Safety First

Safety First: OSHA, OSHA, OSHA!

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The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been very busy during the first few months of 2012, and this regulatory and enforcement activity is impacting solid waste employers. Smart solid waste employers should be busy as well, protecting their employees from harm and staying current on regulatory and enforcement developments to avoid costly compliance issues.

On the regulatory front, OSHA recently issued revised Hazard Communication regulations (Haz Comm). The new rules, which were published in the Federal Register in late March, harmonize the United States’ workplace hazardous communications rules with a United Nations protocol known as the Global Harmonization Standard (GHS). The GHS is a framework from which regulators select certain elements for classifying chemicals and other substances, and hazard communication elements.

The good news is that OSHA recognizes that transitioning American employers and employees away from the 29-year-old system will take some time. Employers have until December 2013 to provide training on new labeling requirements and the safety data sheet (SDS) format. Manufacturers and distributors of chemicals or other substances subject to Haz Comm have until 2015 to modify their labels and SDS’s. OSHA does not plan on starting enforcement against employers until June 2016, and during the four-year transition period, employers can comply with either the old or revised label and SDS requirements.

OSHA also is preparing a new regulation that could affect virtually every private sector solid waste company in the country. OSHA’s top regulatory priority is the Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2). I2P2 is an idea that has been around for decades, and according to a white paper on OSHA’s website, “is a proactive process to help employers find and fix workplace hazards before workers are hurt. ” The key elements common to I2P2 programs are management leadership, worker participation, hazard identification and assessment, hazard prevention and control, education and training, and program evaluation. If that sounds familiar, it may be because these core elements were part of OSHA’s ergonomics standard finalized in 2000 and overturned by Congress in early 2001.

OSHA currently is reaching out to small businesses to get their input on a possible I2P2 requirement. After that process is completed, OSHA hopes to issue a proposed rule by the end of 2012. It will be interesting to see whether OSHA proposes the rule before or after Election Day; while an earlier proposal might “fire up the base, ” it could create problems for Democrats among independents and small business owners in swing states.

On the enforcement side, OSHA continues to issue citations and levy large financial penalties with regularity. During the first quarter of 2012, OSHA issued at least 23 fines in excess of $100,000. State safety agencies also have not shied away from issuing large fines. In March, California OSHA issued sixteen citations and assessed nearly $170,000 in fines against a composting company in response to a tragic accident in which two brothers died while cleaning a stormwater drain.

Finally, OSHA recently issued a memo advising that certain employer practices may discourage employees from reporting injuries and violate federal whistleblower rules. OSHA and its supporters in labor unions wonder whether the decline in injury rates is attributable, in part, to safety incentive programs that discourage reporting of injuries. OSHA currently has a National Emphasis Program on recordkeeping, and the memo provides guidance to OSHA inspectors that is likely to be applied in future inspections.

NSWMA and WASTEC keep their members informed about OSHA issues. If you are not aware of these recent developments, this is another excellent reason to join our associations.

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What's Safety First?

Phil Hagan, director of safety for the National Waste & Recycling Associa, keeps an eye on safety issues affecting the waste and recycling industries.

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Phil Hagan

Phil Hagan is the Director of Safety for the National Waste & Recycling Association, a practicing attorney and teaches at Georgetown University.
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