For three years, officials from the USDOT’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) have joined representatives from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA), and many roadway safety and construction groups to kick off National Work Zone Awareness Week, urging motorists to exercise caution and drive safely through work zones. The national week this year unveiled the National Work Zone Memorial, a mobile memorial containing the names of persons killed in work zones to be displayed at future highway safety events throughout the country. The event recognizes the number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes in work zones, which has increased from 789 in 1995 to an all-time high of 1,093 in 2000. In addition, more than 40,000 injuries occur in work zones each year.
But what about the rest of the year and the areas other than construction work zones? How do people react to the dangerous daily work of surveyors, civil engineers, engineers, construction workers and the rest? Better yet, how do these workers—or rather how should these workers—prepare themselves to avoid injuries or fatalities? To answer that, let’s take a look at the latest regulations of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA as it’s known. Becoming familiar with some of OSHA’s regulations may help you today and tomorrow.
RecordkeepingOSHA now has a new Recordkeeping Regulation as of Jan. 1, 2002. When it comes to OSHA recordkeeping there are a number of elements that could be confusing for surveyors. Under the new regulation surveying and engineering companies with an SIC (Standard Industrial Code) of 87 are not required to keep OSHA records under 29 CFR 1904. There are three exceptions to this. Each year the federal OSHA, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and some states perform special studies of injuries and illnesses. If your firm is selected to participate in the study, you must keep records. You also must continue to report any fatalities and catastrophes that involve your employees. One of the more common things in surveying today is for owners or contractors to request companies to provide copies of their injury summary. Some surveyors are not allowed to go onsite to work until the injury summary is provided. In these cases, it isn’t OSHA who requests this information, but to do the job there is no choice.
ErgonomicsOn April 5, 2002, OSHA announced that it is prepared to go ahead with new ergonomics efforts. OSHA said the new plan is “designed to dramatically reduce ergonomic injuries through a combination of industry targeted guidelines, tough enforcement measures, workplace outreach, advanced research, and dedicated efforts to protect Hispanic and other immigrant workers.” Labor Secretary Chao stated, “Our goal is to help workers by reducing ergonomic injuries in the shortest possible time frame.” She furthered, “This plan is a major improvement over the rejected old rule because it will prevent ergonomic injuries before they occur and reach a much larger number of at-risk workers.”
An initial review of the information provided to date by OSHA indicates it will use targeting data to see which industries have the highest instances of ergonomic injuries. Those are the industries OSHA will concentrate on first. However, any industry is potential game under this proposal. If you haven’t reviewed your injury records for any ergonomic cases, you should do so immediately.
Traffic SafetyOSHA has about 4,000 typewritten pages of regulations. Within those pages you will only find a brief mention on traffic safety items—nothing that really tells you how to properly protect your employees. For information on traffic safety, look to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). This is not an OSHA publication, and since OSHA has no specific guidelines on traffic safety, they have been citing any violations under section 5a1, which is called the “General Duty Clause.” A quick laymen’s definition of this section is if an action or situation looks unsafe and there are no OSHA rules that govern the act, then OSHA will cite it under the General Duty Clause. It is like a catch-all for OSHA. In fact, if you review the thousands of OSHA citations over the past 30 years you will note that the MUTCD has been referred to during a General Duty Citation as an effective means to protect employees working on roadways. OSHA has about 4,000 typewritten pages of regulations. Within those pages you will only find a brief mention on traffic safety items—nothing that really tells you how to properly protect your employees. For information on traffic safety, look to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). This is not an OSHA publication, and since OSHA has no specific guidelines on traffic safety, they have been citing any violations under section 5a1, which is called the “General Duty Clause.” A quick laymen’s definition of this section is if an action or situation looks unsafe and there are no OSHA rules that govern the act, then OSHA will cite it under the General Duty Clause. It is like a catch-all for OSHA. In fact, if you review the thousands of OSHA citations over the past 30 years you will note that the MUTCD has been referred to during a General Duty Citation as an effective means to protect employees working on roadways.
