They were three years in the making, but OSHA has finally released its updates reporting requirements for injuries and has changed the types of industries that need to meet the requirements. You can read about it here and you really should take the time to read it, because some of the changes are significant. Here’s how OSHA describes it:
Under the revised rule, employers will be required to notify OSHA of work-related fatalities within eight hours, and work-related in-patient hospitalizations, amputations or losses of an eye within 24 hours. Previously, OSHA’s regulations required an employer to report only work-related fatalities and in-patient hospitalizations of three or more employees. Reporting single hospitalizations, amputations or loss of an eye was not required under the previous rule.
The rule also changes the way OSHA determines who needs to keep OSHA 300 logs from the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). The change allows the agency to drill a little deeper in terms of incident statistics. Again, you need to read the background because there are winners and losers in any change like this. Overall, OSHA says it will increase the total number of companies reporting by about four percent.
What the rulemaking does not seem to do is make reporting any less confusing. A new study by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries found that about 90% of companies surveyed mess up some part of the OSHA reporting requirement. Most of the recommendations that the study authors make to fix the problem center on the need for OSHA to revise the form and instructions and to do a better job of educating people on the requirements. If this study is truly representative, it calls into question whether any of the statistics that OSHA pulls from the reports is accurate, but it does not look like that gets addressed in the new rule. You can read more about the study on the always informative Safety and OSHA News Website.
Kind of an embarrassing moment the other day highlights one of the problems facing oil and gas companies and regulators as they work to improve offshore safety. When asked about SEMS enforcement at a meeting with environmental reporters in New Orleans, the Secretary of the Interior was momentarily flustered over what the letters in SEMS stood for. You can read the story and see the video report on New Orleans TV station WWL here.
In the big picture, that doesn’t mean much. The Secretary of the Interior has a lot on her plate and the important thing is not whether the head of the agency understands SEMS. It is whether the officials who actually enforce the rules understand them. By every indication, the head of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Brian Salerno, and his staff are very focused on the program. Similarly, industry groups like the Center for Offshore Safety and individual companies also take the requirements very seriously.
The danger lies in whether SEMS is really seen as the pathway to future safety improvements by the rest of government and the Congress. Otherwise it could just become another “flavor of the month” government program that is dropped in favor of some other new initiative the next time there is an offshore accident.
That is where industry needs to take some responsibility. There is a natural tendency once a program matures for it to just become “background noise.” The rules are in place, everyone becomes comfortable with them and they go onto autopilot. Industry needs to fight that temptation, because if SEMS is seen as routine by industry and forgettable by government, who knows what will take its place.
In honor of Labor Day, the U.S. Postal Service put out a series of stamps commemorating America’s industrial workers, which is a good thing and something we should all support. Looking at the pictures, though, it is also a very graphic reminder of how far we have come in safety and how scary the workplace used to be. See if you agree:
Welding face shields? Who needs ’em!
Confined space controls in mines? Never!
Fall Protection? That’s for people who plan to fall!
Hardhats? They just mess up our hair!
Ergonomics? I like back pain.
If you have seen Stephen Colbert, current host of his own show on Comedy Central and future host of Late Night on CBS, you know that his humor can be a weapon of mass destruction. The other night he turned it on a company that sells a vaporizer machine that turns your favorite cocktail into an inhalant. You read that right, Vapshot’s machine changes alcohol from something you drink to something you inhale, “that’ll get the party started faster and won’t slow you down,” as the company boasts. The product is apparently perfect for people who need to get their buzz on right now and can’t wait the 20 minutes or so it takes your body to process a drink.
How does OSHA play into this? The company uses OSHA’s standards for occupational exposure to Ethanol to claim their product is below the agency’s safe limits. They don’t explain that
- The OSHA standard is for workplace exposure, not a night out on the town,
- Or that the OSHA standard is the legal limit, not the safe limit,
- Or that the eight hour limit is not the same as the short-term exposure limit.
In other words, the OSHA statistics really don’t have anything to do with the claims.
Well, Stephen Colbert called them out on it last week:
One last funny note – Here is the graph the company had up on its website before the Colbert skewering (notice the short-term effect which appears to indicate that the first shot exceeds OSHA’s limits):
After the Colbert Report aired, the company revamped its website and here is the new graph:
They also added language to say OSHA doesn’t test or endorse products. So its all good right?
The third annual Offshore Safety Conference will be held in Houston from September 29-October 3. I am very pleased to announce that I will be speaking at the conference on industry trends for the SEMS skills and knowledge requirements. Other expert speakers will cover the most important safety topics facing the offshore industry. At last year’s conference, I led a panel on contractor compliance on SEMS and can say from experience that the event brought together top industry and agency representatives.
The event planners are offering a special discount for clients and other guests of Lifeline Strategies. Follow this link to receive $200 off your registration.
If you just want to look up the conference, click here.
The long-awaited effort to increase regulations on fracking is on its way. The Bureau of Land Management’s proposed fracking rules have been sent to the White House for review, the last step before they are published. According to the Houston Chronicle’s Fuel Fix website:
Written by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, the rule is focused on boosting the integrity of wells to ensure fluids are contained within them, ensuring recovered fluids are safely stored and forcing disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing on public lands.
The details are very much under wraps so it is hard to say whether the final rule will be more or less stringent than the proposed rule BLM put out in 2013.
Sending the proposal to the White House right now smells very much like a political move. It makes it very unlikely the rule will come out before the election, meaning democrats from oil and gas states don’t have to face the controversy before voters go to the polls. It does make it likely that the rule comes out after the election and before the new Congress is sworn in in 2015.
One of the primary questions will be how much authority the U.S. government gives to states and local communities to restrict fracking. Illinois is working on fracking regulations. Colorado is set to vote on an initiative to allow local voters to restrict fracking in their towns. Denton, Texas, is looking at voting to ban frackingn within city limits. The original BLM proposal would have allowed the agency “to waive requirements in certain states or tribal regions if their own mandates meet or exceed the federal standards,” according to Fuel Fix.