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Occupational Safety Blog

By Fred Rine, CEO of FDRsafety and former long-time Managing Director of Safety and Health at FedEx, Jim Stanley, President of FDRsafety and former No. 2 at OSHA headquarters and Mike Taubitz, Senior Advisor to FDRsafety and former Global Safety Director for General Motors.

Archive for the ‘OSHA’ Category

Companies’ voluntary audits now being used against them

October 4th, 2013 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

What appears to be a new OSHA practice of using a company’s voluntary safety and health audit as a guide to identifying possible hazards to focus on in an inspection should prompt employers to review their procedures for these audits.

For many years, OSHA has had a final policy in effect which said that the agency would not use the voluntary audits to guide inspections. However, in a recent Review Commission decision evidence surfaced demonstrating that OSHA had done just that.

An article by attorneys Mark S. Dreux and Matthew C. Thorne of Arent Fox describes what happened in the case of Secretary of Labor v. BP Products North America, Inc. et al., which involved three citations issued in 2010 stemming from an inspection under OSHA’s Petroleum Refinery PSM National Emphasis Program.

“Despite being ‘troubled’ by OSHA’s ‘blatant contravention’ of its Final Policy, the Administrative Law Judge permitted the evidence, in effect, condoning the practice for future use,” the article said.

The attorneys advise that voluntary audit reports “should be written carefully on the assumption they will become a public document that OSHA may request and review.” They also suggest considering whether to engage outside counsel to conduct the audit under privilege.

This new approach is just one more example of OSHA cutting off its nose to spite its face by erecting barriers to voluntary safety and health programs by good employers, which are one of the best ways to achieve a safe workplace.

Manage Safety Risk – Get a “2 Fer”

September 27th, 2013 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

Our guest blogger today is Mike White, a new senior advisor for FDRsafety who comes to us after a great career at GM, where he was most recently Global Safety Director.

Let me explain the title and the premise of this blog.  If you manage for risk, you also manage for compliance.  However, if you manage for compliance, you may overlook risk and hazards that result in serious or fatal injuries.

I recently retired from General Motors where I spent the last part of my career as Global Safety Director.  Prior to that position, I was co-director of our joint efforts with the UAW. I spent more than 30 years in operations before going into safety and wondered, “How did I get here?” In both safety positions, I reported to operations executives. It didn’t take me long to appreciate the wisdom of fully integrating safety with daily operations. Thankfully, the groundwork to manage risk within GM and our joint process had been laid.

I’ll share with you my learning and experiences of why managing risk gets you a “2 Fer.” Most safety professionals are aware that OSHA, by mandate, is a violations-based approach. Identification and mitigation of violations is necessary but not sufficient. You must obviously do those things required by OSHA, but that alone will not eliminate injuries, especially those associated with non-routine tasks.

Risk assessment allows workers to assess the exposure to hazards for both routine and non-routine tasks. Let’s say that a maintenance worker is called to fix a machine where parts are not locating properly during machining or assembly. That worker may have to stand in a designated safe place inside an interlocked perimeter guard and observe the machine in full automatic mode.

Upon diagnosing what is thought to be the problem, the worker will identify a pre-task plan to repair the machine in a safe way, lockout the machine and make the necessary repair. Obviously, if there is no safe position from which to observe the machine or perform the task we have a different challenge.You must obviously do those things required by OSHA, but that alone will not eliminate injuries, especially those associated with non-routine tasks.

What happens with a violations-based approach

If you take a purely violations based approach, as OSHA does, it’s typical to find a rule that says, the worker cannot, under any circumstances, be inside the guard with power on. That’s like telling your mechanic that he/she cannot have your automobile engine running to perform diagnostic work. Good luck with that. Workers know when safety rules do not allow them to perform their jobs, and they usually circumvent or ignore the rules to get equipment running.  I’m not talking about shortcuts for expediency. I’m talking about jobs that cannot be performed because our philosophy and designs of machines and guarding emanate from violations-based thinking.

The other benefit of managing risk is enabling the identification of situations that we never see because they could be on off shifts or are in those remote locations where maintenance or other periodic tasks might be performed.  Asking a worker, “If I was a family member who just hired in, what job (whether daily, weekly or annually) might seriously injure me?” You will find that kind of information typically does not show up in our housekeeping or OSHA audits.  Workers don’t have to be experts to understand the fundamentals of risk.

Lastly, traditional safety terms and programs make both workers and executives glaze over.  Risk, on the other hand, is the language of business and the common hinge for all safety programs. Whether safety, business risk, insured risk, market risk, etc., top management understands the fundamentals of risk without a prep course.

In summary, manage risk and get the “2Fer” of managing both risk and compliance.

Comment period begins for OSHA proposal on silica

September 16th, 2013 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

OSHA has now entered the 90-day countdown period to receive comments on its proposed 755-page rule on exposure to respirable crystalline silica in general industry, construction, and shipyards.

A coalition of construction trade groups has already let it be known that they are opposed.

“We need practical, science-based solutions that protect workers in all facets of construction,” said Rick Judson, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a builder and developer from Charlotte, N.C. “Unfortunately, OSHA’s initial announcement about this proposed rule indicates we aren’t there yet.”

