OSHA’s Silica Rule – What It Means To Oil and Gas

In about a week, OSHA’s rule on silica was supposed to go into effect for the construction industry.  However, the Administration delayed implementation until late September and the rule has also been challenged in court.

That doesn’t mean industry is off the hook however.  Silicosis kills about a hundred people a year and OSHA says more than two million American workers are exposed to harmful level of silica a year.  Without as standard on exposure, companies may avoid OSHA fines, but wind up facing liability for silicosis cases down the road.

Construction is not alone in facing a compliance deadline if the rule goes into force.   General industry and maritime will need to comply by June of next year. Oil and gas fracking operations need to comply with new engineering controls by June of 2021.    That 2021 date has caused some confusion within the oil and gas sector.  Many read it to mean that they don’t need to meet the requirement for four more years.   However, the rule actually says that fracking operations need to protect workers from silica exposure by next June, just like other general industries.    The 2021 date is when they need to adopt engineering control to limit the amount of respirable silica around drilling sites.

The chemical company ArrMaz produces a product that coats sand to reduce silica dust used in fracking operations.  The company has developed one of the best explanations of how the rule will be applied in oil and gas operations that I have seen.   You can download a copy of their graphic here: ArrMaz_Respirable Crystalline Silica_InfoGraphic.

The bottom line is that there are ways to reduce silica dust on a frack site and industry is working on other engineering solutions, but companies need to understand that the requirement to protect workers on the exposure side is likely to arrive in a year.


New OSHA E-injury reports due in 45 days, but there is one little problem.

The deadline for companies to comply with OSHA’s new requirement for electronic injury and illness reporting is July first.  That’s when the regulations say many American companies must submit their injury and illness logs electronically.   The change will allow OSHA to post company injury data online where it will be accessible to the public.

Just one problem.   Continue reading “New OSHA E-injury reports due in 45 days, but there is one little problem.”

Are Your Employees Distracted to Death? Strategies For Reducing Vehicle Fatalities

cell-phoneOur Apps may be killing us; at least that is the gist of an article in the New York Times about the relationship between phone Apps and traffic fatalities.   For example, in Tampa last month, a teenage girl was using Snapchat to video the driver of the car she was in as he wound the car up to 115 MPH.  A moment later, he lost control of the car.  The driver, the girl and three people in the minivan they hit all died.

It is part of a larger hazard, distracted driving, and officials say the problem had reversed four decades of improvement in highway fatalities.   According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in the first six months of 2016, highway deaths jumped to 17,775, an increase of more than 10 percent, as compared to the first six months of 2015.  The culprit – all of the information sources, screens,gadgets,  and gizmos vying for our attention.  The head of the agency calls it a crisis that needs to be addressed.

There is no question that workplace distracted driving needs to be addressed.   First, driving incidents are a major cause of injuries.  For industries like oil and gas, vehicle incidents are the leading cause of fatalities.   Distracted driving prevention needs to be a part of any effective safety program.

Companies also need to recognize that OSHA considers distracted driving to be a compliance issue.   In 2010,  the head of OSHA wrote an open letter to industry, saying “It is your responsibility and legal obligation to have a clear, unequivocal and enforced policy against texting while driving.”

The same can be said for any app or car information system, such as Bluetooth connections, that can take a driver’s attention away from the road.  In OSHA-speak, distracted driving may be ‘general duty’ clause violation (Section 5(a)(1) of the OSHA act).   As safety professionals well understand, the general duty clause is in the eye of the beholder.   If OSHA thinks the company should have recognized and addressed the hazard, it is likely to cite the company under the clause.

Not all the compliance issues involving cell phones are that vague.   The regulations for cranes and derricks (29 CFR § 1926.1417(d)) very explicitly ban cells phones for operators unless they are used for signalling.   Additionally, there are state laws that ban or restrict cell phone use by drivers.   As a part of their hazard analysis under regulations, companies also need to consider the potential for a fire from a cell phone battery in an explosive or flammable environment.

Finally, host companies need to be aware that they are responsible for the practices of companies and temporary workers they bring onto their sites, including anything that may lead to distracted driving.

Companies should enact a distracted driving program, both as a way to protect employees and as a necessary compliance effort.   Do you need help developing your program?  Would another set of eyes help make sure you are not missing anything?   Contact us at info@lifeline strategies.com. 

Breaking News: New OSHA Rules on Fall Protection and Walking/Working Surfaces

lifeline-osha-2New rules are out on fall protection and slips, trips and falls.  Employers have just two months to come into compliance.   OSHA has been working on an update to the regulations governing walking/working surfaces, fall protection for General Industry and today the agency published a 500+ page final rule that lays out the changes.  It goes into effect on January 17, 2017.   You can access the full rule here. 

