Commonly Overlooked OSHA Standards

Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards published since 1971 (the first year the agency promulgated regulations) run the gamut from A (asbestos) to Z (zirconium compounds). After almost 45 years of rule-making, it’s no surprise that a number of regulations fly under the radar of some employers. With that in mind, here are some important facets of OSHA standards that organizations should not overlook, as they can lead to fines or injuries.

Let’s start with the obligation known as the “general duty clause.” Employers should grasp the scope of this potentially unlimited requirement to furnish a place of employment free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or physical harm to employees. OSHA inspectors have used the “general duty clause” to cite employers for such varied risks as musculoskeletal hazards that have caused injuries, for exposing retail employees to potential workplace violence, and for combustible dust hazards that can cause explosions and fires.

Speaking of scope, perhaps the most overlooked paragraph of OSHA standards is the scope, applications, and definitions section (not every OSHA standard has one). For example, OSHA’s construction regulations for fall protection state, “Section 1926.501 sets forth those workplaces, conditions, operations, and circumstances for which fall protection shall be provided except as follows:..”.  Not carefully reading this section of many OSHA rules can lead to compliance misinterpretation and misapplication.

OSHA’s respiratory protection standard carries some often overlooked provisions. The agency’s prohibition against facial hair that comes between the sealing surface of a tight-fitting facepiece and the face was interpreted in a June, 2014, compliance directive (CPL 02-00-158) as “one day’s growth.” So if a respirator user’s shift ends at 5 pm today, he must shave prior to commencing his next shift.

The respiratory protection standard also requires a written recommendation from a designated physician, or other licensed health care professional, regarding each employee’s ability to use his or her respirator. Employer records on file often show that an employee was evaluated only for the respirator he or she uses on a day-to-day basis, but not for ones used in special situations, such as emergency response activities. Wearing an SCBA for rescue work can place a much greater physical burden on a worker than a cartridge-type respirator. A medical recommendation is required for each and every type of respirator used by an employee.

Fit tests are required for all tight-fitting respirators, and here again, records on file sometimes only document fit testing for the respirator used regularly by an employee. If an employee occasionally uses an SCBA for confined space entry or rescue, that tight-fitting equipment must be fit tested as well. 

The scope of OSHA’s confined space standard for general industry is often misinterpreted, resulting in dangerous confined spaces being overlooked. Confined spaces include tanks, storage bins, vaults, manholes, pits, tunnels, ductwork, and pipelines. If employees will be working in or near any space that could possibly be considered confined, make sure you carefully read the OSHA standard so that all proper protocols are followed.

Employees miss out on important training if a permit-required confined space is not identified. More broadly, many employees can be overlooked when it comes to OSHA training requirements for any number of standards. New hires must be trained in all applicable OSHA standards before they are exposed to hazards – a quick safety orientation does not suffice. Part-timers, temps, and night-shift workers often get overlooked when it comes to required training. Office employees need to be trained on emergency action plans and evacuation routes. If these employees go onto the shop floor or construction site on occasion, they must be trained for the hazards to which they are exposed.

Finally, certain OSHA reporting requirements were amended and took effect in January, 2015, that some employers may not know. Any fatality must be reported to OSHA within eight hours from the time of the incident (this remains unchanged); and now employers must report:  1) hospitalizations of an employee if the hospitalization occurs with 24 hours of the incident, and 2) all work-related amputations and loss of an eye or eyes must be reported if they occur within 24 hours of the incident. Incident reports can be made via telephone to the OSHA 24-hour hotline at 800-321-6742, or the nearest OSHA office during regular business hours.

As you can see, it can become very difficult to stay on top of OSHA standards with so many rules and updates to those rules. Leveraging an occupational health partner that knows the ins and outs of OSHA standards can be an effective way to lessen the burden on your organization.