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May 14, 2019
OSHA finalizes phase 4 SIP; leaves lockout/tagout unchanged

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a final rule in the latest phase of its Standards Improvement Project (SIP). The final rule makes changes to many of its construction, general industry, and shipyard safety and health standards, removing or revising duplicative, inconsistent, outdated, or unnecessary regulatory requirements.

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However, OSHA decided not to proceed with some of the changes it originally proposed.

The agency chose not to remove the word “unexpected” from the lockout/tagout standard. The control of hazardous energy standard will continue to cover the “unexpected energization or start up of the machines or equipment.”

OSHA also decided against including three other proposed revisions in the final SIP rule:

  • Requiring that personal protective equipment (PPE) used in construction fit each affected worker,
  • Removing the phrase “that could pose a hazard” from requirements to protect construction workers from excavated loose rock and soil; and
  • Replacing the decompression table in an appendix to an underground construction standard.

OSHA decided these changes would not meet the purposes of the Standards Improvement Project and said it may pursue separate rulemakings.

Lockout/tagout action delayed

OSHA had proposed removing the word “unexpected” from the lockout/tagout standard, believing the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission and federal courts misunderstand the regulation’s purpose.

However, the agency received 155 comments about the proposed lockout/tagout change and all but seven opposed the change.

Some employers felt that removing “unexpected” from the standard broadened its scope. Others commented that the standard should be overhauled because it fails to consider technological advances such as computer-based controls that can protect workers from harm.

OSHA still feels the courts have misconstrued the standard’s meaning but acknowledged the opposition to removing a single word. The agency said it would “further consider this issue in light of the overall standard.”

Regulatory housecleaning

The final rule clears out confusing, ineffective, or outdated regulations.

  • Changes put in place by the final rule include:
  • Correcting references to canceled or older versions of third-party standards;
  • No longer classifying feral cats in shipyards as vermin recognizing the benefits of humane trap-neuter-return programs and the fact that feral cats reduce the presence of vermin;
  • Recognizing both the developments in and limits of mobile phone technology for requesting emergency services;
  • Referring physicians and health professionals diagnosing occupational hearing loss to the standard for determining work-relatedness;
  • Removing requirements for chest x-rays that fail to either detect lung cancer or extend workers’ lives;
  • Removing requirements to collect workers’ Social Security numbers for exposure monitoring, medical surveillance, and other records; and
  • Updating the medical surveillance requirements of its cotton dust standard to reflect advancements in lung-function testing and studies of the general population.

Diagnosing occupational hearing loss

OSHA is revising its criteria for recording occupational hearing loss cases to include a cross-reference to the standard for determining whether injuries are work-related.

The agency said the revision is being made to address concerns that occupational hearing loss is underreported. Employers expressed concerns that the revision changes the criteria for diagnosing occupational hearing loss.

The revision only refers physicians and health-care professionals to the standard for determining work-relatedness. Other than adding the cross-reference, the language of the rule for recording cases is unchanged. OSHA argued there still must be a documented event or noise exposure on the job to conclude that hearing loss is work-related.

Periodic chest X-rays

OSHA is removing requirements from the acrylonitrile, coke oven emissions, and inorganic arsenic standards to provide periodic chest X-rays to screen for lung cancer. Requirements for baseline X-rays remain. OSHA acknowledged studies have shown periodic chest X-rays do not reduce either the incidence of cancer or worker deaths.

OSHA also is allowing the use of digital radiography (“digital X-rays) and reasonably-sized, standard X-ray films, such as the 16-inch by 17-inch size in addition to the 14-inch by 17-inch film specified in the standards.

The agency decided not to add requirements for low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) because the technology produces too many false positives, leading to misdiagnosis of lung cancer and risky or unnecessary treatment.

Identity theft concerns

Concerned about the potential for identity theft, OSHA is removing requirements in its standards to use workers’ Social Security numbers in exposure monitoring, medical surveillance, and other safety and health records. The revisions do not affect existing records and employers still may use Social Security numbers to identify workers in their records. The agency is not requiring use of any particular identification system.

Major changes to construction standards

OSHA is removing the construction industry standard for coke oven emissions. The agency long ago decided the standard did not fit construction work. OSHA issued a standard interpretation letter in 1999 stating it considered the construction standard “invalid.” Twenty years later, it’s been removed.

The agency also is removing the construction industry standard for process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals and replacing it with a cross-reference to the general industry standard. OSHA said construction activities are covered under the Contractors’ provisions of the general industry standard.

Other construction industry changes include:

  • Revising the minimum breaking-strength of lanyard, lifelines, and safety belts from 5,400 pounds to 5,000 pounds, consistent with guidelines in industry consensus standards;
  • Changing references for road construction barricade, signals, and signs from the 1998 and “Millennium” editions of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices to the 2009 edition; and
  • Dropping references to American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists’ “threshold limit values” in the gases, vapors, fumes, dusts, and mists standard to clarify that the listed limits are enforceable OSHA permissible exposure limits.

Telecom advances, limitations

Since 1979, OSHA’s medical services and first aid standard has required construction employers to post a list of telephone numbers for ambulances, hospitals, and physicians. 911 service was new and not widely available when the agency first issued the standard.

Enhanced 911 service on land lines is now available in most locations. Even some mobile carriers can provide emergency operators with callers’ location data. However, not all mobile carriers provide location data in all areas. The agency decided to leave in place the requirement for posting ambulances, hospitals, and physicians phone numbers at worksites where 911 service is not available.

In remote areas where automatic location capability is not available, employers now must post the worksite’s latitude and longitude to provide location information during emergency calls.

Load posting, ROPS, underground equipment

OSHA also has made changes to standards for construction materials stored at residential construction site, rollover protection structures, and mobile diesel-powered equipment used in underground construction.

The standard for handling, storage, use, and disposal of materials has required employers to post load limits for the storage of building materials in buildings under construction. The load limits remain and must be posted at commercial construction sites, but OSHA has removed the posting requirement at single-family home and townhouse construction sites.

OSHA’s original standard for rollover protection structures incorporated elements of consensus standards developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Those standard have been canceled and replaced with standards from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

The agency is removing the test procedures and performance requirements based on the old SAE standards but “grandfathered” in any equipment still in use that was built to conform to the SAE standards.

The ROPS requirements now incorporate the ISO standards by reference.

The standard for mobile diesel-powered equipment used in underground construction now references the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) requirements for equipment used in metal and nonmetal mines. OSHA said equipment compliant with the MSHA standards meets the requirements of Environmental Protection Agency emissions standards.

Overall effects, path forward

The changes in the latest SIP rulemaking will ease employers’ regulatory burden while maintaining or enhancing worker protections, according to OSHA. It should result in result in employers’ saving approximately $6.1 million a year, the agency said.

The agency may proceed with separate rulemakings to change the standards for decompression in underground construction, excavation, fit requirements for PPE used in construction, and lockout/tagout. The last one could benefit employers if the agency decides to consider alternatives to lockout/tagout that effectively protect workers from hazardous energy and have been adopted in other countries.
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