There are some things in the rule that industry should like.  For one thing it makes the rules on fall protection and slips and falls for General Industry more consistent with the Construction standard, which should eliminate confusion.  It also reflects improvements that many companies have already put in place and gives more flexibility in the ways that companies protect their workers.   However, as with every regulation, the devil is in the details and companies need to read the new rules carefully.

OSHA highlighted the following changes as areas that underwent significant changes:

  1. Require companies to train personal who use fall protection systems and other equipment designed for falls;
  2. Use rope descent systems up to 300 feet above a lower level; and
  3. Prohibit the use of body belts as part of a personal fall arrest system

OSHA leaders say the changes will prevent 5,842 lost-workday injuries and 29 fatalities a year.   The current leadership at OSHA had promised to release the new rule before the changeover in administrations.

Watch this site for a more detailed analysis of the rule.


Workplace Drug Use Is Up -Solutions Are Few

Louisiana Association of Self-Insured Employers Lake Charles, LA
Louisiana Association of Self-Insured Employers
Lake Charles, LA

I’ve been at the Louisiana Association of Self-Insured Employers (LASIE) conference this week and one of the hot topics is drug use.  It is a topic you hear about a lot in workplace health and safety, but opioid use and abuse is especially important in Louisiana, which leads the nation in the number of pills prescribed per patient.

Nationally, more and more workers are testing positive for drugs and alcohol, according to the testing company Quest.  It says about four percent of the U.S. workforce tested positive, the highest level in 10 years.   Given the number of states legalizing pot and the shift in public opinion on its use, it is no surprise that a big part of the increase in positive tests is from marijuana.

Need help turning your drug-testing program into an effective substance abuse program?   Research shows that testing is most effective when used in combination with employee onboarding, fit-for-duty policies, education, supervisor training and post injury case management.   Contact us at info@lifelinestrategies.com for more information.  

But it is the opiate use that is sparking so much interest. the National Safety Council has called overdoses a national epidemic.   In Northern Kentucky, for example, emergency medical personnel run on an average of seven drug-related calls a day.  According to officials, “One person in Northern Kentucky died from a drug overdose every 40 hours last year — nearly five times the number of people killed in car crashes.”

What should employers do?  The answers aren’t clear.  Drug testing is important, but there are limits on what tests alone can accomplish. Don’t forget that we are already testing millions of employees, but drug use appears to be on the rise and drugs like heroin are threatening whole regions of the country.   The other factor is that the motivation for an employee taking recreational drugs and those addicted to opioids because of chronic pain are two very different things.  That impacts the drug testing program.

Beyond the reasons why an employee may use the drug, discovery of its use may also be different.  Heroin often takes no more than 2 days to leave the system.  Oxycodone and hydrocodone don’t show up in commonly used five-panel tests, which the standard DOT-required test (at least for now).   According to a very good article from the Society for Human Resources Management, the bigger problem may be that the the employee is likely to have a valid prescription for painkillers.  That means the employer may never even be informed of the use, unless the Medical Review Officer determines that the use doesn’t match the prescription.

Testing is still a necessary part of an employer’s program, but it needs to be just one part of a multi-pronged approach that both ensures that no one is impaired while working a safety-critical job and removes the stigma that often keeps employees from seeking treatment.

A good starting place for companies is the National Safety Council’s report, The proactive role employers can take: opioids in the workplace.  It lists five steps employers should take:

  1. A clear, written policy
  2. Employee education
  3. Supervisor training
  4. An employee assistance program
  5. Drug testing

One important point that comes from the report is the potential for pain management programs to actually increase chronic pain.  The best time to address the problem appears to be at the point of injury when more options may be available.

OSHA Haz Com Deadline is Here, but Half of U.S. Business May Not Be Ready

This is more of an update to drive home the point that a major change in workplace safety has hit and many, many businesses are not ready.   OSHA gave employers until June 1st to update their hazard communication programs to incorporate international changes known as the Globally Harmonized Standard (GHS).

An article by the Chemical Watch website says that half of American businesses have not met the new update deadline.  That is based on a survey of 108 companies.  Here is why that is such a concern – Of the companies that said they are in compliance, three quarters reported that it took them more than a year to achieve that compliance.  The biggest problem they had was getting the up-to-day data sheets from their chemical suppliers.  More than half said they had either brought in a consultant or hired a new employee to help manage their program, update it or train employees on the change.

Bottom Line: Industry has not responded as quickly or with as much commitment at OSHA had hoped for.  Large numbers of companies are out of compliance and it is very likely that many of them do not even realize the rules changed.   OSHA has very few options beyond making an example of some employers through fines and publicity.

If you need help getting into compliance, doing a gap analysis of your program or in training your workers on your Haz Com program, contact us at info@lifelinestrategies.com. 

Its June 1st – Do You Know Where Your Hazard Communication Plan Is?

