OSHA Quick Takes – May 15, 2010

In This Issue

OSHA monitors worker safety and health along the Gulf Coast during oil spill cleanup

OSHA personnel are in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida working with the U.S. Coast Guard and other federal agencies to ensure that the safety and health of workers taking part in BP’s oil spill cleanup operations are being properly protected. OSHA continues to monitor the situation to ensure that BP is providing workers with necessary protection from hazards. OSHA is also ensuring that workers are being given safety training in languages they can understand. OSHA and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences have developed a safety and health guide–available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese–that is being distributed as an easy reference for cleanup workers. The guide explains the potential hazards involved in oil cleanup and the responsibilities of employers to provide workers with appropriate protection. For more information, visit OSHA’s oil spill cleanup response Web page.

Federal OSHA’s new Las Vegas office coordinates worker safety efforts with Nevada OSHA

Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels announced May 4 the opening of an OSHA office in Las Vegas. The announcement followed the release of an OSHA report last year that pointed out significant problems with Nevada’s OSHA program. According to Michaels, “The new office will provide a federal presence and oversight in Nevada to improve coordination and share resources, make direct oversight easier and more effective, and provide technical assistance to the state as needed to ultimately ensure workers are better protected.” There are 22 states and territories whose OSHA programs cover private sector and local government workers and five whose programs cover public workers only. A state’s occupational safety and health program must provide worker protections at least as effective as federal OSHA’s. See OSHA’s Web site for more information on State Plan States.

Mail processing plants fined nearly $1 million for electrical hazards

OSHA fined three U.S. Postal Service mail processing and distribution centers $985,000 for electrical hazards that could have seriously injured or killed workers. Inspectors found that employers at postal facilities in Providence, R.I., Denver, and Bedford Park, Ill., showed disregard for the safety and health of their workers by exposing them to potentially deadly hazards, including shocks, burns, and electrocution. Inspectors responding to worker complaints found numerous violations including failures to provide workers with required electrical safety training, maintain control of power to equipment during maintenance, and provide personal protective equipment. For more information, see the separate news releases on the citations for the Providence ($558,000), Denver ($217,000), and Bedford Park ($210,000) facilities. “These sizable fines reflect the severity and ongoing nature of these hazards,” said Assistant Secretary Michaels. “The Postal Service ignored long-established safety standards and knowingly put its workers in harm’s way.”

OSHA schedules stakeholder meetings on modernizing injury and illness recordkeeping

OSHA is holding two meetings to gather information from stakeholders that will help the agency modify its current injury and illness recordkeeping regulation and develop a modernized recordkeeping system that will help OSHA, employers, workers, and researchers improve occupational safety and health. Advancements in OSHA’s recordkeeping system will ensure the agency meets a priority of President Obama’s Open Government Initiative to make it easier for the public to find and use data generated by the federal government. The meetings will take place May 25 in Washington, D.C., and June 3 in Chicago. Those wishing to participate in the meetings can register online. For further information, including how to register by mail or fax, see the Federal Register notice.

OSHA requests information on infectious disease hazards in the workplace

In the last 10 years, the number of healthcare workers in the United States has increased from 8.4 million to approximately 11 million and healthcare is increasingly being provided in nonhospital settings such as nursing homes, surgical and outpatient centers, and emergency care clinics. To ensure that healthcare workers’ own health remains protected on the job, OSHA is seeking input from the public on how to prevent occupational exposure to infectious diseases in healthcare facilities including hospitals and clinics, and other workplaces such as biomedical laboratories, medical examiners’ offices, and mortuaries. OSHA would like to know what strategies these facilities are using to reduce the risk of workplace-acquired infectious diseases. OSHA will use responses to its request for information to determine what action, if any, the agency may take to further limit the spread of occupationally-acquired infectious diseases in these settings. See the notice in the Federal Register for more information, including how to submit comments by the Aug. 4 deadline.

Methylene chloride standard successful in saving workers’ lives

Methylene chloride is a volatile, cancer-causing liquid used in different industries including metal cleaning and degreasing and in the manufacture of products including pharmaceuticals and paint remover. OSHA recently reviewed its Methylene Chloride standard, as required within 10 years of enactment, to determine how well it was fulfilling its purpose of safeguarding the health of America’s workers. The review clearly showed that the standard has been effective in saving lives. The study estimates that each year the standard protects as many as 30,000 to 54,000 workers from damage to their respiratory and nervous systems and prevents approximately 34 deaths from cancer and other illnesses caused by methylene chloride exposure. This standard’s success reflects the overall importance of OSHA standards in protecting workers’ safety and health. See the Federal Register notice for more information on this review and OSHA’s Safety and Health Topics page on methylene chloride to learn more about reducing the risk of worker exposure to this hazardous chemical.

OSHA seeks information on effectiveness of Bloodborne Pathogens standard in protecting workers

OSHA is also requesting public comments during a review of its Bloodborne Pathogens standard intended to protect workers such as healthcare and emergency personnel who are regularly at risk of contracting diseases from exposures to bloodborne pathogens including hepatitis B and C and human immunodeficiency viruses. The review will determine the standard’s effectiveness in minimizing or eliminating these workers’ exposure to bloodborne infections and diseases and whether advancements in technology or other factors have eliminated the need for continuing the rule. Comments may be submitted online. For further information, including how to submit comments by mail or fax by the Aug. 12 deadline, see the Federal Register notice.

Federal worker safety training event scheduled for June in Chicago

The OSHA Training Institute holds an annual series of courses for federal agency staff responsible for keeping federal workers safe and healthy on the job. This year, the half-day seminars to be held June 22-24 in Arlington Heights, Ill., will discuss safety and health issues including office ergonomics, pandemic influenza planning, indoor air quality and fire protection. Students can access registration forms, course descriptions and other details on the OSHA Web site’s Federal Agency Programs page. The seminars are free to government agency personnel but may also be attended by members of the general public for a tuition fee. OTI provides training and education in occupational safety and health for federal and state compliance officers, state consultants, other federal agency personnel, and the private sector.

Equipment approved by certified testing labs helps protect workers from injury, death

OSHA’s new Safety and Health Information Bulletin warns that workers may be exposed to serious hazards such as electrocution, burns, fires and explosions when using products that have not been tested or approved by an OSHA-certified testing laboratory. “Certification of Workplace Products by Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories” informs employers about the harm they can cause workers by having them use non-NRTL-tested products and employers’ obligation not to let that happen. OSHA established the NRTL Program in 1988 to oversee OSHA’s procedures for approving organizations as qualified testing laboratories. Examples of products certified by NRTLs include electrical equipment, automatic sprinkler systems, portable fire extinguishers and alarm systems. NRTLs authorize manufacturers to place registered certification marks on products after they have met OSHA’s safety standards. Visit OSHA’s Safety and Health Information Bulletins page for information on other safety and health topics.

Wisconsin seminar offers expert advice on fall protection in construction

OSHA and the Wisconsin Safety Council are presenting a breakfast seminar on protecting construction workers from one of the leading causes of on-the-job injuries and deaths. This session, taking place May 25 from 7:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. in Madison, Wis., will focus on the proper installation of perimeter guardrails and hole covers and the use of fall arrest equipment, as well as common mistakes made in the use of these fall protection measures. For more information and to download a registration form, visit the Wisconsin Safety Council Web site.

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