By most accounts, 2015 was a busy year for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration after it approved the passage of several key pieces of legislation. These changes included the first penalty increase in decades and new rules on working in confined spaces, among several others. With the start of the new year, industry experts are anticipating even more changes on the horizon as the administration continues to strive toward a safer workplace for employees in any industry, including construction.
"OSHA has proposed stricter limits on crystalline silica exposure."
Final rule on crystalline silica
One of the first items on OSHA's agenda is the finalization of a rule regarding safety precautions for crystalline silica, according to the National Law Review. As described in an OSHA factsheet, this material is a byproduct of common procedures that involve grinding, sawing or blasting rocks, bricks or concrete. When this occurs, small particles of silica can get ejected into the air and subsequently inhaled by workers if they haven't taken the right precautions. This leads to a condition called silicosis, which is a chronic disease characterized by serious lung damage, and can be fatal. While OSHA has an established exposure limit to crystalline silica in place, the rule was adopted in 1971 and has not been updated since. According to the administration, the current rule has been proven to be inaccurate thanks to modern analysis, and are difficult for supervisors to understand and enforce. With the passage of the final rule, the daily permissible exposure limit for crystalline silica would be lowered, and effective methods for silica control would be required. The rule would also allow for work site testing and medical exams for workers who may be at risk of crystalline silica exposure.
OSHA estimates that if enacted, the rule would cost the industry around $664 million annually to achieve full compliance, but provide a net benefit of as much as $4.7 billion per year over the next 60 years. The annual cost of the average workplace is expected to amount to an additional $1,242 per year. However, these figures are in dispute by some in the construction and manufacturing industry, according to the National Law Review. Not everyone thinks the rules will actually result in as much of a net benefit as OSHA has said, and some do not think the rules are even necessary. The National Law Review expected the rule to face litigation if it gets passed as expected sometime in February 2016.
Workplace injury rules
Two more OSHA rules in the pipeline revolve around the reporting of workplace injuries and illnesses. One concerns tracking these injuries, specifically by modifying existing OSHA regulations to allow the administration to collect more of this information and make it publicly available. According to the text of the proposed rule, this will be done with the goal of allowing for a more thorough analysis of trends in workplace injuries and hopefully make prevention easier. A related rule change clarifies an employee's right to report an injury sustained at work without fear of retaliation from an employer. OSHA is also looking to establish a rule regarding fall protection that's been in the works for more than 20 years. According to the National Law Review, OSHA had proposed a new rule for personal fall protection systems in 1990, renewing the proposal in 2003 and again in 2010. This rule is expected to take effect April 2016.
Two more rules are expected to take effect in March 2016. One of them is regarding an update of OSHA's rules for respiratory protection, specifically the proper procedures for conducting a fit test on respiratory masks. Currently, OSHA mandates several factors that must be considered when choosing the appropriate respiratory mask for a job that requires one. According to Workplace-Hygiene.com, these include checking the ability for the mask to allow for normal breathing, deep breathing, head movements and jogging, among other factors. OSHA is expected to update these rules to include three new quantitative protocols, according to ConstructionExec.com.
Another rule slated for March 2016 concerns OSHA's rules on cranes and derricks. Until recently, crane operators were relatively unregulated, meaning these large pieces of equipment could be used by most anyone on lax construction sites. Even small cranes have been shown to be accident prone, with these equipment pieces having been implicated in a number of injuries and deaths each year. Tougher regulations concerning who operates cranes on construction sites will create conditions conducive for a safer work environment for many workers.
How to prepare
The number of regulations created or amended by OSHA each year makes it difficult if not impossible to stay apprised of the latest rules. Using construction safety products that update automatically, supervisors and workers can more easily remain compliant. Construction safety products that include toolbox talks and premade checklists also streamline the process of training workers, keeping everyone up to speed and up to code. Staying caught up on the newest OSHA rules doesn't have to be a minefield of red tape. To keep workers safe and avoid massive penalties, it's crucial that construction companies invest in the right safety products and software.