DOL’s Sweatt talks silica enforcement, trenching safety to ISEA
Loren Sweatt, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, spoke last week at the International Safety Equipment Association Annual Meeting in Alexandra, Virginia:
Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to your annual meeting. I am honored to have been asked to serve in this position at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It is a bit different from my previous job, in which I worked with many of you.
This group is unique because of what your members produce – the safety equipment that other employers use to keep their workers safe. In that way, you are very much a natural partner with OSHA in our mission to help employers best protect their workers. In June, we formalized that through an alliance focusing on information sharing and education.
Thank you for your strong support of OSHA's campaigns and initiatives. The support you show to the nation after hurricanes and natural disasters through the donation of personal protective equipment is invaluable. I want to particularly thank you for your efforts in helping to keep workers safe during emergency response activities. I know that over the past two years, ISEA members have donated a large amount of PPE for workers and volunteers performing hurricane clean-up activities.
For example, in response to hurricane Florence this year, one of your members – Motion Industries – donated more than 600-pounds of various types of PPE (e.g., gloves, hard hats, safety goggles) in the Carolinas.
I understand you are working now to get PPE donations to those recovering from Hurricane Michael in Georgia and Florida. It is imperative that response and recovery workers are kept safe and healthy, and your efforts make a real difference towards that goal.
As an active participant in OSHA's fall prevention and heat campaigns, you are amplifying the campaigns' safety messages with your membership about prevention strategies by posting information on your website, in member newsletters, and on social media. This helps the agency reach far more workers than we can on our own.
As active participants in the Alliance Construction Roundtable and Forum meetings, you have contributed to ensuring the meetings are productive and helpful for everyone.
ISEA also helped make Safe and Sound a great success. In particular, your help to create factsheets on using fall protection and respiratory protection are items we've been able to share with employers and workers across the country. It is estimated that more than 1.6 million workers were impacted by Safe and Sound in 2018.
Today, I would like to talk about how we can continue our work together to ensure that your workplaces are safe, and to help make other workplaces safe as well.
OSHA takes a balanced approach to address workplace safety and health. Enforcement and compliance assistance are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they are complimentary. The overriding principle is worker protection.
For employers like you, who understand their responsibilities and make every effort to comply with the law, OSHA is working to provide compliance assistance – to give you and your employees the knowledge and tools you need to comply with your obligations and keep workers safe.
Employers who do not comply with the law will continue to see full and fair enforcement. The expectation is for everyone in OSHA to carry out their duties professionally, respectfully, and by the book.
OSHA began enforcing the silica construction standard in September 2017 and the general industry and maritime standards this past June.
Fiscal year 2018 was the first year of inspections of the new standard for all industry sectors. During this time, the agency conducted more than 370 inspections addressing silica hazards; 60% of which were construction-related. Most of the violations related to exposure assessments, exposure controls (related to Table-1), lack of written exposure control plans, and failures in communication of hazards.
Since issuing the rule, OSHA has worked hard to develop and provide compliance assistance to help impacted employers comply. These efforts continue, even as enforcement has begun.
For example, there are frequently asked questions posted for the construction industry and you should expect a similar set for general industry and maritime in the coming months. Small Entity Guides for construction and general industry have been developed, training slides in PowerPoint format are available, and multiple safety videos describing silica hazards and suggested control methods are accessible.
OSHA has heard from many stakeholders who would like to see additional dust control options, or additional tasks, added to Table-1. As a result, the agency will publish a Request for Information (RFI) to solicit comments on possible Table 1 revisions. The regulatory agenda states the RFI is to be published in December 2018, and it will include questions on specific dust control methods and tasks.
OSHA will evaluate the information received in response to the request, and determine how to proceed.
I encourage ISEA to provide robust comments related to this RFI. Because of what you do, your input would be especially meaningful. I also welcome your ideas on how OSHA can assist employers with compliance of the silica rule.
