OSHA Quick Takes – July 1, 2010

In This Issue

Update on OSHA’s activities in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

David Michaels, OSHA assistant secretary, testified before the House Committee on Education and Labor June 23 about OSHA’s commitment to protecting the safety and health of oil spill cleanup workers, who he described as “the front lines of the nation’s response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.”

Since the week of April 26, OSHA staff and senior leadership have been on the scene of cleanup operations along the Gulf Coast. As cleanup operations move into the disaster’s 11th week, OSHA has more than 146 professionals protecting workers throughout the Gulf region, more than 30 of whom are assigned solely to protecting oil response cleanup workers from health and safety hazards. In addition, OSHA has deployed a specialized Health Response Team to provide technical support for chemical exposure monitoring to OSHA response site personnel. OSHA staff have made more than 1,300 site visits, covering the vessels of opportunity, beach cleanup, staging areas, decontamination, distribution, and deployment sites. To date, OSHA has taken more than 500 air samples, none of which detected any hazardous chemical levels of concern.

OSHA is working with government agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to protect oil spill cleanup workers in the Gulf region. OSHA joined with NIOSH to issue Interim Guidance for Protecting Deepwater Horizon Response Workers and Volunteers that recommends measures that should be taken to protect workers from a variety of different health hazards that they face. The document addresses, among other concerns, the issue of respiratory protection. The document states that those working on vessels near the source, where oil is coming up from the well, have been equipped with respirators and trained in their use. The Interim Guidance also recommends that workers who are in close vicinity of crude oil burns or workers who are engaged in washing surfaces using high-pressure washers also be equipped with respirators and receive appropriate training and medical evaluation. Read the Interim Guidance for more information.

One of the most serious health hazards facing those involved in the Gulf oil spill response is heat stress. There have already been more than 100 incidents of illnesses from heat among workers involved in the cleanup, many very serious. From the outset, OSHA has insisted that BP implement a robust program to protect workers from heat stress and heat stroke, a potentially life-threatening hazard for people working in cleanup operations. Visit the OSHA Web site to read more about preventative measures to avoid illnesses from heat, including measures put in place by BP to protect cleanup workers in the Gulf.

OSHA also asked members at the June 8 meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health to offer their suggestions on how OSHA might better protect workers responding to this unprecedented industrial disaster. NACOSH suggested, among other things, that OSHA monitor the length of cleanup worker shifts. The committee’s full recommendations are available on OSHA’s NACOSH Web page. OSHA’s oil spill cleanup response Web page provides the latest information about the agency’s activities in the Gulf, chemical sampling data taken during site visits and worker safety guides and fact sheets in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

OSHA revises injury and illness prevention stakeholder meeting schedule, adds two events

OSHA will hold two additional stakeholder meetings to accommodate the number of people wanting to engage in the agency’s public discussions about developing its proposed rule on the Injury and Illness Prevention Program. The stakeholder meetings are informal discussions that provide OSHA with information to develop a rule that will help employers reduce workplace injuries and illnesses through a systematic process addressing workplace safety and health hazards. Three meetings were originally scheduled, the first two taking place in East Brunswick, N.J., and Dallas. The additional meetings were added after the June 29 meeting in Washington, D.C., reached full capacity. There will now be another meeting in Washington July 20, as well as one Aug. 3 in Sacramento, Calif. Anyone interested in participating in the newly added meetings should register online, by mail or by fax. Registration deadlines are July 6 for the Washington meeting and July 20 for the Sacramento meeting. See the news release for more information on how to take part in this rulemaking process.

OSHA announces Targeted Topic training grants–due Aug. 6

OSHA is soliciting applications for $2.75 million in Susan Harwood Training Grants to provide targeted training and education programs on safety and health topics for workers and their employers. For fiscal 2010, the program offers 28 targeted topic areas including crane safety, combustible dust, maritime, oil and gas, and eye safety. The Harwood Training Grant Program is part of OSHA’s ongoing goal of promoting the prevention of workplace injuries and fatalities through education. OSHA has been awarding training and education grants since 1978, and received a record 345 grant applications last year. Past training grant winners have taught workers about work zone safety, amputation hazards, ergonomics, fall protection, roofing hazards, and workplace violence prevention. Applicants must register online before beginning the application process, which must be completed by the Aug. 6 deadline. The news release containing further information about applying will be posted shortly on the OSHA Web site. See OSHA’s Susan Harwood Training Grants Web page to learn more about the program and download training material created by past recipients.

