News roundup

May 24, 2000
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Rep. Cass Ballenger (R-NC) will not rest until he reforms OSHA. Last month, Ballenger officially put his OSHA reform legislation, HR 1834, on hold, saying the Clinton administration’s promise to veto his bill makes further work on it counterproductive.

But on April 15 he introduced his "Small Business OSHA Relief Act of 1996" to the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee. The bill was approved by a subcommittee in a 7-5 vote within two days, and at press time was awaiting a hearing by the full committee, "probably sometime in May," according to Ballenger’s spokesman Patrick Murphy. "Congressman Ballenger has said he feels if he doesn’t pass a bill he hasn’t accomplished anything," explains Murphy. Ballenger’s intent with HR 3234 is to put into law several individual reform initiatives that members of the administration have endorsed on record during the past two years.

The bill seeks to codify five initiatives that, according to Ballenger staff research, have been approved by one or more members of the Clinton administration. The initiatives would require OSHA to: ·

  • Conduct regulatory cost-benefit analysis for all new standards; ·
  • Waive penalties for employers of 250 or fewer workers when the employer corrects violations within a set time; or waive the portion of the penalty equivalent to the amount the employer spends to correct the violation; ·
  • Eliminate all citations for posting and injury and illness recordkeeping, except when violations are willful or repeat, or result in exposing a worker to a hazard; ·
  • Reimburse states 90 percent of their expenses for providing occupational health and safety consultation programs.

The bill would also prevent OSHA from using numbers of citations, penalties, or inspections conducted as a performance measure within the agency.

"We are taking the officials’ words and writing them into law. You’ll find few Democrats or Republicans who will oppose these changes," says Murphy.

President Clinton’s FY97 budget proposal includes $340 million for OSHA. The amount would be a $31-million increase over Clinton’s FY96 proposal, and a $76-million increase over OSHA’s current continuing resolution-funded operating level.

The budget proposal also gives the Environmental Protection Agency $7 billion, a 23-percent increase over the agency’s current funding under continuing resolution, and a six-percent increase over the EPA’s final 1995 funding level. An EPA operating budget of $3.4 billion, and $2.2 billion for clean water and drinking water programs, are included in the proposal.

Priorities under the FY97 budget, according to EPA administrator Carol Browner, would include targeting particulate pollution and ground-level ozone to control air pollution; revitalizing abandoned and contaminated urban land; Superfund program improvements; and protecting the public from drinking water threats.

Republicans on Capitol Hill say it is doubtful Congress will provide funding increases for any agencies in FY97.

NIOSH is circulating its draft criteria for a metalworking fluids standard for public review and comment. The "Criteria Document for a Recommended Standard" recommends ways that a standard could protect workers from exposures to cutting fluids, including an occupational health and safety program and an exposure limit of 0.5 mg/m3 for total particulates. NIOSH released a draft hazard review in 1994 based on information provided by metalworking fluid manufacturers, suppliers, end users and research scientists. The new document is available on the Internet at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/mwfcd.html.

OSHA will not issue citations to employers who fail to follow agency guidelines for preventing violence issued to protect healthcare and social service workers in March, OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Michael Connors told regional administrators in a recent memorandum. OSHA’s general duty clause will be used to address workplace violence cases.

With a revision of its guidelines for fatality investigations, osha instructs compliance officers to review fatal and catastrophic job accidents for possible criminal prosecution, and to contact victims’ families promptly to share findings, as part of an inspection guideline overhaul. Cases that demonstrate employer negligence will be referred to the Justice Department, OSHA says. The guidelines, "Fatality Inspection Procedures," are available on the Internet at http://www.osha.gov.

