OSHA Issues Confined Spaces in Construction Proposed Rule

December 03, 2007

 The agency is accepting public comments on the proposed standard until Jan. 28, 2008.

"The existing construction standard for confined spaces would be updated and comprehensively revised to better protect construction employees from atmospheric and physical hazards," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Edwin G. Foulke Jr. "This rule will reduce the number of construction injuries and fatalities and greatly improve safety and health in the workplace."

The proposed rule addresses construction-specific issues and uses a comprehensive, step-by-step approach to confined space safety by setting out how to assess the hazards, classify the space, and implement effective procedures to protect employees. The proposed rule would require controlling contractors to coordinate confined space operations among a site's multiple employers.

Interested parties are invited to submit comments on the proposed rule by Jan. 28, 2008. Comments may be submitted the Federal eRulemaking Portal; send three copies to the OSHA Docket Office, Room N-2625, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C., 20210; telephone 202-693-2350; or fax to 202-693-1648. Comments must include the agency name and the docket number of this rulemaking, Docket No. OSHA-2007-0026. See the Federal Register notice for more information on submitting comments.

Ozone Can Affect Heavier People More

A new study provides the first evidence that people with higher body mass index (BMI) may have a greater response to ozone than leaner people. Short-term exposure to atmospheric ozone has long been known to cause a temporary drop in lung function in many people. This is the first study in humans to look at whether body weight influenced how much lung function falls after acute ozone exposure. Ozone is formed in the atmosphere in the presence of sunlight from other pollutants emitted from vehicles and other sources. Exposure occurs when people inhale air containing ozone.

Researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, and the EPA analyzed data on young (18–35 years), healthy, non-smoking men and women to see if BMI—a measure of the amount of fat a person has—had an effect on lung response to acute ozone exposure. The study published this month in the journal Inhalation Toxicology found that ozone response was greater with increasing BMI.

"It has been known for a long time that in response to short-term exposure to ozone, lung function tends to temporarily drop in many people. There has recently been interest in why some people's lung function drops more than others—age and perhaps genetics, as well as diet may play a role," said NIEHS researcher and co-author Stephanie London, M.D. "We were intrigued by recent mouse studies that showed that obesity increases lung responses to ozone and wanted to see whether this applied in humans."

To examine the question of whether higher BMI influences ozone responses in humans, the investigators took advantage of an earlier study led by Milan J. Hazucha and colleagues at the Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma and Lung Biology /UNC, and the EPA Human Studies Facility in Chapel Hill, N.C. From this study, BMI was determined in 197 subjects who had been exposed to ozone for 90 minutes, during which they alternated 20 minutes of exercise with 10 minutes of rest. The subjects' lung capacity and function were tested immediately before and after the exposure period using spirometry, a basic lung function test that measures the speed and volume of how fast and how much air is breathed out of the lungs.

In general, the higher the BMI, the greater the ozone response, providing one more reason why maintaining a healthy body weight is important to your health. When subjects were put into categories of body fatness as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control based on their BMI, the ozone-related drops in lung function, particularly the forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1), were lowest in underweight people (BMI less than 18.5), greater in normal weight people (BMI 18.5 to 25), and greatest in overweight individuals (BMI above 25). BMI is a measure of fatness based on an individual's height and weight.

"It's notable that these results came out of a study that was done in a population of predominantly normal weight individuals," said London. "This suggests that these effects may be even more important in the general population where there are large proportions of overweight and obese individuals." An estimated two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, with a BMI greater than 25, according to CDC[i].
The physiologic mechanisms responsible for the decline in lung function after ozone exposure with increasing BMI are not clear, although the authors suggest that perhaps circulatory hormones and other inflammatory factors may play a role. These factors have been shown to affect airway hyper-responsiveness and inflammation in animal models.

The authors note too that the study was limited in the small number of obese individuals (the subjects had not been selected with a study of BMI in mind) and by having only one measure of a person's body fat. Future studies of the effects of obesity on ozone response, they say, should include a targeted pool of obese and lower weight subjects, as well as measures of central adiposity, such as waist circumference, given that fat deposited centrally may have a greater influence on an individual's respiratory response to ozone.

