A $299 million FY97 budget appropriation for OSHA was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in September. The amount is a 2 percent cut from the 1996 OSHA budget, but allots the agency $1.5 million more than the House version. Sources expect that when the bill reaches the Senate floor -pending at press time- Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) will try to attach a rider prohibiting OSHA from issuing an ergonomic rule during the year.

Three labor unions, the Exide Corporation, and OSHA signed an agreement last month aimed at protecting 3,000 battery workers from overexposure to airborne lead, arsenic and cadmium. According to the agreement, Exide Corp. will hire, with OSHA and union approval, a consultant to evaluate conditions in its battery operations and recommend engineering and work practice controls to bring airborne lead, arsenic and cadmium exposures down to the "lowest feasible limit." The LFL may exceed OSHA permissible exposure limits, although under those conditions Exide will be required to maintain extra protective measures, such as providing respirators. The agreement allows the consultant up to 18 months to develop recommendations for submittal to Exide, OSHA and the unions. Following approval, Exide will have 18 more months to implement the recommendation at all facilities in states with federal OSHA enforcement.

There is no need for an international standard for occupational safety and health management systems. That was the consensus at a meeting of nearly 400 officials from 45 countries sponsored by the International Organization for Standardization in Geneva, Switzerland, last month. Overwhelmingly, other countries agreed with the U.S. delegation that developing an ISO health and safety standard now would not be prudent. Reasons for opposing an ISO health and safety standard include: a standard should be developed first at the national or regional level due to socio-economic and cultural differences; such a standard would not facilitate international trade; businesses have had insufficient experience with ISO 9000 and ISO 14000; costs and benefits are as yet unclear; and, such a standard might conflict with national laws.

A minority of nations, including, according to sources, Australia and Norway, favor a standard. There was a consensus if such a standard is developed it should be used for guidance, not certification. The ISO Technical Management Board will consider the report in January 1997.

New changes to OSHA’s asbestos standard, first issued two years ago and amended last year, was promulgated without a public comment period Sept. 23, 1996. According to the agency, the corrections are not intended to affect worker protection in a significant way. New provisions include: ·

  • a requirement that employers inform employees of their right to demand that the employer provide a powered air-purifying respirator instead of a negative pressure respirator. ·
  • a mandate that employers assure employees comprehend warning signs and labels required by the standard (although employers are not required to provide signage in languages other than English). ·
  • restoration and clarification of a requirement for a 32-hour worker training course that was inadvertently deleted from the standard during an earlier correction. ·
  • a requirement that a "knowledgeable" person, or person "competent" for the type of asbestos work addressed in training, be available to answer questions during training. ·
  • clarification for medical surveillance provisions.

Notice of the changes was published in the Federal Register Aug. 23, 1996.

OSHA revised a rule regulating scaffolding work in the construction industry nearly ten years after issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking on the subject. The final rule, effective Nov. 29, 1996, strengthens rules addressing worker training requirements, allows employers greater flexibility in the use of fall protection systems, and extends fall protection to workers erecting and dismantling scaffolds as well as those working on scaffolds. The scaffolding standard was initially adopted in 1971. The standard is published in the Federal Register, Aug. 30, 1996.

In a step toward simplifying regulatory language, OSHA is soliciting comments on its rewrite of workplace emergency route standards. OSHA is proposing to shorten and reorganize text in the standard and make the rule more performance-oriented. Plain-language wording will, for example, change expressions like "means of egress" to "exit route." The proposal, with an alternative question-answer formatted version of the rule is published in the Federal Register, Sept. 10. Employers’ obligations, however, remain the same.