Between the Lines

October 2, 2003
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An update on OSHA’s traffic safety revisions.



I have written about traffic safety in previous articles, but alas, the times are changing. Last year, OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the Department of Labor, revised the Sign, Signal and Barricade section (29 CFR 1926.200; .201; and .202) of the construction regulations. OSHA previously required that all traffic safety workers adhere to the 1971 version of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). There have been a number of revisions to that version over the years and yet OSHA never kept pace. Then, in 2002, OSHA tried to take a “quick fix” approach to making the changes by publishing two proposed rules at one time in late April. The first version took what was called a “direct final approach” to updating the regulations, which simply means there wouldn’t have to be a rigorous process that seems to bog down many revisions to regulations. At the same time, OSHA published a normal notice to make a revision. If the direct final rule approach would have worked, the new rules would have taken effect in August, 2002. Since there were several objections, OSHA withdrew that request and used the more formal process. They actually went full speed ahead and published the new rules in September of 2002 with an effective date of Dec. 11, 2002. The fact that they were able to complete the more formal approach indicates that there weren’t a lot of objections to the changes, and most importantly, that no major trade associations significantly disputed them. I have seen some regulation changes take more than 10 years to complete.

In my estimation, one of the major reasons there weren’t many negative comments is that many federally-funded highway construction projects have already been using the more current versions of the MUTCD under the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) regulations. Until the Millennium Edition of the MUTCD was published, the most current edition was the 1988 MUTCD with 1993 revisions (Revision 3).

What Has Changed

The OSHA revised regulations have confused a lot of people. The revisions call for compliance with either the 1988 version with 1993 revisions or the December 2000 Millennium Edition. (A complete copy of OSHA’s thought process is available in the Federal Regulations under pages 67:57722-57736 that was published on Sept. 12, 2002. Or you can visit the OSHA homepage at www.osha.gov [or any government site] and search the Federal Register section.) Sometimes the reading of this thought process gives much more insight than the regulation itself. The reason for allowing either version most likely had to do with the fact that certain sections of the Millennium Edition didn’t take effect right away and OSHA didn’t want to take any chances at being in conflict with the FHWA and some of the states on projects that had already started under other versions.

What the Changes Mean

One of the most notable major changes in the revision of the Sign, Signal and Barricade section is in the title of the section that would most apply to surveyors. Section VI was previously titled “Standards and Guides for Traffic Controls for Street and Highway Construction, Maintenance, Utility and Incident Management Operations.” It was changed to “Temporary Traffic Control.” Isn’t it amazing... for once the government actually made something simpler to understand! The revisions also changed worker labels to be more gender unspecific; flagmen and workmen became flaggers and workers.

Under both the Revision 3 of the 1988 MUTCD and the Millennium Edition, Traffic Control Plans (TCPs) are discussed. Neither version requires a TCP, but they are strongly suggested. I see this as a potential trap for any company with workers on the roadway. A Traffic Control Plan lays out all of the procedures, signage and equipment that may be required to protect workers, motorists and pedestrians during periods of work on or near a highway. Without developing a plan there could be potential problems in any of the areas. Remember, you are not just required under the MUTCD to protect your employees; you are also required to protect motorists and pedestrians from being injured during traffic control situations. OSHA can only cite for hazards to your workers, but civil lawsuits as the result of any wreck or injuries to others can be far more costly than any OSHA citation.

One of the items that wasn’t cleared up in the new regulations was the safety vest issue. ANSI made revisions to its guidelines in 1999 for all traffic safety vests. They designated a class system with three classes: I, II and III. Surveyors would normally come under the Class III vests. However, OSHA did not adopt the ANSI guidelines. OSHA requires a person working in traffic to be visible for 1,000 feet in a vest. (See sidebar for verbiage directly from OSHA.) I have a major problem with this requirement. In essence, it doesn’t say anything. If a study were done with 10 people of various eyesights, we would most certainly get a vast difference in what was visible under the OSHA criteria. By putting in the 1,000 foot criteria, there is really no guideline that can be followed. If the 1999 ANSI standards were adopted, there would at least be specific guidelines as to what type of vest should be used. I still advise every surveyor to use a Class III ANSI vest whenever possible. I have to add a caveat to that because there is still a slight problem with getting a Class III vest for smaller employees. I have been told there would not be enough material (background) and visible retro-reflective area on a smaller-sized vest to meet the design requirements. To get the full Class III requirements on a smaller size would require the employee to wear pants of the same materials.

Where to Get It

If you don’t have a current copy of the MUTCD, it is available online at http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/kno-millennium_06.14.01.htm. This link will connect you to the Millennium Edition along with the changes dated June 14, 2001. If you previously downloaded the December 2000 Millennium Edition, you need to make certain you did so after the changes were in place. Part VI has most of the information you will use on a daily basis for Temporary Traffic Control.

It will be interesting to see how OSHA proceeds on enforcement in the coming months. I have found in the past that many of the OSHA Compliance Officers don’t have a great familiarity with traffic safety guidelines. I can almost guarantee that directives will be forthcoming to give further direction on how they should enforce the new regulations. As always, we will keep you informed of what is happening. Have a safe day!

To read past safety articles by Ron Koons, type his name in the Search POB! box.

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