It has been more than a dozen years in the making, but the final deadline for employers to update their hazard communications programs to include the international Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) hits on June 1st.   The rules were developed by international treaty in 2003 and OSHA has given industry a series of deadlines to meet toward full compliance.  Based on every indication many (perhaps most) American businesses are not ready.

Do you need help getting your own HazCom program in shape? Do you have new Safety Data Sheets on chemicals? Have you updated the program to include the GHS changes?   Are your employees trained on your program?   If you need an audit/gap analysis, help developing a program or training for employees, contact us at info@lifelinestrategies.com. 

Under OSHA’s implementation schedule, companies were required to train their employees on the changes by December of 2013. Then manufacturers and shippers were expected to start using the new GHS labeling and classification system last June and were required to fully adopt the new system by December of 2015.  The last step applies to individual businesses where employees may be exposed to chemicals.

logo & ghsWhat companies need to do to meet the June 1 deadline: Requirements for those companies include the following checklist:

  • Prepare a written hazard communication program.
  • Develop an inventory of all hazardous chemicals in the workplace.
  • Ensure that all containers of hazardous chemicals are properly labeled.
  • Maintain Safety Data Sheets using the new GHS system for all hazardous chemicals and make sure they are readily available to affected workers.
  • Determine how to convey hazard information on portable chemical containers (temporary containers for solvents for example).
  • Train workers on the elements of your program, hazards, protective measures, etc.

Some level of generic training is acceptable, but the regulations clearly require that companies inform employees (and contractors or temporary employees) of specific hazardous chemicals in the workplace and details of the Haz Com program.

How will OSHA enforce the deadline: OSHA has not publicized an enforcement plan for the new deadline, but it is a near certainty that the agency will make an example of violators. The question is when.  Companies were cited for Haz Com violations by OSHA 5,482 times in OSHA inspections between 2014 and 2015 and employers received more than $3.3 million in proposed fines, making it the second most cited violation. Increasingly, when OSHA cites a company for other violations, it has added fines for inadequate Haz Com training, pumping up the overall cost to violators.

The problem in this case is that the manufacturers and shippers have been slow to send employers updated labels and Safety Data Sheets.  That puts the employers in the unfortunate situation of being responsible for fines but having to rely on their manufacturers and shippers to help them get into compliance.    What should they do?   OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels told a recent conference that OSHA’s compliance officers are checking SDSs during inspections, and OSHA is citing non-compliance where appropriate. “I’m really trying to push the envelope on this,” he said. He stressed that, as OSHA has explained in the past, if employers can demonstrate they have made good-faith efforts to obtain compliant SDSs but been unsuccessful, they will not face citations, according to OH&S magazine.


New Study Tracks Causes and Costs of American Workplace Injuries.

Most frequent cause of injuries on the job: Material Handling –  32% of injuries are caused by workers lifting, lowering, filling, emptying or carrying objects.

Most expensive injuries: Amputations – Indemnity claims alone average $102,500 per incident.

Those are just a couple of the facts to emerge from a comprehensive study that Travelers Indemnity Co. did on more than 1.5 million injury workers comp claims over a four year period.   All in all, it is one of the most complete pictures of the causes and costs of injuries in the American workplace.

While material handling shows up as the top cause of injury for every industry and businesses of every size, there are some important distinctions for some segments.  For example, workers in small businesses suffer injuries from hand tools at about twice the rate of other sized businesses. Part of that may be improper training, but it could possibly be that small contractors on construction jobs are more likely to use hand tools.  Oil and gas was the only sector to have motor vehicle accidents in its top five causes.  Those unique aspects should guide companies in their safety programs.

days away graphicStrains and sprains were the most common type of injury, followed by cuts or punctures, contusions inflammation and fractures.  Possibly the most interesting part of the study is what injuries cost and how long they keep workers away from the job.   Travelers found that strains and sprains caused workers to miss an average of 57 days away from work, but that inflammations, which only made up five percent of the injuries, averaged more than 90 days away from work.injury costs

Finally, and most significantly, the study tackles the average costs for injury claims.  The most common injuries are not the most expensive ones.   Again, amputations are by far the most expensive claims coming in at $107,000.  That is just for the claim.  Any fines or other expenses would just add to that total.   Strains and sprains cost an average of $17,000.

What does all of this mean to a company?   Businesses should already be doing all they can to prevent injuries and help injured workers recover.   The study gives clear evidence that protecting workers is a sound financial decision in addition to being the right thing to do.  Now companies can look at hard costs of injuries and make rational decisions about where to spend their money.   For instance, following the NFPA 70E guidelines for training workers on electrical hazards can cost a few hundred dollars.  One electric shock injury costs an average of $55,200 in claims alone.  It is a  pretty easy business decision to make.

If you need help either protecting your workers from injuries or in mitigating the damage through early intervention once an incident happens, contact me at info@lifelinestrategies.com.

