News roundup

May 24, 2000
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The latest continuing resolution signed by President Clinton Jan. 26, will keep OSHA running at least through March 15, but puts many employees at risk of furloughs and layoffs as the agency is forced to cut costs. The resolution leaves OSHA with funding that is a 15.5 percent reduction from FY95 levels. If Congress forces OSHA to operate for the remainder of the year with this cut ($264 million vs. $312 million in '95), the agency will have to "furlough all employees for approximately 35-40 days during the balance of FY96," according to the Labor Department.

Meanwhile, NIOSH has been awarded funding for the remainder of fy96 at a level $2 million above its 1995 budget. Despite a House-approved budget that slated NIOSH for a 25-percent budget cut, and proposed OSHA reform legislation that seeks to eliminate NIOSH, in early January the President signed appropriations of $134 million for the agency.

NIOSH spokeswoman Julie Tisdale attributes the turn of events to the extensive work NIOSH head Dr. Linda Rosenstock has done to show Congress that her agency's efforts do not duplicate OSHA's.

OSHA begins collecting data from 80,000 employers in high hazard industries via injury and illness report forms that individual workplaces will be asked to complete and return to the agency. The form asks employers to tell OSHA: the average number of employees who worked at their establishments in 1995; the number of hours employees worked in 1995; and details about injuries and illnesses last year. OSHA estimates it will take employers about 30 minutes to complete the form with the aid of payroll information and their 1995 OSHA 200 Logs. The data will be used to expand on OSHA's Maine 200 program. A varied list of industries targeted by the data initiative includes all manufacturers in SIC codes 20-39.

OSHA intends to reopen the record on 1,3-butadiene since industry and labor representatives recommended stricter exposure limits through a negotiated rulemaking process last month. Members of the Steelworkers and Chemical Workers unions and the International Institute of Synthetic Rubber Producers agreed to reduce the butadiene exposure limit from 1,000 parts per million to 1 ppm, and to require specific engineering controls at 0.5 ppm. In another recent negotiated rulemaking success, the Steel Erection Negotiated Rulemaking Advisory Committee released a draft proposal for a revised standard. The new standard would increase fall protection for steel erection workers, requiring safety gear for workers at heights of 15 feet, up from 25 to 30 feet.

OSHA issued a new tuberculosis compliance directive in february reflecting the latest CDC guidelines for preventing occupational TB exposure to workers in health care facilities, correctional institutions, long-term care facilities for the elderly, homeless shelters, and drug treatment centers. The directive gives inspection procedures and lists standards under which employers can be cited for failing to protect workers from TB exposure. Those standards are: the general duty clause; respiratory protection; accident prevention signs and tags; access to employee exposure and medical records; and recordkeeping and reporting occupational injures and illnesses.

OSHA proposed $277,200 in penalties against Montgomery, Ala., construction firm McInnis Corp. after investigation into an accident in which an employee fell from a bridge construction site and drowned. OSHA alleged that the firm failed to provide fall protection and other safety equipment such as life rings and a skiff for emergency rescue of employees working over water. OSHA also cited the company for alleged defective welding cables, and safety program and training deficiencies.

Panama City, Fla., pulp mill stone container corp., has agreed to pay OSHA $690,000 in penalties and to implement improvements at its facilities following a wood chip pulp digester explosion that killed three workers. In addition to the settlement amount (OSHA's initial penalty was $1 million), the mill will carry out new inspection, maintenance, repair and alteration practices and ensure that all work on pressure vessels is performed in accordance with the National Board Inspection Code.

With 110,000 pages of public testimony on record already, OSHA received thousands more on the last day for comments on its proposed indoor air quality rule. Tobacco company Philip Morris submitted nearly 5,000 pages of arguments, according to reports in the national press. The licensed beverage and restaurant industries also submitted their opposition as the final bell sounded last month.

The regulation, proposed two years ago, would restrict smoking in workplaces to separately ventilated smoking rooms to protect workers from hazards OSHA says are related to second-hand smoke exposure.

OSHA spokeswoman Cheryl Byrne says it's unlikely OSHA's budget will allow further work on the rule this year. Even while osha backs off work on an ergonomics standard to avoid attracting further congressional ire, outsiders remain embattled over the repetitive strain injury issue. In February, the National Coalition on Ergonomics, an industry group organized by the National Association of Manufacturers, released a report accusing OSHA of basing ergonomics standard plans on shoddy science.

The report, written by two medical doctors, asserts that OSHA, in order to justify an ergonomics standard, manipulated data that was circulated with the draft standard last March. Namely, the doctors say "OSHA emphasized...studies which reported an association between work and repetitive strain injuries and discounted studies that did not support their conclusion."

The following week, 51 doctors and health professionals under the auspices of the American Public Health Association retaliated by signing a letter that calls the coalition report "inappropriate" and urges Congress to remove a House budget appropriations rider that prohibits OSHA's work on an ergonomics standard.

With the approval of the advisory committee on construction safety and health, OSHA proposes that power industrial truck operator training requirements cover operators in construction as well as general and maritime industry operators. The proposed training improvements would require periodic re-evaluation of operators for safety and practical experience, and evaluation after an accident. OSHA seeks written comment from the construction, maritime and general industry postmarked by April 1, submitted in quadruplicate to the Docket Office, Docket No. S-008, Room N-2624, U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA, 200 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20210. The notice of the proposal to extend requirements to the construction industry appears in the Federal Register Jan. 30, 1996. Public hearings will be held April 30 and May 1.

Labor Secretary Reich will renew for two years a charter for a labor, industry and government panel that advises OSHA on maritime industry health and safety issues. The Marine Advisory Committee for Occupational Safety and Health addresses issues related to reducing injuries, expanding OSHA outreach and training, and standards development for the shipyard and marine cargo handling industries. The advisory body's charter was originally filed in February, 1995, to terminate prior to Dec. 31, 1995.

Written directions or videos may not be adequate instruction for workers who wear back supports, says mechanical engineer Tracy Marker, who studies back support placement as part of a master's degree program in biomechanical engineering at the University of Iowa. Training might require more human interaction, Marker says. As a guide, the top of the belt should be placed below the navel and worn low on the hips to support abdominal muscles and lower lumbar vertebrae to prevent or relieve low back pain, advises Chase Ergonomics customer service representative Cheryl Houser. more and more corporations are teaming up with non-profit environmental research and advocacy groups to exchange information and please their constituents, according to a report from the Conference Board. One reason for the development is that industry trade association programs like the Chemical Manufacturers Association's Responsible Care Principles encourage corporate/non-profit cooperation, the report says. The study also attributes the popularity of alliances to rising demands for environmental accountability. The report, based on a survey of 100 senior EHS executives and experts, also identifies three critical elements for building successful environmental alliances: focusing goals that result in win-win outcomes; building trust; and finding a strategic fit and establishing a framework for interaction with a partner. The report, "Environmental Alliances: Critical Factors for Success" is available from the Conference Board (212) 339-0433.

The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine's guidelines for managing potential occupational reproductive health hazards are published in the January, 1996, edition of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The article includes a sample reproductive health questionnaire, procedures for the assessment of reproductive and developmental health risks in the workplace, and a list of ACOEM recommended options for managing reproductive health hazards. Drafted by M. Joseph Fedoruk, MD, the guidelines were approved by the ACOEM board of directors in 1994.

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