ago the government updated its system for industry classification from the SIC (Standard Industrial Classification) to the NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) which included newer industries. Employers in some safer industries are now required to keep OSHA Logs. A proposed rule would align OSHA requirements with the NAICS system. As a result, some of the newer industries would be required to report and others would not. OSHA currently requires employers to report to OSHA any death or the in-patient hospitalization of three or more employees within eight hours. Under the proposal, any in-patient hospitalization would have to be reported within eight hours and any amputation within 24 hours. This proposal was published in June 2011; and
    • Modernizing. While many employers still keep paper records of injuries and illnesses, most now use some form of electronic recordkeeping. OSHA expects to publish a proposal this fall to modernize the recordkeeping requirements. This should help employers keep better records and help OSHA get a more accurate picture of work-related injuries and illnesses in the US.

For more information about the regulatory agenda, contact the LHSFNA’s OSH Division at 202-628-5465.