OSHA Violations Increase

NEW SAFETY COMPLIANCE DATA recently released by the federal government reveal a mixed bag for the solid waste industry. According to the Washington-based Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers in the solid waste industry were cited approximately 40 percent more often for OSHA violations in fiscal year (FY) 2005 (Oct. 1, 2004 to Sept. 30, 2005) than in the preceding year.

OSHA identified 477 violations in FY 2005 for Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) Code 4953, an increase from the 334 violations issued to employers in FY 2004. (SIC Code 4953 covers “refuse systems,” and contains most, but not all, of the private sector solid waste industry.) Despite the increase in violations, the dollar amount of fines OSHA assessed in FY 2005 was about the same as in FY 2004. Between 1998 and 2002, the number of violations in SIC Code 4953 declined each year; but over the past few years, the number has increased.

Citations for violations of the “lockout tag-out” standard were the most frequently issued by OSHA in 2005, with 48 violations. The standard requires that a piece of equipment's energy source be disconnected before maintenance or service is performed on the equipment. The standard can be found in Volume 29, Section 1910.147 of the Code of Federal Regulations. (The precise citation for the standard is 29 CFR 1910.147).

The second most frequently cited was the hazard communication standard (29 CFR 1200), with 29 violations. The standard requires employers to advise their employees of workplace hazards relating to chemicals and hazardous substances.

According to the Washington-based National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA), the two standards have been the most commonly issued citations over the past eight years. However, Bruce Parker, president of NSWMA, points to recent reductions in the solid waste industry's number of fatalities and injuries as evidence that the industry's focus on safety is bearing fruit.

There are several possible explanations for why OSHA issued more violations to solid waste companies in 2005. First, the number of inspections conducted of employers for SIC Code 4953 increased last year. Second, OSHA is performing an increased proportion of its inspections at workplaces with high injury rates, or in response to accidents or complaints. Thus, a higher percentage of its inspections are likely to lead to violations and citations.

Of course, OSHA's data from SIC code 4953 only tell part of the industry's safety story. Some solid waste haulers fall under SIC Code 4212, while recycling operations are in SIC code 5093. Further, many state safety agencies enforce OSHA rules, so OSHA's data only cover about half of the United States. Similarly, OSHA's data may not capture all solid waste employers and employees, as temporary employees may be reported separately.

Regardless of the data, safety continues to be an important focus at many waste companies. NSWMA has expanded its safety offerings in recent years, including safety videos and educational programs. Information on NSWMA's safety programs and weekly newsletter can be found at www.nswma.org. For more information, contact David Biderman at 202-364-3743 or davidb@envasns.org. For more on safety, see “Safety Report” on page 26.

David Biderman, General Counsel, NSWMA