Rules To Protect Workers From Chemicals, Falls Top OSHA’s Agenda

OSHA is planning to advance several dozen rules and proposed rules in the coming year, ranging from measures to protect workers from slips, trips and falls, industrial facility accidents and exposure to numerous toxic chemicals, according to a federal rulemaking docket.

In the Spring 2016 update to the Unified Agenda (UA), OSHA says it plans to complete in August its decades-long effort to issue a final rule preventing slips, trips and falls, a leading cause of worker injuries and deaths.

The agency says that new technologies and procedures are available to reduce workers’ risk of falls since the agency first proposed an update to its current rules in April 1990.

But the agency has struggled to complete the rulemaking. The final rule is based on a May 2010 revision to the original 1990 proposal.

But it is unclear how the agency will be able to meet its deadline given that it has not yet submitted a draft version of the final rule to the White House Office of Management & Budget (OMB) for review.

The agency had submitted a draft final rule to OMB for review last July but the review was extended in October, and the rule was later withdrawn from review, after White House officials limited the total number of rules it would review before the administration left office.

The two rules that OSHA was recently able to get through OMB review — the silica standard and the reporting and recordkeeping rule — cleared OMB review in the past few months. Homebuilders and labor unions have already filed competing legal challenges on OSHA’s final rule, issued in March, strengthening protections for workers in construction and other industries from exposure to silica.

But a top OSHA official has said the lawsuits pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit are unlikely to delay implementation.

The recordkeeping rule, which requires certain employers to electronically submit workplace injury and illness data to the agency, is expected to draw lawsuits in the coming weeks from industry groups who contend that publicizing injury data will deter reporting.

OSHA is also planning to continue its effort to overhaul its industrial facility accident prevention rule under a 2013 executive order (EO).

Chemical Safety

In the coming year, OSHA plans to advance numerous rules aimed at better protecting workers from chemical hazards, including a plan to update many of its Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs), as well as a potentially wide-reaching overhaul of its Process Safety Management (PSM) industrial facility accident prevention program.

The agency is specifically targeting one industrial chemical in the near term. By June, OSHA plans to analyze public comments on its August proposed rule seeking to limit worker exposures to beryllium. The effort started after United Steelworkers petitioned OSHA in 1999 and 2001 seeking an emergency temporary standard for the substance.

OSHA denied the petitions, but began researching occupational exposures to beryllium, issuing a request for information (RFI) and conducting a small business advocacy review (SBAR) in support of the August proposed rule.

OSHA and others, including EPA, have long argued that many OSHA PELs issued in 1971 are outdated and fail to account for recent toxicology or exposure data. To address the issue, OSHA is planning a pair of rules, one seeking to update certain PELs and another to revoke PELs the agency has determined outdated.

For decades, OSHA has struggled to strengthen its PELs. The agency in 1989 issued a final rule updating more than 200 chemical PELs and issuing 164 new ones. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit vacated that rule, citing deficiencies in OSHA’s analysis.

Then in October 2014, OSHA issued an RFI in support of a future rule strengthening its PELs, and the agency says it plans to analyze those comments by September, the UA says.

The second rule OSHA is pursuing on PELs would revoke a small number of the limits for reasons, including that they may be substantially lower than other exposure limits for the same substance and so provide workers with a false sense of security. OSHA says the rule is consistent with EO 13563 on streamlining or eliminating outdated or overly burdensome rules.

The agency is also planning to issue RFIs to support future rules on two industrial chemicals that the National Toxicology Program, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has deemed as reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens.

On 1-bromopropane, a solvent used in adhesives and metal surface cleaning operations, and by dry cleaners, OSHA plans to issue an RFI in August to support a PEL or other rule to limit worker exposures. And in October, OSHA says it will issue an RFI supporting its effort to strengthen its PEL for styrene, which is used in the manufacture of plastic, rubber and other products.

Accident Prevention

OSHA also hopes to complete this summer a small business advocacy review of a pending update to its PSM rule, part of a broad federal effort to implement President Obama’s EO 13650 on strengthening the safety and security of the nation’s industrial plants.

Obama issued the Aug. 1, 2013 order in response to the fertilizer facility explosion in West, TX, that killed 15 people, including first responders. The order calls for strengthening facility safety and security by improving communication, emergency response, and modernizing policies, rules and standards.

In May, OSHA issued documents supporting the SBAR and plans to complete the review in June, according to the UA.

OSHA is also seeking to strengthen emergency response and preparedness through a second rulemaking under the 2013 facility safety EO. While OSHA currently regulates aspects of emergency response, the agency says its rules are decades old and fail to address a full range of hazards facing emergency responders.

“Current OSHA standards also do not reflect all the major developments in safety and health practices that have already been accepted by the emergency response community and incorporated into industry consensus standards,” OSHA says.

So the agency is holding information gathering meetings to support possible updates to its emergency response standards, and has scheduled the topic for an October meeting of its National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety & Health.

OSHA is also pursuing a variety of other possible rules, including plans to reduce workers’ blood lead levels, prevent the spread of infectious diseases to health care workers, and prevent falls in specific industries, such as in shipyards and from communications towers.

In March 2017, the agency plans to propose a rule to reduce the spread of infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, chicken pox, or severe acute respiratory syndrome to healthcare workers. And, OSHA plans to issue findings in October from its review of whether its blood-borne pathogens standard remains necessary.

Before the end of the year, OSHA plans to issue an advanced notice of a proposed rule revising its lead standards to improve protection of workers in industries and occupations where preventable exposure to lead still occurs.

Also in 2016, OSHA plans to propose a rule adding new methodologies for complying with the agency’s fit-testing requirements for respirators used in a variety of industries. — Dave Reynolds (dreynolds@iwpnews.com)