OSHA Fields Questions Related To Upcoming Regulations

Washington, DC (CompNewsNetwork) - The acting Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab, in a live web Q&A session about OSHA's regulatory plan, fields questions related to upcoming regulations. OSHA has set an ambitious fall 2009 Agenda that includes 29 regulatory items. The agenda projects that OSHA will publish two RFIs; seven NPRMs; and six final standards. Through these regulatory actions, the Agency continues to ensure good jobs for everyone through a safe and healthful workplace.
Many of the prospective regulations being discussed are not yet in the formal Administrative Procedure Act (APA) process for proposed regulations, but rather they are still in the conceptual stage.  

Q: From the Secretary's Chat: OSHA Injury and Illness recordkeeping: use of lagging indicators such as these are not useful. The agency has recognized the shortfalls of trying to enforce the regulation but has not attempted to find alternative means to monitor. Second, VPP is a good concept, but after the initial surge to gain the VPP status, compliance w/ OSH regulations becomes lax. If you look to the trendsetters, you'll see atrophy in their programs. 

A: The OSHA 300 Log data is a lagging, or trailing, indicator. However, it still has value in assessing safety and health conditions at individual work places and for assessing conditions for the nation through the BLS statistics. As we continue to improve the quality of the statistics, they will be even more useful. Of course, we encourage employers to use leading indicators and other metrics that can be used to improve safety and health conditions. 

Q: Why does the OSHA regulatory agenda published today omit any mention of standards-setting plans for: a) updating 400+ permissible exposure limits; b) a workplace injury-illness prevention program; and c) a workplace ergonomics program? 2. Does this omission mean OSHA has no plans to work on standards in these 3 areas during the first term of the Obama administration? 3. Does this omission indicate OSHA has decided updating PELs is too complex a challenge to invest time and resources in? 4. Does this omission indicate OSHA has decided having another go at setting an ergonomics standard is too politically controversial? 

A: These are very important and complex issues. While the agency has not made a determination about how to proceed at this time, we continue to look at strategies that protect workers from chemical hazards. 

Q: When can we expect the final ruling on crane operation standards? 

A: The cranes and derricks standards for construction are one of our highest priorities. We issued a proposed rule and held hearings last year and plan to issue the final standard in July 2010. 

Q: With regard to OSHA's Request for Information on "Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories; Supplier's Declaration of Conformity" (OSHA-2008-0032), is OSHA still analyzing the comments it received during the October 2008-January 2009 comment period? In a response to all cementers (dated May 29, 2009), OSHA indicated that "we expect to complete the analysis sometime this Fall" and would either proceed with obtaining clearance by the DOL for a final decision on SDoC or "if the comments do not provide sufficient information for a recommended action, OSHA will determine how best to obtain the necessary information". What is the current status of the RFI review? 

A: OSHA has completed its evaluation of the SDOC RFI and is awaiting the arrival of the new Assistant Secretary, Dr. Michaels, to determine how to proceed. 

Q: In a speech recently, you called ergonomics a ``huge health and safety problem'' and said the government must ``take the field and make some fundamental changes.'' Given these comments, why WOULDN'T OSHA have plans for regulatory activity? 

A: I called musculoskeletal disorders a "huge health and safety problem." I also called it a "huge political issue" and that we are in the process of determining how we are going to address it. Our new Assistant Secretary will arrive later this week, and we will intensify the process of determining how we are going to address ergonomics. 

Q: With regards to OSHA's emergency response and preparedness stakeholder meeting- as part of the agency's request for information, is it looking for comments on whether employers should be required to maintain emergency response plans? 

A: The agency received a number of very thoughtful and substantive responses to the emergency response RFI. We recognize the importance of the work that emergency responders do. The purpose of the stakeholder meetings is to better understand the complexity of their work as the agency moves forward. 

Q: What do you anticipate as the outcome of the stakeholder meetings on combustible dust? Will the focus be determining engineering controls, analyzing prior events or jumping in on standard setting? 

A: OSHA anticipates obtaining good information on combustible dust programs,  the use of effective engineering and work practices to mitigate hazards and information about what makes sense in a standard.   Of course, prior incidents serve to inform this discussion.   OSHA plans to use this information, along with comments submitted in response to the advance notice of proposed rulemaking, to identify the most effective approaches for developing a combustible dust proposed rule. 

Q: What are OSHA¹s main goals and expectations in developing a hearing conservation program for construction workers, and for how long do you anticipate the process of collecting/analyzing information will continue before the agency is able to move forward to the next step? 

A : This is one of many issues that has not received adequate attention.   As OSHA finishes up some of the items on the existing agenda we will evaluate other safety and health issues to see if we can make progress on the highest priority items within our budget constraints. 

Q: The Walking-Working Surfaces second proposed rule has been on the past few agendas. Realizing that priorities and resources can change, is there a push to ensure that the items on the agenda can be acted upon in the estimated timeframes? 

A: The subpart D rulemaking is very important as it deals with slip, trip and fall hazards found in many workplaces. We plan to issue a new proposal in March 2010.   The proposal is expected to prevent 20 workplace fatalities per year and over 3,500 injuries serious enough to result in days away from work. 

Q: With the Michaels confirmation, does that mean you are leaving OSHA, and if so, can we look forward to new posts from the confined space Web site? 

A: The agency is very excited to have Dr. Michaels on board. Once he assumes his duties as Assistant Secretary, I will continue in my permanently assigned position as Deputy Assistant Secretary. I have been privileged to serve the Secretary in my acting capacity and look forward to continuing to work on OSHA'a aggressive agenda. 

Q: In the area of ergonomics, would OSHA consider industry-specific standards, such as a safe patient handling standard? 

A: There are many options that OSHA might consider if the agency decides to pursue rulemaking in this area. Industry specific standards are one option that would be considered. 

Q: A question on silica: According to the reg agenda, the peer review on silica will be finished in January 2010. But the proposed rule will not be issued until July 2007. Why the 6 month lag from the completion of the peer review to issuing the proposal? And do you expect that peer reviews on other rules will cause the same kind of delay as we have seen over the years on silica? 

A: The peer review of OSHA's draft risk assessment on silica will provide the agency with valuable scientific input on the strengths and comprehensiveness of our analysis. After receiving the reviewers' comments, OSHA must address them in the risk assessment to be published with the proposed rule. In addition, OSHA is completing the rest of its work to evaluate feasibility of the proposed rule, and will need to clear the proposal with the Department and OMB prior to publication. 

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