by Gary Jones, assistant VP EHS Affairs; Kaitlin Rundle, EHS associate; and Matthew Crownover, EHS associate, Printing Industries of America
Typically, when there is a change in the presidency, the outgoing administration rushes to issue new and revised regulations to complete their agenda. This is what occurred under the Obama administration. One of the more active agencies was the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as it issued several significant regulations impacting printing and finishing operations. This article will provide an overall summary of the rules.
Mandatory injury reporting
OSHA revised its mandatory injury reporting rule with the revised reporting requirements greatly expanding the scope of injuries that must be reported to OSHA. What remained unchanged was the requirement to report a fatality within eight hours.
Employers now are required to report within 24 hours of any work-related incident that results in:
- in-patient hospitalization of one or more employees
- an amputation
- the loss of an eye
Since reporting of any in-patient hospitalization or amputation is required, it is important to understand how OSHA is defining them. While the definitions address the circumstances where OSHA wants to receive injury reports, they also raise many questions. OSHA has not issued any guidance to answer the questions.
Since the printing industry is classified as a high-hazard industry for amputations, any report of an amputation or a hospitalization due to an equipment-related injury will generally result in an inspection. Inspections generate large fines due to violations of either the machine guarding standard, the lockout/tagout standard or both.
OSHA is publicizing the injury information on its web page. Therefore, every company that reports a severe injury will be identified along with the circumstances associated with the injury.
Electronic injury and illness recordkeeping/non-discrimination provisions
The May 2016 recordkeeping rule requiring employers to annually submit injury and illness data became instantly controversial and has come under legal challenge. The rule, Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses, has two components. The first requires companies to submit records of workplace injuries and illnesses electronically to OSHA. The second prohibits employers from discouraging workplace injury and illness reporting and retaliation against employees who do report them.
The electronic injury and illness reporting was scheduled to begin July 1, 2017, but has been delayed by OSHA. The requirements apply to any company that has more than 20 full-time employees. Companies that have more than 250 employees are required to submit more detailed information. OSHA has not provided any details as to when the new reporting deadline will be finalized.
As part of the rule, OSHA mandated that by Dec. 1, 2016, all employers develop an injury reporting procedure and that it be communicated to all employees. The procedure must have reasonable requirements that do not discourage reporting. For example, OSHA has required companies to modify their procedure to not require reporting by the end of a work shift to accommodate an employee who may experience problems once they get home from work.
The rule also implemented bans on blanket post-accident drug and alcohol testing, safety incentive programs based on lack of injuries and indiscriminate discipline for violating safety rules. Companies that wish to conduct post-accident drug and alcohol testing need to show it is required by law (such as DOT requirements), or an employer is enrolled in a workers’ compensation rate reduction program. Otherwise, the employer must show good cause that it was a necessary step in the investigation to determine the cause of the injury. Safety incentive programs such as those that provide rewards for not having an injury or going a certain amount of days without a lost work day claim are now illegal. Companies that terminate injured employees for violating safety rules need to ensure they have a very well-documented program that can withstand OSHA scrutiny.
Increased OSHA penalties
For the first time in 25 years, OSHA dramatically increased its fines for violations of workplace health and safety requirements. At one time, the penalties for many first-time violations was $7,000, and those for willful or repeat violations was $70,000. Since OSHA was granted permission to increase their penalties, the agency will continue to do so each year based on the Consumer Price Index.
The current penalties are shown in the table shown at right.
Walking and working surfaces
The walking and working surfaces rule is a group of individual regulations designed to address hazards associated with every surface where an employee will work. Previously, the regulations were outdated and unclear. To clarify the rules, OSHA released its revision in January 2017 that phases in training and other requirements with various deadlines.
Walking-working surfaces include ladders, floors, elevated surfaces, openings, stairways and scaffolds. Many requirements address design, construction and installation specifications for the prevention of worker injury from falls. Other aspects cover procedures and guidelines for safe use of equipment, such as scaffolds and fixed and portable ladders. The revisions in the rule are significant and here is a summary of some of the requirements:
- Periodic inspections for all walking and working surfaces are now required for slip, trip and fall hazards, with any deficiencies corrected. The frequency has not been defined by OSHA; therefore, it must be determined by the employer. Documentation is not required but is highly recommended.
- Portable ladders must be inspected before each use. Defective ladders must be tagged out of service. Employees must be trained on how to inspect a ladder, as well as how to properly ascend and descend them.
- Existing fixed ladders, 24 feet or higher, must have a personal fall arrest system or a ladder safety system by Nov. 19, 2036. For new fixed ladders, the deadline is November 2018. Wells and cages will no longer be acceptable. Platform openings must have an offset passage or a self-closing gate that swings away from the hole and has a top and midrail.
- Employees who work on a flat roof are required to be provided fall protection if they are within six feet of the roof’s edge. There are additional requirements if the work is greater than six feet but less than 15 feet from the roof’s edge.
- Fall protection is required when a work surface is elevated more than four feet. Fall protection systems and employee training is required.
In all, a whirlwind of changes has occurred with OSHA’s regulations. It is still unclear if these rules will remain in their current form, or if revisions will be proposed. Since these rules are in effect, the best course of action is to comply with them.