The proposed Permissible Exposure Limit of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air as an eight-hour time weighted average is half of the current standard for quartz, the most common form of crystalline silica, in general industry. It is considerably below the limits for crystalline silica now applied to construction and shipyards;

The proposed standard also includes requirements for exposure assessment, preferred exposure control methods, respiratory protection, medical surveillance, hazard communication, and recordkeeping.


SVEP not living up to its billing

September 11th, 2013 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

One of OSHA’s key enforcement initiatives is the Severe Violators Enforcement Program, which the agency says identifies employers who are indifferent to workplace health and safety and subjects them to enhanced settlements and follow-up inspections.

But how effective is this program, really?

OSHA’s white paper on the subject, published earlier this year, said the program was “off to a strong start” in its first 18 months. Besides imposing extra penalties on “indifferent” employers and subjecting them to follow-up inspections, SVEP is effectively “targeting high-emphasis hazards (and) facilitating inspections across multiple worksites,” according to the white paper.

But Eric Conn, who leads the OSHA practice at the Epstein Becker Green law firm, has written an article for the Washington Legal Foundation that offers a much different assessment.

“Despite OSHA’s claims … careful scrutiny of the data available regarding the SVEP casts doubt on the program’s effectiveness and reveals several glaring problems with how the SVEP is being administered. Most notably, the Severe Violator Enforcement Program:

“1. Disproportionately targets small employers with enforcement rather than compliance assistance;

“2. Provokes more than four times as many legal challenges to the underlying citations as compared to the average OSHA enforcement action;

“3. Encounters significant obstacles in the execution of follow-up inspections of SVEP – qualified employers; and

“4. Finds virtually no systemic safety issues when follow-up and related facility inspections are conducted (i.e., the program is not capturing recalcitrant employers).”

The SVEP is just one more example of an enforcement program gone off the tracks. OSHA should take Conn’s critique seriously.

Good News, Bad News: OSHA and the Global Harmonization System

August 22nd, 2013 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

Our guest blogger is Joe Wolfsberger, a senior advisor at FDRsafety and an expert in occupational health/industrial hygiene.

OSHA has published the final rule on the Global Harmonization System that applies to producers, distributors and users of chemicals.  This revision to the existing Hazard Communication Standard has implications that are both positive and negative.  Let’s take a look at the good news / bad news and how it will affect you and your operations.

The good news

For companies with a global presence, the promise of universal regulations is seen as welcome relief from the multitude of regulations that they must deal with around the world.  While a single set of EHS regulations that apply for all countries is still only a distant future hope, steps are being taken to harmonize the chemical hazard information requirements across much of the globe.

In an effort to support this, OSHA on March 26, 2012, published the final rule for its Global Harmonization System regulations.  A summary of the regulation can be found here. As with any new regulation there will required changes to the way companies comply. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) will become Safety Data Sheets (SDS) requiring 16 specific sections ensuring consistency with other countries’ regulations, and labels must include a signal word, pictogram, hazard statement and precautionary statements for each hazard class and category.  All of this is designed to enhance worker comprehension of hazards and eliminate confusion.

Now, the bad news

The changes being made to integrate GHS into the HazCom Standard will alter the way flammables are classified, making them no longer consistent with NFPA’s categories for flammables.

OSHA will no longer have a classification of combustible; all liquids with a flashpoint below 199.4oF (93oC) will be referred to as flammable. (Note: the Mine Safety and Health Administration has not changed their definitions)  OSHA will be changing from three classes with sub classes (Class I A, I B, I C, II, III A, & IIIB) to four categories (Category 1, 2, 3 & 4).  Classification will still be based on the flashpoint of the liquid but the ranges will be different.  There is not a one-to-one relationship between classes to categories as can be seen in the following chart.


Although OSHA has changed its classifications, many states and municipalities have adopted NFPA and International Fire Codes (IFC) as the basis for their local ordinances on flammable liquids.  Care must be taken to ensure that complying with the new OSHA regulation does not create a non-compliance situation with local ordinances.

As an additional note, although the implementation date for product manufacturers is June 1, 2015, and for distributors December 1, 2015, workers must receive training by December 1 of this year.  Training must include the new label elements and safety data sheet format in addition to the current training requirements.

For information on training requirements for GHS, see our earlier post. If you have any questions about the OSHA Final Rule on Hazard Communication, classification of flammable liquids, hazard assessments, OSHA Compliance Inspections or health and safety training, contact us at



3 myths about permit-required confined spaces standard

August 19th, 2013 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

OSHA’s standard for permit-required confined spaces is complex, but surprisingly misconceptions have persisted about three fairly easy to understand aspects of the standard.

Curtis Chambers of the OSHA Training Blog zeroed in on these myths in a recent post. Here are the three he identified:

1) “This standard does not apply to me because I do not have any confined spaces at my facility.”

2) “This standard does not apply to me because I have no employees who will be entering a permit- required confined space.”

3) “I have no obligations under the OSHA confined space standard because I hire outside contractors to perform all work inside permit-required confined spaces at our facility.”

To learn more about these myths, read the OSHA Training Blog.