On April 12, 2002, OSHA announced plans to adopt the MUTCD and include it as a full part of the OSHA Regulations by reference. OSHA is currently using the “direct final rule” approach as well as a proposed rule. If no significant objections are received by June 14, 2002, the final rule will become effective on August 13, 2002. If comments are received, the final rule will be withdrawn and the comments addressed in formulating a new final rule based on the proposal. According to Nancy Ford in OSHA’s Office of Construction services, “there has only been one minor comment received” at the time of this printing. Once one of the amendments is passed, all of the MUTCD regulations will have the same force as OSHA regulations. OSHA is also proposing to include a condition in the final rule that either the Millennium Edition of the MUTCD or Revision 3 of the 1988 edition can be used. That means you would be able to choose which version is most appropriate for your particular situation.
Confined SpacesA common question during confined space training is what the exact definition of a confined space is. Whenever any portion of your body has broken the plane of a confined space, an entry has occurred. There has been some question in the past as to breaking the plane of a confined space with an extension of your body. For example, if you put a rod into a manhole to measure the invert of a pipe, have you made a confined space entry? If you hold a flashlight in the entry of a manhole, but do not place any part of your body into the space, have you made an entry? These may seem like technical questions, but there is a reason for them. Last year in the San Diego area, there was a fatality that OSHA cited under the Confined Space Regulations. It seems that an individual was checking the level of sewage in a holding tank. There was no intention of actually entering the space. The manhole cover was taken off and the person simply wanted to view the level. Apparently, there were high levels of a toxic gas present in the tank presumed to be hydrogen sulfide. When the cover was removed, the level of toxic gas was so high that the individual passed out and fell into the tank. There was no intention of entering the confined space, but the hazards in the confined space created a situation that caused a fatality.
Have your employees removed a manhole cover to check the invert of the pipe? Do you consider this to be a confined space situation? You might want to consider taking additional precautions to avert a situation such as this.
Real-Life IncidentsThese words on OSHA regulations and safety are not intended to go in one ear and out the other. Injuries and fatalities can happen, as you’ll see in the following examples.
A vehicle struck two surveying employees as they worked in the roadway in Colorado. One employee was killed and another broke his ankle. Not only did the company have to deal with the trauma of an employee death and an injury, but they received a citation from OSHA for $6,000.
Another company was cited $3,000 after an employee died from what was determined to be heat stroke. The incident was cited under the General Duty Clause for not providing the proper work environment and actions to keep the employee from getting heat stroke under the Medical Services and First Aid Regulation, and also under the recordkeeping regulations for not reporting the fatality.
OSHA 2003The Bush Administration has presented its proposal for the OSHA FY 2003 budget. Although there is a slight decrease in the overall budget, there is an estimated increase in overall OSHA compliance inspections. OSHA estimates that inspections in 2003 will increase by over 1,300. With everything discussed above, maybe it’s time to increase your compliance efforts in 2002.
OSHA Facts You Can Use
- Citations between $5,000 and $10,000 are not unusual in the surveying industry. Citations can be over $25,000; some over $1.5 million. With all of these citations the potential exists for negotiation to a lower figure, but the end result is a lot of time and expense involved.
- Any citation issued can be considered a repeat violation if a company is cited for the same thing within three years, even if the first citation was a zero dollar amount. Those who say a citation with no dollars attached doesn’t hurt a company are definitely not looking at the entire picture. Repeat violations start at $70,000 and are reduced from there depending on prevailing circumstances. That figure is per item, not a total figure.
- Most OSHA inspections that occur after an employee fatality on the roadway end with the company receiving a General Duty Clause citation for not following the MUTCD guidelines for protecting workers.
- Anytime OSHA cites a company it is public information. If there is a lawsuit involving the company, the fact that OSHA cited them can be used in court.