As you know, the agency is focused on reducing the number of trenching-related injuries and fatalities. In fact, this a goal in the operating plan. As part of that goal, the agency counts how many hazards are identified and abated. If you have new and creative ways to improve trenching safety, the door is open.
Promoting general awareness about the seriousness of the hazards and the available means to address them is a start. OSHA has updated the trenching quick card, printed new trenching posters, and designed a hard hat sticker around our regulations: Slope it, Shore it, Shield it. Secretary Acosta recorded a public service announcement and there are trenching videos available for training and education purposes. I know you have been helping us share information and educational materials, and that you are working with the Association of Equipment Manufacturers for suggestions on what types of PPE are essential for safe trenching work.
I ask that you also spread the word that OSHA will be emphasizing trenching projects in its enforcement targeting, and encourage those who hire contractors and anyone who sees trenching hazards to report unsafe conditions to OSHA.
Another focus area is walking/working surfaces. OSHA can provide assistance to employers through interpretations, compliance assistance calls and written material, Alliance outreach, and publication of FAQs.
Additionally, the enforcement policy on inspecting rope descent anchorages remains in effect. This policy was issued last November for building owners who put forth good-faith efforts to comply with the testing and inspection requirements, but were unable to due to a shortage of qualified anchorage inspectors.
As I mentioned earlier, ISEA has been an active partner on improving safety and health. Everyone in this room, and every ISEA member understands their responsibility to protect workers, and their role in helping other employers protect their workers.
OSHA's Cooperative Programs are excellent ways for employers, employees, and associations to work with OSHA on meaningful safety and health initiatives.
In addition to Alliances, OSHA has many other compliance assistance resources available. Employers who want help to meet their obligations can take advantage of OSHA's no-cost and confidential Consultation Program. This is aimed at small employers who may not have the same resources as their larger counterparts. It is important to note this service has a firewall between the enforcement-side of the agency.
Through this program, OSHA works with the employer to find and fix hazards, achieve compliance, and improve safety and health programs.
The Voluntary Protection Program or VPP is another valuable asset for employers. VPP sites undergo intensive audits of the company's safety and health program. It is a collaboration between management, workers, and unions (where there is representation).
Companies participating in VPP have exceptional safety and health programs, and are exempt from programmed inspections. There are basic requirements for participation in VPP. One primary requirement is for all active sites to maintain injury and illness rates below the national industry average.
I encourage any of your members interested in VPP or On-site Consultations to reach out to us.
You may have some interest in a few recent or ongoing rulemakings, so allow me to provide some updates on those.
First, as you are probably aware, OSHA continues to update the beryllium rule by providing additional guidance materials, standard interpretations, and the opportunity to comment on regulatory text through notice and comment rulemaking.
The rulemaking will be completed in two parts. First, a Direct Final Rule (DFR), and then a planned Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).
The DFR was finalized in July 2018. The DFR revisions clarify that OSHA did not intend for requirements of the standard that primarily address dermal contact to apply in processes, operations, or areas involving only materials containing less than 0.1% beryllium by weight.
The revisions OSHA plans to propose in the NPRM are generally designed to clarify the standard or to simplify compliance. As OSHA works to complete the NPRM, we have delayed the compliance date for certain ancillary requirements of the general industry beryllium standard to December 12. The NPRM is currently under review at OMB.
Respirator Fit Testing
OSHA is also in the process of issuing a final rule regarding two additional quantitative fit testing (QNFT) protocols for inclusion in Appendix A of the Respiratory Protection Standard. These protocols will apply to employers in general industry, shipyard employment, and the construction industry. The protocols will serve as alternatives to the four existing protocols already listed in Appendix A.
Both fit testing protocols are abbreviated variations of an existing OSHA-approved protocol (often referred to as the PortaCount protocol), but differ from it by the exercise sets, exercise duration, and sampling sequence. The new protocols have reduced the total fit test duration from over 7 minutes to just 2 1/2 minutes.