Cave-In Hazard at Massachusetts Jobsite Leads to $34,200 in OSHA Fines

A Marstons Mills, Mass., contractor faces $34,200 in fines from OSHA for an unprotected trench and other hazards at a construction site on Hummock Pond Road on the island of Nantucket in Massachusetts.

Bortolotti Construction Inc. was cited for alleged repeat and serious violations of safety standards following an Oct. 17 OSHA inspection, which found employees installing a water line in a five feet, five inch by six feet, eight inch deep trench that lacked any protective system to prevent its sidewalls from collapsing. OSHA standards mandate that all excavations five feet or deeper be guarded against cave-ins.

"Employees should never be allowed into an excavation until it is properly and effectively protected against collapse," said Brenda Gordon, OSHA's area director in Braintree. "The prospect for death or catastrophic injury is always present, as a cave-in can overwhelm and bury employees beneath tons of soil and debris before they can react or escape."

The cave-in hazard was exacerbated by the piling of excavated material at the edge of the trench, which could have undermined the trench's walls and fallen onto the employees. There also was no ladder or other safe means to exit the trench and no head protection for the employees in the trench.

OSHA had cited Bortolotti in March for similar hazards at a Mashpee, Mass., jobsite. Consequently, four repeat citations, carrying $22,200 in fines, were issued for these conditions at the Nantucket worksite. OSHA issues a repeat citation when an employer previously has been cited for a similar hazard and that citation has become a final order.

Additionally, during the Nantucket inspection, OSHA found water accumulating in the bottom of the trench, determined that there had been no inspection by a competent person to identify and correct trenching hazards, and found that a damaged sling was being used to lift sections of pipe. These three conditions resulted in four serious citations with $12,000 in proposed fines. A serious citation is issued when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

OSHA inspectors who encounter excavations in the course of their duties will stop and open inspections on the spot, as happened in this case. 

OSHA and Crane, Hoist, and Monorail Groups Renew Alliance

The alliance will continue to provide systems owners and operators in general industry with information and access to training resources that will assist in protecting employees, including Spanish-speaking, and other high-risk or vulnerable "hard-to-reach" employees. Through the alliance, the organizations will continue their efforts to help reduce and prevent exposure to safety and health issues, such as electrical hazards, falls from elevations, or being struck by moving equipment.

"Our alliance has made substantial progress over the past two years in reducing and preventing serious or fatal incidents in the material handling industry," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Edwin G. Foulke Jr. "Together, we will continue to focus on efforts and resources that identify and implement the best industry practices that protect employees and help keep crane, hoist, and monorail operators safe and healthy."

"The Crane Manufacturers Association of America, the Hoist Manufacturers Institute, and the Monorail Manufacturers Association are pleased to learn that the Crane, Hoist, and Monorail Alliance will be renewed for 2008 and 2009," said Hal Vandiver, executive vice president, Material Handling Industry of America. "Our collective experience with the first term of the OSHA Alliance Program fulfilled all of our key objectives. We look forward to continuing our work with OSHA to promote safety and health in the workplace."

This year, OSHA participated in ProMat 2007 and, with input from the alliance, developed the Thermoforming Machines module of OSHA's Machine Guarding eTool. Articles and press releases on the OSHA and Crane, Hoist, and Monorail Alliance activities have appeared in publications such as Alliance Quarterly Review. In addition, more than 18,000 individuals have visited the OSHA Basic Steel Products Safety and Health Topics page, which is also a product of the alliance, as well as the alliance's webpage on OSHA's website.

OSHA Proposes More Than $116,000 in Fines Against Contractor for Cave-In Hazards

A Smithfield, R.I., contractor's failure to provide cave-in protection for employees at three Rhode Island jobsites has resulted in a total of $116,200 in proposed fines from OSHA.

John Rocchio Corp. was cited for alleged willful and serious violations of safety standards following OSHA inspections conducted June 1, June 13, and June 26 at worksites in East Greenwich and North Kingstown. All three inspections, which were conducted in response to reports of excavation hazards, found employees working in unprotected trenches and excavations ranging from six to nearly nine feet in depth.

