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Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Overview and Update

Following the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) in 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was established by Congress with the purpose to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.” (https://www.osha.gov/about.html). In fulfilling its purpose, OSHA has detailed standards, rules, and regulations for covered employers as they strive to provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards for their employees. OSHA compliance safety and health officers conduct investigations based on situations of imminent danger, the report of a severe injury or death, worker complaints, targeted inspections for high-hazard industries or workplaces that have a high rate of injuries, and follow-up inspections to ensure that violations are corrected and that standards, rules, and regulations are upheld. OSHA has also developed other programs such as employer-driven safety and health programs and a Whistleblower Protection Program which protects employees from retaliation when they report perceived safety and health violations.

OSHA covers most private sector employers either directly through OSHA or through an OSHA-approved State Plan with the exception of those who are self-employed, farms where only immediate family members are employed; and those in a job where working conditions are regulated by other federal agencies. Employers who have ten or less employees, and specific business establishments which are classified within certain North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes, are partially exempt from OSHA coverage and are not required to keep OSHA injury and illness records unless they have been informed otherwise in writing by OSHA or the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) or a state agency.

In 1995, OSHA implemented the Standards Improvement Project in response to a Presidential memorandum. This Project has subsequently been revised in 1998, 2005, and in 2011. In 2016, OSHA proposed additional revisions in recordkeeping as well as general industry, maritime, and construction standards that would reduce certain regulations, improve privacy, safety, and health protections for employees, lessen the burden on employers by recognizing updates in technology and industry standards, and potentially save employers a significant amount of money. After nearly three years, OSHA issued a Final Rule in May of 2019 for most of these revisions to be implemented effective as of July 15, 2019.

The following bullet points provide a summary of the revisions in the Final Rule:

  • Social Security Number collection requirements have been eliminated on documentation related to monitoring and/or early detection of disease acquired due to exposure in the environment in which an employee works.
  • Recording requirements for hearing loss have been enhanced if the hearing loss was caused by a work-related event or environment, or if the work-related injury or illness aggravated a pre-existing illness or injury.
  • The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the 2009 Edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) have been set as the compliance standards for the design and use of traffic control devices such as construction signs, signals, markings, and barricades.
  • The general requirements for handling, storage, usage and disposal of construction materials on a worksite have been revised and single-family, residential contractors are no longer required to post maximum safe-load floor limits in property that is under construction.
  • The 911 emergency service-posting requirements have been updated to include having an effective communication system for emergency purposes even at isolated work sites where dependable cellular service and emergency services may not be available.
  • Requirements for recurrent chest x-ray requirements have been removed for employees subjected to arsenic, coke oven emissions, and acrylonitrile. Digital x-ray storage is also now acceptable.
  • The list of vermin in the Shipyard General Working Conditions has been revised to exclude “feral cats”.
  • The minimum breaking-strength requirements for safety belts, lifelines, and lanyards has been reduced from 5.400 to 5,000 pounds to be consistent with construction and general industry standards.
  • Worksite standards on exposures to hazardous chemicals including Asbestos, Inorganic Arsenic, Cadmium, Coke Oven Emissions, and Acrylonitrile have been updated.
  • The General Industry Cotton Dust Standard for lung-function testing requirements has been updated.
  • The Coke Oven Emissions Standard has been removed since this is now addressed by general industry standards.
  • The rollover protective structure and overhead protection requirements has been exchanged with appropriate current industry standards.
  • The Underground Construction Standard for diesel equipment compliance for the Mine Safety Health Administration’s current specifications has been updated.

There are several proposed revisions that were put on hold, including:

  • Employer responsibility in both construction and excavation construction standards that ensure that employees have personal protective equipment that fits them.
  • The ability to use newer and more advanced decompression tables during underground construction, and considering items such as loose rock, soil, or equipment next to a trench a hazard.

A decision was not made on revising the lockout/tagout (LOTO) standard which, according to OSHA, “covers the servicing and maintenance of machines and equipment in which the unexpected energization or startup of the machines or equipment, or release of stored energy, could harm employees.” (https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1910/1910.147).  Instead of revising the standard and potentially creating more substantial requirements for employers, OSHA has issued a Request for Information (RFI) regarding the proposed changes before a final determination is made.

Even though the recent revisions may not be applicable to all industries, this is a good time for all employers to review their compliance with ongoing OSHA standards and requirements. Employers in the industries affected by the revisions are encouraged to take the time to thoroughly review the revisions in the Final Rule in accordance with their company safety policies and procedures to ensure they are meeting the requirements as determined by OSHA. Of course, all changes in policy or procedures should be communicated to both management and employees, and training should be provided, as needed.

For additional information about OSHA or the Final Rule, please contact us at www.newfocushr.com.

Written by: Kathi A. Walker, SHRM-SCP, PHR

                     Sr. HR Consultant

                     New Focus HR, LLC





New Focus HR is a human resources consulting and training company that services all organizations. Our expert team collaborates with businesses to attract, motivate, retrain and retain their biggest assets, employees. While engaged with an organization, our focus is to find solutions that improve the company’s internal HR-related practices while increasing results at the same time! Our focus. Your results.