These protocols would not impose any new requirements on employers and could allow for increased flexibility in choosing fit test methods for workers. Employers would not need to update or replace their current fit test method as a result of the rule, if the fit test method currently in use meets existing standards.
In addition, OSHA is also looking to amend Appendix A to reflect a recent technological development. There are now some PortaCount models equipped with new technology (i.e., N95-Companion Technology) that can fit test respirators equipped with less than 99% efficient filter media (e.g., N95 NIOSH filter designation).
The final rule is listed on the 2018 Fall Regulatory Agenda for publication by the end of this year.
OSHA is also working to help protect telecommunication tower workers.
The agency finalized a Small Business Advocacy Review Panel last month, and received valuable feedback and recommendations from the panel. OSHA is considering this feedback as it evaluates potential rulemaking options. In the meantime, there are things employers can do right now to help mitigate the hazards facing telecom tower workers. As you know, two of the key hazards include worker fatigue and falling objects.
Employers can ensure that workers are able to take adequate rest breaks, and have access to water, shade, and weather-appropriate clothing. Additionally, ensuring that there is enough time to safely complete a job when scheduling projects can help avoid scenarios where workers must climb towers immediately after traveling long distances.
From our previous discussions, I know falling tools is an issue you are addressing. Falling objects present a hazard for workers on the tower, as well as those at lower levels or on the ground. In addition to restricting access to the fall zone under the tower, tool lanyards can be used to prevent tools from falling to lower levels.
As we review rulemaking options, I encourage you to share these practical steps that employers can take to help keep these workers safe.
Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses
Another rule that I know interests you is the Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses rule.
Under the rule, establishments with 250 or more employees that are currently required to keep OSHA injury and illness records, are also required to electronically submit their Forms 300A, 300, and 301. Smaller establishments (with 20-249 employees) that are classified in certain industries with historically high injury and illness rates are also required to submit the 300A form.
The deadline for submitting 300A data to OSHA for Calendar Year 2017 was July 1, 2018. OSHA will continue to collect CY17 forms until December 31, but submissions received after July 1 will be flagged as “late.” OSHA will begin collection of CY18 Form 300A data on January 2, 2019. The deadline for submitting these data is March 2, 2019. Please note this is much earlier than the last two years.
In July, OSHA published a NPRM to amend the recordkeeping regulation to remove the requirements for submission of the Forms 300 and 301. That comment period closed on September 2018. The deadline for submitting these two forms for CY17 was July 1. OSHA will not enforce the deadline for these two forms, without further notice, while the rulemaking is underway.
OSHA recently published requests for nominations for several advisory committees, including our advisory committee on construction (ACCSH) and national advisory committee (NACOSH). The ACCSH nominations closed on Nov 16th and we are currently going through those to pull together a list of candidates and proceed with appointing members. NACOSH nominations are still open – those close on December 24, 2018. If you are interested or know someone who is, I encourage you to go to the Federal Register and submit a nomination.
Examining ways to improve the accessibility of information about available resources is a key project for OSHA. As new products are developed or updates of existing resources occurs, carefully considering the varied audiences, and how they can best access and use our materials, is a primary consideration.
This approach applies to all of the materials the agency is creating to include the web portal. Please let me know if there are materials you would like to see from us (or perhaps existing materials in different formats or languages). Your input is welcome and appreciated. After all, these resources are created for you and your workers.
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All our efforts – rulemaking, enforcement, compliance assistance, cooperative programs – are not an end unto themselves; they are tools to accomplish our mission, and our mission is worker safety and health.
That's a mission OSHA shares with ISEA and hopes to build on through our continued collaboration. Worker lives and livelihoods depend on our ability to jointly prevent injuries and illnesses. Again, I ask that you please let us know of anything we can do to assist you.
Thank you again for inviting me here today. I'll now open it up for any questions you may have.