Zika Virus – What You and Your Workers Need to Know Right Now.

Six months ago, none of us had ever heard of the Zika virus; now the pressure is on to find out as much as we can and take steps to protect our workers and our businesses.   Fortunately, OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have released guidance that can make up the basis for a company Zika action plan.  You can and should read the document here.
To hit on some of the high points, the virus, which is spread by mosquitoes, had its first wide-spread outbreak in Brazil, but is spreading  through Central and South America, Mexico, and parts of the Caribbean, including U.S. territories.  Cases have been reported in the U.S. and officials say it is a matter of when, not if, the virus is more widespread here.   There is a government website that tracks any new information on Zika. zikamain_041916_880

Employers have an obligation to provide a safe work environment and that includes a responsibility to take steps to protect workers from Zika.  This means taking a combination of actions to keep work sites from becoming  breeding grounds for mosquitoes that carry the virus and training or communication to make sure workers understand the risks and what they should do to protect themselves.

Here are some of the actions that OSHA recommends:

  1. Provide workers with, and encourage them to wear, clothing that covers their hands, arms, legs, and other exposed skin. Consider providing workers with hats with mosquito netting to protect the face and neck.   This can be loose-fitting clothing when work is being done in the heat.   Note: This may be considered Personal Protective Equipment and it is up for interpretation whether companies are obligated to provide specialized clothing like netting under the PPE regulations.
  2. Provide appropriate insect repellent.  The guidance explains what types may be used.
  3. Get rid of sources of standing water (e.g., tires, buckets, cans, bottles, barrels) whenever possible to reduce or eliminate mosquito breeding areas.   Note: the guidance does not talk about spraying for mosquitoes in large outdoor sites, but employers may want to consider this.
  4. If requested by a worker, consider reassigning anyone who indicates she is or may become pregnant, or who is male and has a sexual partner who is or may become pregnant, to indoor tasks to reduce their risk of mosquito bites.
  5. Train workers and communicate:
    1. The potential hazards that the Zika virus presents;
    2. The symptoms of the virus;
    3. The importance of wearing proper clothing and using repellent;
    4. The need for good housekeeping (removing trash or other potential breeding grounds;
    5. Special risks that the virus may present to pregnant women or workers who travel to known outbreak areas.
  6. Review and update your Bloodborne Pathogen policies and training to include potential exposure from mosquitoes.

A couple of side notes here – First, Zika isn’t the only disease that is carried by mosquitoes.  Policies and training that address mosquitoes will also help prevent workers from West Nile and a host of other viruses.  Second, there is a lot that we still don’t know about Zika and the information has changed several times since the first major outbreak.  For example, it was thought that only the  Aedes species mosquitoes, which also carry Yellow Fever, spread Zika.  Now scientists believe that the Asian Tiger mosquito also spreads it, greatly expanding the potential scope of outbreak areas.

Some of the steps above are only common sense.  Others may seem like overkill.   However, given the rapid spread of Zika and all of the questions surrounding its impacts, it pays to be very aggressive in protecting your workforce.


Sex and Drugs: OSHA’s New Walk on The Wildside

OSHA inspectors spend their days sorting through the details of missing machine guards and slippery walkways.  That is a long way from the world of Sex, drugs and, potentially, rock and roll.  But some recent cases have you wondering if OSHA hasn’t decided to take a walk on the wild side.


In California, Cal-OSHA, the state agency enforces safe workplace requirements, has been wrestling with how to regulate the porn industry, particularly how to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.  This month, Cal-OSHA fined a film company run by a porn star $78,000 for violations, including not requiring actors to use condoms, the porn industry’s versions of Personal Protective Equipment.   However, earlier this year the Cal-OSHA Standards Board considered and failed to get the required number of votes for a blanket rule requiring condom use for all porn films.  One argument against the requirement – it could force the industry back underground.   the other arguement was, if you require condoms, what else would you require:

“If you think about how porn is looking today, and how it’ll look…. we’re talking about gloves, full body cover, and goggles,” said Eric Leue, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, a porn industry trade group. “It’s going to turn into surgical porn.”  

Surgical porn?   Kinky!


The whole decriminalization of marijuana has also created some strange issues for the government.  Even though states have allowed medical or recreational use, pot use is still against federal law.  And yet, OSHA needs to ensure that the new marijuana industry operates safely.   A tragic event at a New Mexico medical marijuana lab sent two workers to the hospital and resulted in an OSHA fine of $17,500.   You can read about it here.   Clearly this is an industry that still needs to grasp its responsibilities to provide a safe workplace.  


Rock and Roll

Oh and, as for Rock and Roll, that came last fall when a TV station did an investigation of the mind-numbingly loud music played in health club spin classes.   They found that noise levels were consistently higher than allowed by OSHA standards.  Watch that video here.  No word on whether OSHA is investigating music noise levels.