Government Affairs Updates

Department of Labor Announces Semiannual Unified Agenda

Wednesday, December 29th

The Department of Labor has published its Fall 2010 semiannual agenda of rulemaking at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-30442.htm. Maybe most interesting is its related Statement of Regulatory Priorities for each of the agencies in the Department. Priorities statements for OSHA and MSHA can be found at http://www.dol.gov/asp/regs/2010RegPlan.htm. A very helpful page with links to each OSHA rulemaking on the agenda can be found at http://www.dol.gov/osha/regs/unifiedagenda/main.htm. MSHA’s can be found at http://www.dol.gov/msha/Regs/unifiedagenda/main.htm.

OSHA has scheduled a webchat to discuss its agenda on Wednesday, January 5, 2011, from 2:30pm – 3:30pm (EST). Visit http://www.dol.gov/regulations to participate.

The portion of the statement laying out OSHA’s priorities – infectious diseases, an I2P2 standard, silica, backing operations, hazcom and recordkeeping – is copied below.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

OSHA's regulatory program is designed to help workers and employers identify hazards in the workplace, prevent the occurrence of injuries and adverse health effects, and communicate with the regulated community regarding hazards and how to effectively control them. Long-recognized health hazards such as silica, beryllium, and emerging hazards such as food flavorings containing diacetyl place American workers at risk of serious disease and death and are initiatives on OSHA's regulatory agenda. In addition to targeting specific hazards, OSHA is focusing on systematic processes that will modernize the culture of safety in America's workplaces.

Plan/Prevent/Protect

Infectious Diseases

OSHA is considering the need for regulatory action to address the risk to workers exposed to infectious diseases in healthcare and other related high-risk environments. The Agency is considering an approach that would combine elements of the Department's Plan/Prevent/Protect strategy with established infection control practices. The Agency received strong stakeholder participation in response to its May 2010 request for information on infectious diseases and is currently reviewing the docket.

In 2007, the healthcare and social assistance sector as a whole had 16.5 million employees. Healthcare workplaces can range from small, private practices of physicians to hospitals that employ thousands of workers. In addition, healthcare is increasingly being provided in other settings such as nursing homes, free-standing surgical and outpatient centers, emergency care clinics, patients' homes, and pre-hospitalization emergency care settings. OSHA is interested in all routes of infectious disease transmission in healthcare settings not already covered by its bloodborne pathogens standard (e.g., contact, droplet, and airborne). The Agency is particularly concerned by studies that indicate that transmission of infectious diseases to both patients and healthcare workers may be occurring as a result of incomplete adherence to recognized, but voluntary, infection control measures. Another concern is the movement of healthcare delivery from the traditional hospital setting, with its greater infrastructure and resources to effectively implement infection control measures, into more diverse and smaller workplace setting with less infrastructure and fewer resources, but with an expanding worker population.

Injury and illness Prevention Program (12P2)

OSHA's I2P2 program is the prototype for the Department's Plan/Prevent/Protect strategy. OSHA's first step in this important rulemaking was to hold stakeholder meetings. Stakeholder meetings were held in East Brunswick, NJ; Dallas, Texas; Washington, DC; and Sacramento, California, beginning in June 2010 and ending in August 2010. More than 200 stakeholders participated in these meetings, and in addition, nearly 300 stakeholders attended as observers. The proposed rule will explore requiring employers to provide their employees with opportunities to participate in the development and implementation of an injury and illness prevention program, including a systematic process to proactively and continuously address workplace safety and health hazards. This rule will involve planning, implementing, evaluating, and improving processes and activities that promote worker safety and health, and address the needs of special categories of workers (such as youth, aging, and immigrant workers). OSHA's efforts to protect workers under the age of 18 will be undertaken in cooperation with the Department's Wage and Hour Division, which has responsibility for enforcing the child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. OSHA has substantial evidence showing that employers that have implemented similar injury and illness prevention programs have significantly reduced injuries and illnesses in their workplaces. The new rule would build on OSHA's existing Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines and lessons learned from successful approaches and best practices that have been applied by companies participating in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program and Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program, and similar industry and international initiatives.

