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OSHA's Regulatory Agenda: What to Expect in 2021

Posted by Clarion Safety Systems | 3rd Dec 2020

Every year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposes and implements new regulations. The OSHA rulemaking efforts give companies specific guidelines to follow. They also set clear expectations that the administration can use to evaluate workplaces. Below is a breakdown of what we can expect of OSHA’s regulatory agenda for 2021 – including updates related to COVID-19 – and how these changes may effect the safety landscape and workplaces going forward.

OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard Revisions
OSHA incorporated the United Nation’s (UN) Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling (GHS) into its Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) in 2012. It specified requirements for hazard classification and standardized GHS label components/information on safety data sheets; the aim was to improve employee protection and facilitate international trade. GHS is a living document and has been updated several times since OSHA’s initial rulemaking; OSHA's rulemaking was based on the third edition of GHS and the UN recently completed the seventh. Therefore, OSHA is in the process of aligning its HCS to the latest edition of the GHS, and to codify a number of enforcement policies that have been issued since the 2012 standard. In late 2018, OSHA proposed a new regulation on hazard communication. In August 2020, OSHA released information about the Hazard Communication Standard update process, stating that it is still in the proposed rule stage. This will likely be a continued push into 2021. A common workplace safety violation, hazard communication has repeatedly made OSHA’s top 10 violations list in recent years.

OSHA’s Beryllium Standard
Beryllium is a metal that is a commonly used material in products ranging from electronics to golf clubs. Inhaling or contacting beryllium can cause an immune response resulting in a person becoming desensitized to the metal. This can lead to debilitating diseases such as chromic beryllium disease, acute beryllium disease and lung cancer.

An update to the standard was proposed in December 2018, and a final rule was issued in summer 2020, revising the beryllium standards for general industry, construction and shipyards. In July, a final rule was published revising the beryllium standard for general industry, clarifying certain provisions and making efforts to improve/simplify compliance. In August, a separate rule was published for the construction and shipyard industries. Ultimately, these rules are designed to enhance worker protection and to ensure that the standard is understood.

Key provisions of the beryllium standard update include:

  • Requiring a permissible exposure limit for beryllium of 0.2 µg/m3, averaged over 8 hours.
  • Setting a short-term exposure limit for beryllium of 2.0 µg/m3, over a 15-minute sampling period.
  • Requiring employers to 1) use engineering and work practice controls (ventilation, for example) to limit exposure to beryllium, 2) provide respirators when controls can’t sufficiently limit exposure to the metal, 3) limit worker access to high-exposure areas, 4) develop a written exposure control plan to mitigate employee exposure, 5) train workers on beryllium-related hazards and ways to reduce them.
  • Requiring employers to provide medical examinations to monitor workers who have been exposed to beryllium. The update also provides medical removal protections to workers who have an existing beryllium-related disease or illness.

Respirator Fit Testing
OSHA recently issued an updated rule for testing the fit of respirators. This provides two new protocols that employers may use. This does not require employers in general industries, shipyard employment and construction to change their current testing methods.

This rule is in the final rule stage. It’s not expected to add any additional cost for employers currently conforming to the previous testing method. According to a release by OSHA, “the new protocols are the modified ambient aerosol condensation nuclei counter (CNC) quantitative fit testing protocol for full-facepiece and half-mask elastomeric respirators, and the modified ambient aerosol CNC quantitative fit testing protocol for filtering facepiece respirators.”

In October 2020, OSHA released an update regarding temporary enforcement guidance of tight-fitting powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) in relation to COVID-19. The new policy allows for the use of tight-fitting PAPRs approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to help protect workers against the virus when initial and/or annual fit testing is not possible due to a shortage of respirator and fit-testing supplies. Essentially, OSHA is allowing employers to consider the use of alternative classes of respirators that provide equal or greater protection compared to a N95 respirator. These include N99, N100, R95, R99, R100, P95, P99 and P100 respirators, NIOSH-approved respirators or powered air-purifying respirators, either loose-fitting or tight-fitting.

