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OSHA officials provide update on current activities during NSC webinar

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Photo: OSHA

Itasca, IL — Programmed inspections related to preventing heat-related illnesses are likely coming this summer, an OSHA official announced during a Dec. 9 National Safety Council webinar on the agency’s current activities.

Dionne Williams, deputy director of OSHA’s Directorate of Enforcement Programs, said the programmed inspections will target indoor and outdoor settings “where heat is a concern.” An agency enforcement memo issued Sept. 1 has an appendix of industries with “a high number of heat-related illness cases and fatalities,” with their North American Industry Classification System codes listed. Williams noted the agency will have “heat-priority days” when the heat index exceeds 80° F.

“This is done so we can take a proactive approach on these days,” Williams said, adding that OSHA’s compliance staff is engaging with employers in the hopes of stemming complaints, referrals or reports of heat illnesses before they happen.

Andrew Levinson, acting director of OSHA’s Directorate of Standards and Guidance, gave details on the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health’s work group on heat illness. The group will be made up of two to three NACOSH members along with 10-13 people from other stakeholder groups, including technical experts, professional societies/trade organizations, labor and management.

COVID-19’s effects on OSHA

Inspections stemming from COVID-19 transmission and other unprogrammed inspections have accounted for 75% of OSHA’s enforcement activity in the past two fiscal years, Williams said. She’s hoping the agency will be able to get to more programmed inspections in the near future and return to the usual 50-50 split between programmed and unprogrammed inspections.

The pandemic affected OSHA’s work in other ways as well: The agency’s total number of inspections dropped to 21,706 in fiscal year 2020 from more than 30,000 annually between FY 2016 and FY 2019. Preliminary data from the agency shows a modest increase to 24,355 inspections this past fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

Likewise, violations issued by the agency dropped to fewer than 40,000 in FY 2020 from 49,000-plus annually from FY 2016 to FY 2019. That could drop further in FY 2021, to a little more than 31,000, according to the preliminary data.

Onsite consultations by OSHA, which usually total more than 25,000 per fiscal year, decreased to 17,663 in FY 2020. Through the first three quarters of FY 2021, 11,975 onsite consultations had been recorded.

“As we move out of the COVID pandemic, we anticipate those numbers will rise back to more standard levels,” Williams said.

 

Standards update

Levinson provided an update on OSHA standards work, on the eve of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs publishing the Department of Labor’s regulatory agenda for Fall 2021.

OSHA is expected to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking regarding an update to its standard on lockout/tagout (1910.147), perhaps as early as January. Levinson said the NPRM will address computer-controlled lockout/tagout equipment, which isn’t configured for physical locks to be attached.

Also forthcoming is an update to the standard on walking-working surfaces (1910.22). Levinson said the update will involve “cleaning up a couple of little things in the prior standard to look at handrail heights and some tread issues.”

Later this month or early next year, OSHA will convene a Small Business Advocacy Review panel, also known as a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act panel, to discuss its standard on the prevention of workplace violence in health care and social assistance.

A report from an SBAR panel on emergency response and preparedness also will be coming soon.

OSHA is expected to conduct a stakeholder meeting regarding its standard on process safety management and prevention of major chemical incidents. The agency also will likely issue an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on blood lead level for medical removal.

“We’re not changing the PEL,” Levinson said. “This is just the trigger for medical removal, essentially an action level.”

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