OSHA cuts nearly 275 pages from 3,000 pages of regulations with a final rule responding to Congressional pressures and the President’s promise to reduce regulatory paperwork. Among actions being taken to reduce paperwork: ·

  • Combining the health standards for 13 carcinogenic chemicals into a single section; ·
  • Eliminating more than 100 pages in the health standard for cadmium as it applies to agriculture; ·
  • Consolidating into a single section lists of addresses of national standards organizations from general industry standards; ·
  • Removing listings of national standards that were used for sources for OSHA standards; ·
  • Eliminating regulatory text detailing test procedures and performance specifications directed at equipment manufacturers; ·
  • Revoking obsolete or redundant paragraphs dealing with state programs.

The rule was published in the Federal Register March 7, 1996.

In its own regulatory relief effort, epa is considering amending Clean Air Act compliance requirements by allowing facilities pursuing major modifications to begin some pre-construction activities -like laying foundations- before obtaining the required permit for a new emissions source. The change would address complaints by industries in parts of the country where the construction season is limited so that some construction activities must be commenced before a new source review permit can be obtained.

OSHA proposes $1 million in penalties against AK Steel Corp., following the agency’s investigation of a flash fire that killed one worker and seriously burned two others last October. OSHA cited the Middletown, Ohio, firm for 14 alleged willful violations -at $70,000 each- and five alleged serious violations -$7,000 each- of the lockout/tagout standard. Eight workers have been killed at the plant since October, 1993, and 14 were injured in a December 5 explosion that is still under investigation.

OSHA’s Cincinnati office has set up an office at the mill to conduct ongoing investigations. And AK Steel recruited former OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Jim Stanley earlier this year to head its health and safety program.

Workers exposed to loud noise are more fatigued and irritable at the end of their shifts and have high levels of a stress-related hormone, according to an article published in the March issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Two Israeli researchers testing the net effect of ear protectors on workers in noisy work environments reduced levels of fatigue and irritability and normalized levels of cortisol -a steroid hormone that reflects the body’s response to stress- which was elevated in workers without hearing protectors.

While the obvious solution is to provide ear protectors to workers in loud environments, more than half the workers studied said their earmuff-style protectors were uncomfortable, according to the report.

In response to a joint labor-industry recommendation to improve 1,3-butadiene protections for workers in the synthetic rubber industry, OSHA is seeking comments on its final revised standard for the carcinogenic substance. A recommendation negotiated among the United Steelworkers, the United Rubberworkers, the International Chemical Workers, and the International Institute of Synthetic Rubber Producers would reduce the permissible exposure limit for 1,3-butadiene from 1,000 parts per million to 1 ppm.

Aside from input on the meaning and effectiveness of those provisions, the agency seeks comment on medical surveillance changes to the standard and on the appropriateness of removing butadiene-exposed workers from their jobs for medical reasons. The notice of the reopening of the record is in the March 8, 1996, Federal Register.

The American Society of Safety Engineers is looking into developing an accreditation system and standards for safety and health trainers. Safety and health educational providers responded favorably to an ASSE survey investigating the feasibility of such a program. ASSE held three focus groups in April to get health and safety trainers’ views on accrediting their programs for competence, quality, and effectiveness. Contact ASSE at (847) 699-2929 for more details.

Only 8 percent of small manufacturers will hire consultants to perform environmental assessments, according to a survey of 800 firms with an average of 60 employees conducted by Industry Innovations, Inc. Only about 4 percent of respondents plan to hire consultants to install or improve pollution control devices or to redesign products to reduce environmental impact. But that doesn’t mean consultants aren’t getting any work: of firms surveyed with less than 100 workers, 99 percent had hired a consultant at some time, and about 70 percent of firms with 100+ employees had.

New Publications: "Protect Yourself Against Tuberculosis -A Respiratory Protection Guide for Health Care Workers," is a quick reference guide in a question/ answer format answering frequently asked questions by workers who wear respirators. Available by calling 800-35-NIOSH.

The consulting firm that helped Exxon and Three Mile Island redesign their shift schedules and train employees to manage shift work lifestyles launched "ShiftWork Alert" last month. The monthly newsletter is aimed at safety and health managers in 24-hour operations. For information contact (800) 878-0078.

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