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By Alberto Polito

OSHA has announced its schedule for 2013, including changes to standards, new standards and decisions to research some specific subjects. OSHA’s complete 2013 agenda includes 16 items; we whittled these down to the six that we thought would have the most impact on our primarily general industry audience.

Without further ado, here are six important upcoming OSHA changes that might affect you or your company:

  • New combustible dust standardCombustible dust is a serious hazard in many industrial and mining operations. Between 1980 and 2005 there were 281 combustible dust explosions, in total killing 119 people and injuring 718. OSHA has put out bulletins and notices about combustible dust hazards, but they have never had a comprehensive standard. In 2006 the Chemical Safety Board drew attention to this lack and recommended that OSHA pursue making a combustible dust rule. In the last few years, OSHA has had several stakeholder meetings and web-chats about the issue. Now they are starting the process of seeking input from business owners, researching what the most practical requirements would be that would limit this hazard.
  • New confined space standard for construction—In 1993, OSHA issued a rule to protect general industry workers who enter confined spaces. (Get a free guide about confined space hazards and how to make them more safe.) This standard was not extended to construction workers; the stated reason was the extreme variability in the types of construction worksites. The agency has been working on the issue of confined spaces in construction for a decade and and now says it will reach a final rule in July of 2013. (Here is an OSHA document that categorizes the many types of confined spaces encountered in construction, and their hazards.)
  • Updates to signage rules—OSHA is trying to see if ANSI’s best practice recommendations on sign and label formats (ANSI Z53.1-67 and ANSI Z53.1-1968) reflect the most modern understanding of these issues. For example, it may be decided that different formats of hazard and warning signs should be used, or that signs in certain situations must be able to be understood in multiple languages. No matter what it decides, OSHA probably wouldn’t make existing industrial signage illegal; it would more likely name a certain date past which new signage must have the new elements. But that is just speculation based on past changes. OSHA’s stated objective is to create a final rule in 2013. Click here for more info on best practices for creating effective safety signage at your facility. As always, Graphic Products will stay on top of any policy changes and offer compliant products; you can always turn to us with your questions about new sign formats and guidelines.
  • Requiring an Injury and Illness Prevention Program—An Injury and Illness Prevention Program is a plan that a company puts in place to minimize worker injuries and illnesses. Citing the effectiveness of such programs at the companies that have voluntarily instituted them, OSHA is currently working on a standard that would make having such a program mandatory and define the parameters of the program. Currently there are voluntary Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines, which were published in 1989. The new standard would add to these guidelines with knowledge gained from new research and reports. The apparent challenge has been to create guidelines that apply to all companies, across a wide range of industries (general industry, shipyards, marine terminals, and long-shoring).
  • Workplace tracking of injuries and illnesses—OSHA is proposing changes to its reporting system for occupational injuries and illnesses. A modernized reporting system would allow for a more efficient and timely collection of data and would improve the accuracy and availability of the relevant records and statistics. This change would expand OSHA’s legal authority to collect injury and illness information required under 29 CFR part 1904 and make that information more readily available. The change is currently in the NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rule making) stage, so it is far from being a final rule.
  • Chemical Standards and Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs)—PELs for hazardous chemicals were created in 1971 by the OSH Act, the act that initially created OSHA. Most of these PELs have never been changed since their creation despite the wide recognition, even by OSHA, that they are out of date. In 1989 OSHA attempted to lower PELs for 200 chemicals and add 164 new PELs, but a court challenged and dismissed this attempt, citing deficiencies in OSHA’s analyses. OSHA is currently in the Request for Information stage, in which they seek information from the public on this issue. Finalized changes to the PELs are probably still several years away.