OSHA Surrenders on Seat Belts

OSHA Has recanted. OSHA’s current policy regarding seat belts will not be changed.

The letter from Richard E. Fairfax, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s director of the Directorate of Enforcement Programs, to William J. Montwieler, executive director of the Industrial Truck Association, says it all: “At this time, OSHA has decided not to make any changes to its Compliance Directive CPL 2-1.28A Powered Industrial Truck Operator Training regarding the use of operator restraints.”

Finally. OSHA has backed off changing the seat belt regulation.

Remember how confident Fairfax was in his first letter to ITA? “I would like to inform you that OSHA has begun revising its Compliance Directive” etc.etc.That was pretty cocky. Now a spokesperson for Fairfax merely says “What was sent out there was just a draft to get comments on.” The word draft never appears in any of any of Fairfax’s previous documents.

In case you’ve forgotten — this whole episode took more than nine months — the original draft {my word, not Fairfax’s} was based on the possibility of lift truck tipover. His conclusion: “When an evaluation of the above factors, and any other factor determined to be relevant, indicates that the possibility of tipover is remote, and in fact there is no history of tipover or near misses, a citation for failure to use an operator protection device of system will not be issued.” Summary: no tipover, no citation.

But there are other factors beside tipover that this column pointed out (December 02 issue). According to Jim Shephard, president of Shephard’s Industrial Training Systems, as operator training becomes more prevalent, “we’re seeing more impact accidents than tipovers. With impact, a seat belt helps — it’s going to hold the operator in the seat. It’s going to keep him from being catapulted forward.”

Both users who train lift truck operators and professional independent trainers must be breathing a sigh of relief at Fairfax’s announcement. Imagine training in accordance with the Powered Industrial Truck Operator Training standard, not knowing whether or not the trainee should be wearing a seat belt or might be cited for failure to do so.

OSHA’s spokesperson said that the agency had received comments from “a variety of folks, and, based on the comments and our internal discussions we didn’t receive enough significant feedback to make a change to the directive at this point in time.”

I’m sure that Congressman Michael Oxley (R-OH) was one of the “variety of folks” who commented. Oxley is the patron saint of lift truck safety, having promoted a training standard about 15 years ago. Since Oxley was thanked for his “help and advice” at a recent ITA meeting (the lift truck manufacturer Crown Equipment is in Oxley’s district) I gather that OSHA heard from him.

With the question of seat belt regulation having been favorably resolved, ITA’s Bill Montwieler said “We’re just delighted that OSHA has reacted in a positive manner to our comments because we believe it’s absolutely the right thing to do to enhance safety.”

One more time: OSHA has recanted. OSHA’s current enforcement policy regarding seat belts will not be changed. The Compliance headline in the March issue has come true: “Don’t tamper with the seat belt reg.”

Bernie Knill, contributing editor [email protected]

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