Changing the Rules

Jan. 1, 2010
Regulatory plans that were shelved or put on hold are making a comeback in 2010.

In the December 2009 issue of MHM, we took an in-depth look at labor-related legislation currently pending in U.S. Congress and described other workforce- related priorities of the current Administration.

This month, we delve deeper into regulatory initiatives certain to impact material handling operations in 2010.

The biggest impact is likely to stem from the fall 2009 regulatory agenda released by OSHA on Dec. 7. The document outlines the 29 initiatives on OSHA’s agenda. According to Jordan Barab, acting assistant secretary for OSHA, the agency will publish two requests for information (RFIs), seven notices of proposed rulemaking (NPRMs) and six final standards in 2010.

Although details for each of the 29 items haven’t been worked out yet, the gist for manufacturers and distributors in all industries is clear: The government is getting tougher on worker safety.

Specifically, in 2010, material handling professionals can expect to confront new rules governing hazards found in most industrial facilities as well as new recordkeeping and employee communication requirements.

In the Facility
When it comes to facility operations, OSHA is looking for dangers that can be found in the air, on floors and all over working surfaces.

In July, for example, OSHA plans to publish an NPRM for crystalline silica, which will update existing permissible exposure limits for the airborne hazard. The agency explains that operations involving cutting, sawing, drilling and crushing of concrete, brick, block and other stone products, as well as glass manufacturing and sand blasting, put employees at risk of inhaling silica dust, which can cause lung disease, silicosis and lung cancer.

OSHA is also looking at beryllium, a lightweight metal used in aerospace, telecommunications and defense applications. The agency is currently updating permissible exposure limits and plans to start a peer review and risk assessment in March. Inhaling beryllium dust can lead to chronic beryllium disease, which causes persistent coughing, difficulty breathing during physical exertion, fatigue, chest and joint pain, weight loss and fevers, according to OSHA.

OSHA is also working on a proposed regulation and planning an October peer review to address employee exposure to diacetyl, a chemical used for food flavoring. Exposure to diacetyl causes obstructive airway disease, including the sometimes fatal bronchiolitis obliterans, explains OSHA.

Industrial particles aren’t the only airborne hazards workers face, OSHA says. In March, the agency will publish an RFI on airborne infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, severe acute respiratory syndrome and influenza.

In a Dec. 7 Web chat transcript, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis makes note of the H1N1 compliance directive issued to the healthcare industry. OSHA has released separate guidance for protecting workers in all industries from infectious diseases—particularly H1N1. Among other measures, OSHA suggests encouraging sick workers to stay home and providing tissues, touch-less trash cans, hand sanitizer and disinfectants.

Then, there’s the issue of combustible dust, which has steadily garnered attention since the deadly Imperial Sugar Co. explosion in February 2008. OSHA has not set a date for a final rule on combustible dust, but it’s coming—soon.

The standard promises to impact material handling processes in nearly every industry. “Materials that may form combustible dust include wood, coal, plastics, spice, starch, flour, feed, grain, fertilizer, tobacco, paper, soap, rubber, drugs, dyes, certain textiles and metals,” OSHA says.

In October, OSHA issued an advance NPRM, and in December, the agency held stakeholder meetings to prepare for a combustible dust standard. (For more details about the hazards of combustible dust and ways to manage them, see Combustible Dust: What You Need to Know.)

Another facility-related hazard being targeted by OSHA is industrial flooring and other walking and/or working surfaces. OSHA plans to update rules for slip, trip and fall hazards and establish requirements for personal fall protection systems. The proposal, set for introduction in March, affects “almost every non-construction worker in the United States,” according to OSHA.

OSHA’s proposal is separate from a new ANSI standard on industrial floors, “Test Method for Measuring Wet SCOF of Common Hard-Surface Floor Materials.” (See New Flooring Standard Gets Traction for details.)

MSDs and GHS
Ergonomics is back on OSHA’s watch list in 2010 with an item on the regulatory agenda about recording work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). OSHA plans to restore a column on its 300 injury and illness log that had been removed in 2003. Employers will use the column to report work-related MSDs.

During the December Web chat, OSHA’s Barab addressed concerns from the industry that updating the MSD recording requirement is the first step toward a full-blown ergonomics standard.

Barab insists that is not the case. “This is not a prelude to a broader ergonomics standard,” Barab states in the transcript. “No, we are simply putting the MSD column back on the OSHA log as was originally intended in the 2001 issuance of OSHA’s recordkeeping standard. MSDs continue to be a major problem for American workers, but at this time, OSHA has no plans for regulatory activity.”

The regulatory agenda also references OSHA’s previously announced plan to align the hazard communication standard (HCS) with provisions of the United Nations Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS).

The current HCS requires all employers to have a hazard communication program (HCP) for workers exposed to hazardous chemicals. An HCP includes container labels, safety data sheets and employee training, among other safety measures.

Under GHS, labels would include signal words, pictograms and hazard and precautionary statements. Information on safety data sheets would be presented in a designated order.

“Following the GHS approach will increase workplace safety, facilitate international trade in chemicals and generate cost savings from production efficiencies for firms that manufacture and use hazardous chemicals,” Barab says.

While many companies are sure to feel the strain as the new regulatory climate bears down, others will take the opportunity to comment on the pending actions and offer suggestions that might benefit both employer and employee.

As Cass R. Sunstein, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, wrote in the preamble to the regulatory plan, “Scientific integrity is critically important, in the sense that regulators cannot decide how to proceed without having a sense of what is known and what remains uncertain.… Some regulations are burdensome and some are not. Some regulations have unintended bad consequences; others have unintended good consequences.”

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