Safety and OSHA News

OSHA proposal: Warnings/delays no longer acceptable lockout/tagout alternatives

To address a federal court ruling, OSHA is proposing to take one word out of its Control of Hazardous Energy standard that could cause some companies to have to redo their lockout/tagout programs. 

This is just one of 18 proposed changes to OSHA’s recordkeeping, general industry, maritime and construction standards in an Oct. 4, 2016, Federal Register notice.

The changes, Standards Improvement Project-Phase IV, are the fourth in a series in response to a presidential executive order, “Improving Regulations and Regulatory Review.” The goal of the executive order is to reduce regulatory burden while maintaining or enhancing employees’ safety and health.

OSHA’s Control of Hazardous Energy standard (1910.147) applies to servicing and maintenance operations “in which the unexpected energization or startup of the machines or equipment, or the release of stored energy could cause injury to the employees.”

Because of a court ruling, OSHA proposes to take the word “unexpected” out of the standard.

OSHA intended “unexpected energization” to mean any startup that occurs before the employee servicing equipment intended it to.

However, the Sixth Circuit rejected OSHA’s interpretation of the standard. It ruled the lockout/tagout standard didn’t apply when a startup procedure provided a warning to a worker that machinery was about to start.

In the specific case, workers were servicing machines that used an 8-to-12-step startup procedure, including time delays. Because of the procedure and delay, the court said startup wouldn’t be unexpected.

OSHA believes the Sixth Circuit decision misconstrues the lockout/tagout standard by allowing employers to use warning and delay systems as alternatives to following the requirements for the standard.

X-rays and feral cats

Among the 17 other changes OSHA is proposing:

  • Employers would no longer have to provide x-rays to screen for lung cancer for employees who face that exposure. Studies have found x-rays aren’t beneficial in the lung cancer screening process.
  • In shipyard regs, feral cats would no longer be considered “vermin” that employees would have to be protected from. Insects and rodents would still make the cut.

It’s easier to see how these two changes would fulfill the mandate of the executive order to reduce regulatory burden.

But some employers may find changing how they comply with the lockout/tagout standard isn’t a reduction in regulatory burden.

Perhaps in anticipation of some pushback on this proposal, OSHA notes that currently its inspectors apply 11 different factors to determine whether particular warning devices are adequate to comply with its standard.

Here is OSHA’s proposed benefit of deeming none of the devices to be adequate:

“This creates a degree of uncertainty about the applicability of the standard for the regulated community that OSHA did not intend.”

OSHA also points out that this change would make the standard consistent with its lockout/tagout regulation for shipyards which doesn’t include the word “unexpected.” OSHA says when it made the change in the shipyard standard, it didn’t receive any comments addressing the issue.

Comments on the proposal must be submitted by Dec. 5, 2016.

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