"On all three occasions, the company was reminded of its responsibility to provide cave-in protection, yet we repeatedly found employees working in imminent danger situations," said Patrick Griffin, OSHA's area director in Providence. "Equally disturbing is the fact that we have cited this employer six times in the past 10 years for this same type of hazard, and this behavior has not changed."

All excavations five feet or deeper must be guarded since their walls can collapse suddenly and with great force, burying employees beneath tons of soil and debris before they have a chance to react or escape.

"While it is fortunate that no cave-in occurred, there is no margin for error in this type of situation," Griffin said. "The potential for death or disabling injuries was real and present at these three jobsites. Wherever and whenever this basic, common-sense and legally required safeguard is ignored, OSHA will continue to be present."

OSHA issued two willful citations and one serious citation, carrying a combined $109,200 in proposed fines, for the lack of cave-in protection. The agency also issued three serious citations, with $7,000 in fines, for allowing more than two feet of a trench's sidewall to be exposed below the bottom of a trench box, allowing an employee in an excavation to work without a hardhat, and not properly shoring a telephone pole adjacent to an excavation. A willful violation is one committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health. A serious citation is issued when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

U.S. Labor Secretary Chao Announces New Membership of OSHA Advisory Committee

The committee advises the Secretaries of Labor and Health and Human Services on occupational safety and health programs. "America's workers will benefit from the diverse perspectives and expertise of these committee members who will be working with the department in advancing workplace safety and health," said Secretary Chao. Members of the committee are selected based on their knowledge and experience in occupational safety and health. Each member serves a two-year term.

OSHA Forms Safety and Health Alliance With Chicago Roofers

Reducing injuries and worksite hazards and enhancing safety and health for roofing employees in the greater Chicago area are the goals of a new alliance joining OSHA and the Chicago Roofing Contractors Association (CRCA).

"OSHA and the Chicago Roofing Contractors Association will work closely to share best practices, as well as develop and implement safety and health training for temporary employees," said Kathy O'Connell, OSHA's area director in Aurora, Ill. "If we can provide these employees with the knowledge and ability to anticipate, identify, and eliminate work-related hazards, we will get that much closer to eliminating job-related injuries."

The CRCA is a local trade association of roofing and waterproofing contractors, manufacturers, distributors, and consultants in the greater Chicago area. Its more than 275 members have joined forces to address issues important to the roofing industry, including employee safety and health.

OSHA Proposes More Than $120,000 in Penalties Against Four Contractors

OSHA has proposed penalties totaling $120,150 against four contractors for 18 safety violations found during an inspection of the City Walk construction site in Palm Coast, Fla.

"OSHA expects employers to take action when they recognize safety hazards," said James Borders, OSHA's area director in Jacksonville. "Delaying these efforts due to cost or time considerations is unacceptable and will result in large penalties for employers."

OSHA inspectors proposed that Central Florida Restoration Specialists LLC receive three willful violations with a $66,000 penalty for failing to maintain guardrails at walkways and elevator shafts and failing to provide fall protection at stairways and stairway landings. The Palm Coast company also was cited for two serious violations with a $1,400 penalty for hazards related to poor housekeeping on the jobsite and lack of a handrail.

OSHA cited Robert Hoyt Construction LLC of Hollister, Fla., with three willful violations carrying proposed penalties of $49,500 for failing to maintain guardrails and provide fall protection. Poor housekeeping at the jobsite and lack of a handrail on an enclosed stairway resulted in two serious violations with $1,050 in penalties.

Del Electric Inc. of Brunnell, Fla., was cited with two serious violations and a $600 penalty for not providing fall protection. The company also was cited with an other-than-serious penalty for lacking a safety and health program.

Artica Stucco Services Inc. was cited with three serious violations carrying $1,600 in penalties for missing guardrails and lacking fall protection. The Orlando, Fla.-based contractor also was cited for two other-than-serious violations for not providing required OSHA logs and lacking a safety and health program.

