Safety First: OSHA On The Move

Armed with more money, agency could impact the waste industry in several ways.

I don't recall seeing a ball drop in our nation's capital as the clock approached midnight on Sept. 30. However, it may as well be the new year here in Washington, because the federal government's fiscal year began on Oct. 1. A new budget for a federal agency often means new staff, increased funding, and new enforcement and regulatory programs.

For the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), fiscal year 2010 is shaping up to be very busy. The agency got a significant increase in funding, which reflects the Obama Administration's emphasis on the enforcement of worker safety rules and the development of new regulations.

OSHA certainly didn't waste any time, announcing on Oct. 1 that it was starting a National Emphasis Program (NEP) on recordkeeping to assess the accuracy of injury and illness data recorded by employers. Unions and others claim declining recorded injury and illness rates are due in large part to under-reporting by employers. There have been several congressional hearings on this topic, and the Government Accountability Office issued a report earlier this year.

OSHA also has proposed substantial modifications to its Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). The proposed changes would alter the HCS to conform with an international standard for hazard communication — the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals of the United Nations. The proposed changes include new definitions and terminology, new criteria for classifications of chemical hazards, and revised labeling, safety data sheet and employee training requirements. Since HCS is one of the OSHA rules solid waste companies are most frequently cited for violating, the industry needs to pay close attention to these proposed changes.

Also in October, OSHA announced it would start accepting comments on a lengthy series of questions as the first step in its development of rules specifically addressing combustible dust. The notice states the waste management industry had three combustible dust “incidents” over the past 30 years (although interestingly, one of the two references for this assertion is a blog!). Transfer stations and recycling facilities are potential targets of this rulemaking. Comments on the notice are due in January, and the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) is likely to meet soon with OSHA to discuss the notice and will file comments.

These are just a few of OSHA's activities as the new fiscal year starts. Expect more announcements once President Obama's nominee to run OSHA, Dr. David Michaels, is confirmed.

  • Before I go, a quick observation: OSHA compliance is an important component of a good safety program. However, complying with OSHA's numerous and often confusing regulations does not prevent bad decisions by your workers or the general public. For the hard-working men and women in our industry, these bad decisions can have fatal consequences.

As I was writing this month's column, I learned that a collection employee was struck and killed by a motorist early one morning in Florida. This is the seventh “struck by” accident that has resulted in a collection worker's death this year, and several motorists also have died crashing into the backs of stopped garbage trucks. These accidents are the leading cause of collection fatalities in the United States and are caused primarily by distracted and rushing motorists. We need to work together to address this hazard. If we don't, trust me, someone at OSHA will, and we may not like their solution.

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David Biderman is general counsel for the National Solid Wastes Management Association. He oversees the organization's safety programs.

Opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the National Solid Wastes Management Association or the Environmental Industry Associations. E-mail the author at [email protected].