Lockout/Tagout and Computer-based Controls
OSHA published a request for information in May 2019 to learn more about lockout/tagout for controls and robotics. According to Loren Sweatt, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, “the agency is interested in considering the impact of modern machines on the workplace and how best to continue to protect workers.”

As computer-based controls become more prevalent, OSHA wants to have rules in place to ensure safety around them. Currently, these computer-based controls of hazardous energy conflict with OSHA's existing lockout/tagout standard. The agency is working to understand the strengths and weaknesses of this evolving technology. The rule is currently in the proposed rule stage and is expected to continue to be weighed through 2021.

Respirable Crystalline Silica Control Measures
OSHA estimates that 295,000 workers are exposed to dangerous crystalline silica dust yearly. Back in 2016, OSHA published a final rule on Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica for the construction, general industry and maritime sectors to help limit hazardous crystalline silica dust in the workplace. Enforcement of this requirement began in September 2017 for the construction industry and in June 2018 for the general industry and maritime fields. On June 23, 2021, OSHA will begin enforcing engineering control requirements for the gas and oil industries, specifically relating to hydraulic fracturing.

Recently, OSHA requested information related to crystalline silica in an effort to measure the effectiveness of respirable crystalline silica exposure prevention methods. The aim is to revise Table 1 in the Standard for Construction if appropriate to help further control exposure in the workplace. The information review is expected to continue through 2021.

Proposed Rule Changes for the Construction Industry
It’s well established that the construction sector is a dangerous one when it comes to safety, and OSHA is proposing a handful of new rule changes for the industry through 2021. These proposed changes relate to various standards including the Amendments to the Cranes and Derricks in Construction Standard (Safety and Health Regulations for Construction), Welding in Construction Confined Spaces and Personal Protective Equipment in Construction. Here is a brief breakdown of the proposed changes intended to safeguard construction worksites and increase the health and safety of workers in the industry:

  • Amendments to the Cranes and Derricks in Construction Standard: Designed to improve crane safety and reduce worker injury and fatality, the new proposed amendments include revising wording relating to voltages (AC and DC), broadening exclusions for forklifts, correcting an error permitting body belts to be used as a personal fall arrest system as opposed to a personal fall restrain system, removing ambiguity regarding crane verbiage and correcting other errors found in the current standard.
  • Welding in Construction Confined Spaces: OSHA is planning to propose rules to eliminate any perceived ambiguity about the definition of ‘confined space’ that applies to welding activities in construction. Currently, the welding standard does not offer a concrete definition of what a confined space is.
  • Personal Protective Equipment in Construction: A proposed change would clarify the requirements for the fit of personal protective equipment in construction.

Expected Changes to Labor Law Posters Amid COVID-19
While there are currently no standards written that specifically address COVID-19, it is expected that OSHA will roll out new rules relating to labor laws and required postings in 2021 in light of the pandemic. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was signed on March 18, 2020 and took effect on April 1, 2020, ultimately expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act. But now that these expansions are set to expire at the end of 2020, questions and concerns have been raised by employers and workers about how this will effect them going into 2021. It is expected that three main areas will see new or extended legislation in the new year, including paid sick leave, family leave and paid time off, bringing anticipated changes to various labor law posters.

Staying Safe and Compliant in 2021 and Beyond
Now more than ever, prioritizing safety is paramount. As we head into a new year, understanding OSHA’s regulatory agenda can help to keep a pulse on key topics that today’s equipment manufacturers and environmental health and safety teams need to have top of mind. Clarion Safety is dedicated to being your go-to source for visual safety products and services (from risk assessments to custom labels and signs) to support your objectives. We’re also here to help you stay up-to-date on today’s best practices that are critical for safety. Let us know how we can help.

This blog was originally posted on 1/3/2019 and has been updated with new information throughout.

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