Two regulatory deadlines in the first half of the year are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what’s happening with OSHA in 2015.
OSHA’s revised injury and illness reporting rules go into effect right away in the new year. The agency says it will also start enforcing these rules immediately – no grace period. Some industries have been added to the list of those that have to comply with these rules, while others fall off the list. One other significant change: Companies now have to report all employee hospitalizations due to workplace injuries. Previously, companies only had to report when there were three or more hospitalizations.
The second OSHA regulatory deadline this year is aimed at manufacturers and distributors, but a wider range of employers should also take note. By June 1, 2015, all new chemical labels and safety data sheets must conform to the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) – OSHA’s revised Hazard Communication Standard. For employers using chemicals, that means more and more labels and SDSs that their employees see will comply with GHS. However, it’s possible some old-style labels and SDSs will be around for a while. Distributors may still ship products with the old labels until Dec. 1, 2015.
OSHA is conducting slightly fewer inspections each year, but the companies receiving citations are paying higher fines. The fewer fines statistic comes with an asterisk for the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2014: The government shutdown in fall 2013 prohibited OSHA from conducting certain types of inspections until a new federal budget was approved. Meanwhile, the average cost of a federal OSHA fine increased from $1,897 in 2013 to $2,067 in 2014. The number of cases in which fines totaled more than $100,000 also increased from 2013 to 2014. The number of cases termed “egregious” (when OSHA issues instance-by-instance fines) also increased.
State-plan states are keeping pace with their workplace safety inspections. The number of state inspections in 2014 remained about the same as in 2013, around 50,000.
More and more companies are landing in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program. Currently, there are more than 400 companies in the SVEP – an almost 25% increase compared to the previous year. The SVEP concentrates resources on inspecting employers that have demonstrated indifference to their workplace safety obligations by committing willful, repeated, or failure-to-abate violations. Companies in the program can expect follow-up inspections including ones at locations other than where the original violations occurred. Companies in the program tend to be smaller ones. More than half have 25 or fewer employees.
More OSHA inspections are now due to employee complaints than previously. In 2014, 27% of inspections resulted from complaints, compared to 20-24% in previous years. OSHA says this may be due to its direct outreach to employees. It’s likely the trend will continue.
Watch for slow progress in OSHA’s work to update the silica standard. OSHA held public hearings on the proposal in 2014 and says it will finish analyzing comments from those hearings in June 2015. The window for enacting this somewhat controversial standard may be after the November 2016 election but before President Obama leaves office in January 2017.
OSHA is in the progress of developing revised ergonomic guidelines for the healthcare industry. OSHA already publishes ergonomic guidelines for several industries. While these aren’t regulations, OSHA has used its General Duty Clause to cite companies for ergonomic violations when accepted industry guidelines are available.
Look for some movement in OSHA’s attempt to update its chemical standards – particularly permissible exposure limits. The agency is expected to publish the results of a Request for Information soon. However, a revised rule is still probably years away.
Another initiative that is moving along slowly (but it is moving) is the presidential mandate to review OSHA’s Process Safety Management regulations. This was in reaction to the fatal explosion in West, TX. OSHA expected to conduct a small business review on this issue by June 2015.