Enforcement program targeting employers who repeatedly endanger workers’ lives takes effect

OSHA’s new Severe Violator Enforcement Program directive went into effect June 18. The directive establishes procedures and enforcement actions for the severe violator program, including increased inspections, such as mandatory follow-up inspections and inspections of other worksites of the same company where similar hazards or deficiencies may be present.

The directive explains that the SVEP is intended to focus enforcement efforts on employers who have demonstrated recalcitrance or indifference to their OSH Act obligations by committing willful, repeated or failure-to-abate violations in one or more of the following circumstances: a fatality or catastrophe situation; in industry operations or processes that expose workers to severe occupational hazards; exposing workers to hazards related to the potential releases of highly hazardous chemicals; and all egregious enforcement actions. Visit the Severe Violator Enforcement Program directive for more details.

Hundreds participate in online combustible dust meeting–comments accepted through July 7

OSHA held its first virtual stakeholder meeting June 28 to seek input about combustible dust workplace hazards. More than 400 people participated in the live event and more than 100 others read the archived chat online since then. During the one hour event, OSHA published 160 comments to the chat window and provided 58 responses. Go to the Combustible Dust Web Chat page to read the comments and responses. Additional comments may be posted to the Web blog, which will remain active through July 7. OSHA will monitor the site, provide additional information and pose follow-up questions when appropriate.

Maritime committee addresses worker protections from burns, falls and other shipyard hazards

The Maritime Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health is meeting July 13-14 to discuss recent OSHA activities and their impact on maritime workers. The meeting in Long Beach, Calif., will also address scaffolding, fall and electrical hazards, repairing terminal equipment safely and providing workers with proper ventilation during welding operations. MACOSH was established in 1995 to advise the secretary of labor on various issues related to safe and healthful work conditions in maritime industries. MACOSH also provides a voice for stakeholders to express their concerns and suggestions for shipyard worker safety directly to OSHA’s leadership. See the news release for more information on this public meeting and how to submit comments by the July 13 deadline.

Michaels details OSHA’s worker protection policies at national safety conference

Assistant Secretary David Michaels told an audience at the annual conference of the American Society of Safety Engineers June 14 how OSHA is changing to better protect the safety and health of workers through improved standards, hiring more inspectors and developing new enforcement efforts such as the Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

Michaels said OSHA’s priorities include establishing an Injury and Illness Prevention Program rule and increasing both monetary and criminal penalties for employers who willfully endanger workers’ lives. Michaels also stressed the need to address systemic problems in specific industries, such as OSHA’s recently launched regional emphasis program on grain handling. He said OSHA fined two grain handling facilities in the last six months more than $3 million after separate incidents in which a 17-year-old who had just graduated high school and a 52-year-old husband and father were engulfed and suffocated in grain storage containers.

Michaels said, “Americans don’t want to wake up to any more trench cave-ins, scaffold collapses, amputations or electrocutions. We don’t need more refinery fires or mine explosions. We want a change in the health and safety culture of workplaces.” Visit the OSHA Web site for Michaels’ complete remarks.

Drug manufacturer fined more than $350,000 for exposing workers to toxic chemical

OSHA issued UCB Manufacturing Inc. $357,300 in fines for willfully violating the law by exposing workers to methylene chloride, a potentially cancer-causing chemical. OSHA inspectors found that employers failed to provide effective controls and safety practices to workers at the Rochester, N.Y., pharmaceutical plant who were exposed to excessive levels of methylene chloride. See the news release for more information.

Boat maintenance company fined more than $200,000 for risking divers’ lives

OSHA fined Scuba Clean Inc. in St. Petersburg, Fla., $200,900 for endangering the lives of divers who work for the company. Inspectors responding to a 2009 complaint found that employers at the boat maintenance facility willfully violated the law and exposed workers to drowning hazards by not providing divers with training, diving partners who kept them in constant sight, or suitable air hoses. See the news release for more information.

OSHA and international window cleaners association form alliance to prevent worker injuries and deaths

Assistant Secretary David Michaels signed an Alliance agreement June 10 between OSHA and the International Window Cleaning Association. Through the Alliance, OSHA and IWCA will provide window cleaning industry workers, including non-English, limited-English speaking and low-literacy workers with information, guidance and access to training resources to help prevent injuries and deaths from hazards including slips, trips and falls.

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Editor: Richard De Angelis, OSHA Office of Communications, 202-693-1999
For more information on occupational safety and health, visit OSHA’s Web site.

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