Addressing Targeted Hazards

Silica

In order to target one of the most serious hazards workers face, OSHA is proposing to address worker exposures to crystalline silica through the promulgation and enforcement of a comprehensive health standard. Exposure to silica causes silicosis, a debilitating respiratory disease, and may cause cancer, other chronic respiratory diseases, and renal and autoimmune disease as well. Over 2 million workers are exposed to crystalline silica in general industry, construction, and maritime industries and workers are often exposed to levels that exceed current OSHA permissible limits, especially in the construction industry where workers are exposed at levels that exceed current limits by several fold. It has been estimated that between 3,500 and 7,000 new cases of silicosis arise each year in the U.S., and that 1,746 workers died of silicosis between 1996 and 2005. Reducing these hazardous exposures through promulgation and enforcement of a comprehensive health standard will contribute to OSHA's goal of reducing occupational fatalities and illnesses. As a part of the Secretary's strategy for securing safe and healthy workplaces, MSHA will also utilize information provided by OSHA to undertake regulatory action related to silica exposure in mines.

Backing Operations

In order to target one of most serious hazards that construction workers face, OSHA is proposing to address worker exposures to the dangers inherent in backing operations through the promulgation and enforcement of a revised construction standard. NIOSH reports that half of the fatalities involving construction equipment occur while the equipment is backing. Backing accidents cause 500 deaths and 15,000 injuries per year. Emerging technologies in the field of backing operations include after market devices, such as camera, radar, and sonar, to help monitor the presence of workers on foot in blind areas, and new monitoring technology, such as tag-based warning systems that use radio frequency (RFID) and magnetic field generators on equipment to detect electronic tags worn by workers. OSHA is developing this proposal in consultation with MSHA, which will issue an Emergency Temporary Standard concerning Proximity Detection.

Openness and Transparency

Hazard Communication

Hearings on OSHA's proposal to modify its Hazard Communication standard have helped the agency to promote transparency in the communication of chemical hazard information. These hearings gathered information to assist OSHA in creating consistency between its current Hazard Communication standard (HCS) and the United Nations' Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). This rulemaking involves changing the criteria for classifying health and physical hazards to require information regarding the severity of the hazard, a standardized order of information for safety data sheets, and adopting standardized labeling requirements that would be understandable for low-literacy workers or those who do not speak English. The HCS covers over 945,000 hazardous chemical products in 7 million American workplaces and gives workers the "right to know" about chemical hazards to which they are exposed. OSHA and other Federal agencies have participated in long-term international negotiations to develop the GHS. Revising the HCS to be consistent with the GHS is expected to significantly improve the communication of hazards to workers in American workplaces, reducing exposures to hazardous chemicals, and reducing occupational illnesses and fatalities.

Modernizing Recordkeeping

In the first half of this year, OSHA held informal meetings to gather information from experts and stakeholders regarding the modification of its current injury and illness data collection system that will help the agency, employers, employees, researchers, and the public prevent workplace injuries and illnesses, as well as support President Obama's Open Government Initiative. Under the proposed rule, OSFIA will explore increasing its legal authority to require employers to electronically submit to the Agency any data required by part 1904 (Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries). In addition it will set ongoing electronic submission requirements of data for a defined set of establishments. This two-part rule will give OSHA the flexibility to define the scope and frequency of data collection without having to undertake additional rulemakings. With OMB approval, OSHA will be able to conduct data collections ranging from the annual collection of data from a handful of employers to the real-time collection of all part 1904 data from all covered employers. In addition, OSHA will be able to request additional data elements that employers are not required to maintain, such as data on race and ethnicity, as a non-mandatory component of a given data collection. OSHA learned from stakeholders that most large employers already maintain their part 1904 data electronically; as a result, electronic submission will constitute a minimal burden on these employers, while providing a wealth of data to help OSHA, employers, employees, researchers, and the public prevent workplace injuries and illness

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