What OSHA needs to prove about an alleged violation

August 15th, 2013 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

A recent appeals court decision provides an excellent reminder of information that all employers should be aware of when it comes to OSHA enforcement.

When OSHA cites a company for an alleged violation, the following four requirements must be met if the violation is to stand:

1) That the regulation applied to the circumstances at hand;

2) That the regulation was violated;

3) That an employee was exposed to the hazard that was created; and

4) That the employer “knowingly disregarded” the Act’s requirements. That means the employer either knew or, with the exercise of reasonable diligence, could have known, of the violation.

These tests must be met for every alleged violation contained in the larger OSHA citation.

While there is nothing new about these requirements – they are part of the OSH Act – it is easy sometimes to overlook critical basic principles amid a barrage of detailed additional information. With these principles firmly in mind, it will be easier for companies to know whether they have the basis to challenge a violation.


OSHA drops plan that would have hurt SHARP

August 9th, 2013 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

There has been concern in recent years that OSHA’s support has waned for the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program, known as SHARP, which rewards companies with strong safety programs.

But now, Inside OHSA Online reports, the agency is backing away from a plan that critics said would have gutted SHARP.|

According to Inside OSHA Online: “OSHA had proposed — and appeared close to issuing a final rule two years ago — to modify the regulations that provide exemptions for work site inspections if employers are in SHARP, particularly to make it easier for inspectors to go in if there are concerns about “critical” health or safety issues. The rule would also have reduced the deletion period for programmed inspections of SHARP sites. Supporters of the plan said it would help the agency confront pressing workplace concerns like combustible dust, even if the employer takes part in the recognition program.

“Industry quickly protested the rule-making when was unveiled three years ago, saying the changes would effectively gut the voluntary program by removing incentives to participate, and that it demonstrated a heavy-handed approach by OSHA toward voluntary programs. But a source tells Inside OSHA Online that a key factor in OSHA’s decision to abandon the rule was that several state consultation programs were also upset with the federal agency’s plan and had repeatedly lodged their complaints with OSHA officials.”



Sharing thoughts on OSHA’s approach: Guilty until proven innocent

August 8th, 2013 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

A blog post I wrote for OH&S magazine’s website has received a number of comments, so I thought I would share the basics here, along with a link to the longer piece for those who would like to read more. The premise is this:

OSHA’s leadership has turned a basic American principle on its head. Many of the agency’s actions indicate its leaders are more comfortable with the idea that companies are guilty until they prove themselves innocent.

For example, at the area office level, OSHA is conducting fewer intensive reviews of inspectors’ case files and recommended violations to be sure the government’s burden of proof has been met.

As a result, in my opinion, OSHA’s credibility with employers is at its lowest point since the agency was founded. And, perhaps not surprisingly, in my opinion, the new approach has not improved worker safety, as can be confirmed by a look at the history of recordable rates for non-fatal injuries and illnesses in private industry. This rate showed annual declines every year from 1994 to 2009, when Dr. David Michaels arrived as Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA. Injury and illnesses rates were essentially flat in 2010 compared with 2009 and 2011 compared with 2010.

For more examples and thoughts, read the OH&S blog post here.

Training deadline approaching for Globally Harmonized System

July 26th, 2013 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

Our guest blogger today is Jim Carnahan, a member of the FDRsafety team specializing in advising clients on compliance with new OSHA regulations on Globally Harmonized Systems.

December 1 is the first deadline under OSHA’s new Globally Harmonized System regulation, which requires that employees be trained on the new label elements for chemicals and the new Safety Data Sheet (SDSs) format. Full compliance with the other elements is to begin in 2015.

OSHA requires this training by December 1 because workplaces will soon begin to receive new labels and SDSs, in keeping with the new GHS regulation.

Employees will need to be trained on new GHS label elements that include:

  • Symbols (GHS Hazard Pictograms): Assigned to each hazard class and category. Conveys health, physical and environmental hazard information
  • Signal Words: “Danger” and “Warning” to emphasize hazards and also indicate the severity level of the hazard
  • Hazard Statement: A standard phrase assigned to a hazard class and category that describes the nature of the hazard(s) of a chemical, including where appropriate, the degree of the hazard.
  • Additional label requirements: Includes Precautionary Statements, Product Identifier, Supplier Identification and Supplemental Information.

Employees must also be trained on the new Safety Data Sheets. The SDSs are similar to the current MSDSs except the “M” (Material) has been dropped.

  • The information required on the SDS is relatively the same as the current MSDS, but the information in the SDS must be presented using specific headings in a specified sequence.
  • The GHS rules requires information to be listed under 16 specific headings.

Additional information on the new GHS regulation, including the training requirements:

  • OSHA Fact Sheet – “December 1, 2013 Training Requirements for the Revised Hazard Communication  Standard”
  • Questions and Answers regarding the new GHS regulation on the OSHA website

Please note that some manufacturers have already upgraded their chemical labeling and Safety Data Sheets and may be shipping these containers to your facility. Therefore, completing this training sooner would be beneficial to minimize any confusion your employees may have when they encounter these new labels or read the new SDSs.

If you have any additional questions, please contact  Jim Carnahan at