OSHA Proposes More Than $51,000 in Penalties Against ConArt

OSHA has proposed $51,200 in penalties for 31 safety and health violations found at ConArt Inc.'s concrete manufacturing facility in Cobb, Ga.

"OSHA inspectors found numerous serious hazards, including multiple violations making employees vulnerable to amputation, which no employer should tolerate in its workplace," said John J. Deifer, director of OSHA's Savannah Area Office.

Inspectors proposed $32,400 in penalties for 16 serious safety violations and $18,800 in penalties for 12 serious health violations, along with three other-than-serious violations. Problems include exposing employees to amputation hazards from machines lacking safety guards, electrical shock hazards by not implementing a lockout program to prevent accidental start-ups of equipment, and fall hazards by not providing standard guardrails and covers or grates for openings.

Additionally, employees working around an open vat containing flammable material, allowing employees to smoke in flammable storage areas, and accumulating combustible dust on machines represent burn and fire hazards. ConArt Inc. failed to establish a respiratory protection program or a hearing conservation program. The company's management did not provide training in bloodborne pathogens for first-aid responders. Finally, employees were not supplied with protective gloves and were allowed to handle corrosive materials without the availability of eyewash.

New York Labor Leaders Support Workplace Violence Prevention Law

Under New York’s new Workplace Violence Prevention Law, public sector workers will be better protected and workers’ lives will be saved, labor leaders and others told the state Department of Labor in a hearing November 20 on proposed rules for implementing the new law.

The DOL’s proposed rules require public employers to establish workplace prevention programs in which the employer’s workers have a key role in helping to develop the program. The rules also require employers to provide annual training and to establish control measures that ensure the program is specific to the violence hazards identified by workers in their workplace.

The new law sets a milestone in New York State worker safety legislation by addressing the threat of violence to public sector workers who suffer higher rates of violence than private sector workers. A 2005 Survey of Workplace Violence Prevention, conducted by multiple federal agencies including the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Department of Labor, found that government workers were assaulted at a rate of 28.6 per 1,000 workers compared to a rate of 9.9 per 1,000 workers in the private sector.

"This rule will have a profound impact on the working lives of thousands of public employees and it will save lives," said CSEA President Danny Donohue. He said employers who charge the rules are too burdensome will benefit from workers’ input.

“Workers know what the problems are, they know where the problems are, and, for the most part, they know how to fix them. Who could be better suited or more motivated to help develop an effective and comprehensive workplace violence prevention program than the people whose necks are on the line" Donohue asked.

“Employees bring their experiences and their expertise to this process, and a hazard evaluation/hazard assessment must include real input from the workers if it is to be a worthwhile program,” said Wendy Hord, Director of Safety and Health for the New York State United Teachers and Organizational Secretary for NYCOSH.

“Employers cannot develop prevention programs for problems of which they are not aware. We ask the Department of Labor to assist employers and their employees in conducting their assessments by developing and disseminating useful tools to conduct these evaluations, such as sample surveys, questionnaires, and checklists,” Hord said.

New York City officials have raised objections to the proposed regulations charging they are “vague and overly broad,” “inconsistent with the provisions of the law,” and upset the “balance of employee and employer interests.”

In objecting to the proposed rules, Administration for Children’s Services Commissioner John Mattingly echoed a theme raised by other city officials that by allowing union representatives to assist in the role of developing and assessing workplace violence prevention programs, the proposed rules would “grant unions too much intrusive power in the workplace and may have the unintended consequence of authorizing the unions to have access to certain sensitive information.”

“To raise the issue of security is unfounded. What is really being said here is that they don’t want workers or unions to have any input,” said Lee Clarke, Director, Safety and Health Department, District Council 37, AFL-CIO. “We have the right under New York City collective bargaining law to be part of the process when policies and procedures are put in place. These commissioners need to understand that.”

Health Canada’s Proposed Regulations for Intentional Ozone Generators

Health Canada is concerned with the adverse health effects that may result from exposure to ozone from air cleaners that intentionally generate ozone gas. Health Canada is currently seeking stakeholder input with respect to a proposal to regulate the output of ozone from these devices that are advertised, sold, or imported for sale in Canada.


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