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Below you'll find some of the more frequently asked questions we get. If you have a question that is not answered here, please feel free to contact us today and we'll be glad to assist you.

Wow, this question is not only practical but can receive a very specific answer that can be put directly to use by your staff. Too often construction/maintenance workers assume that because their job requires working in "less than clean conditions" that it is acceptable and part of the job. Quite frankly, these workers are an "at risk" group for both airborne exposure and pathogens and need to address their work properly. Some additional specific answers to your inquiry include: Leather gloves can be used only as an outer covering to inner rubber, neoprene or polyvinyl chloride inner gloves. The inner glove must prevent water and/or materials contact. Of course, because leather is an absorbent material, they have to be disposed of properly (i.e., bacterial/pathogenic waste). To just wear leather gloves would only expose your plumber to pathogenic/bacterial routes of infection through skin absorption once the leather became wet. Certainly, the leather remaining moist would be a breeding ground for possible continued growth of these unwanted foreign bodies. Cleaning of the leather gloves could be accomplished using standard infection control cleaning procedures. Cleaning of the snake could be done with any standard type of hospital disinfectant used for bacterial/viral control. Preferably the waste residue, and so forth, will be disposed of according to your local practices as this now becomes infectious material and is a hazard. Without a doubt, plumbers are in the "at risk" group for GI and other pathogenic exposures. Exposure to Hepatitis A, B, C, and HIV virus are possible. Universal precautions and vaccinations for Hepatitis A/B (none available for C) should be considered a part of your program and offered due to the associated risks contained in the plumber's job. Infectious agents may enter through the mouth or nose, cuts and scrapes in the skin, or through the nose by inhalation of airborne particles. Through its standards for bloodborne pathogens (29CFR 1910.1030), OSHA will actively pursue perceived violations where it considers exposures to exist. Your proper response to accident prevention and compliance begins with evaluation of your exposures, development of a written program and universal precautions, implementation of program requirements and training. Some items which you might want to consider given the consequences of contact include personal hygiene and personal protective equipment. Some tips include: avoid skin contact with material which may house infectious organisms, i.e., leather gloves avoid breathing in dust or mists produced when this material is disturbed wear gloves, boots and other protective equipment made of waterproof material such as rubber, neoprene, or polyvinyl chloride if contaminated material contacts any area of your body, wash it off quickly wash hands regularly and before eating, drinking or smoking wear respirator; contaminated material may become airborne and be inhaled. Workers in these settings should also make sure that when vaccinated for Hepatitis A/B they also check to see that other shots are up to date including diphtheria, tetanus, and polio. Other vaccinations as suggested by local medical professionals would also be included.

To answer your inquiry, I think it best to refer you to 29CFR 1910.178, Section G #1-12, "Changing and Charging Storage Batteries." I believe you will find this information detailed enough to understand why you were cited by your regional safety staff either correctly or incorrectly. As you can see from the OSHA perspective there is an expectation that a special area will be set up for battery charging and storage, facilities will be available for flushing and neutralizing spilled electrolyte, and there will be adequate ventilation for possible hydrogen fumes that may be gassed off during charging operations. Certainly, the area should be well illuminated and eye washing facilities must be available in the immediate area. OSHA goes on to instruct the need for an overhead conveyor or hoist to handle these batteries since they are larger and quite heavy and that reinstalled batteries be promptly positioned and secured. Only qualified individuals should be allowed to perform these tasks.

A great deal of discussion has been generated this construction season relative to the use of plastic mushroom caps. These caps, which have been used to protect from cuts, abrasions and impalement at the end of rebar, are common throughout the industry. In 1997 California (Cal/OSHA) reviewed mushroom caps after several incidents involving falls and impalement resulting in worker deaths. In California plastic mushroom caps are not allowed for impalement protection and alternative devices have been made available. Likewise, the price for such devices given their construction has jumped from approximately 40 per plastic mushroom cap to now almost $3.00 for the newer steel reinforced plastic cap. It should be noted, however, that there is no change in OSHA policy nor is there a ban on the general use of small plastic rebar caps as recommended by their manufacturers. OSHA through its standard 29 CFR 1926.701(b) states: "All protruding reinforcing steel, onto and into which employees could fall, shall be guarded to eliminate the hazard of impalement." The key words are "to eliminate the hazard of impalement." Exposure to impalement is always a consideration when employees are working above rebar or other sharp protrusions. The critical element when evaluating any job activity is the recognition or identification of impalement hazards and the exposure to employees. As you know, construction activities constantly change and contractors must be aware of, and provide protection from or alternate work practices to eliminate, impalement hazards. When employees are working at any height above exposed rebar, fall protection/prevention is the first line of defense against impalement. Fall protection/prevention is also applicable when the rebar is below grade, e.g., footing or other excavations, where a fall into a trench would present an impalement hazard. When work is at grade, impalement exposure is dependent upon numerous situations and conditions: proximity of rebar to worker; height of rebar (e.g., working around rebar that is 3-6 feet would not likely impose an impalement hazard. Rebar caps/covers are appropriate to prevent cuts, abrasions or other minor injuries when working at grade and there is no impalement hazard. Simply put, plastic mushroom caps are designed for basic cut, abrasion and minor injury protection and are not appropriate for fall protection impalement hazard. However, the main protection for such exposure is a fall protection system. It should be remembered that where rebar is exposed to workers who may fall, use of constructed wooden troughs, and heavier type caps as now being utilized in California, etc., may be appropriate. But, fall protection still remains the issue of consideration. If an employee falls six foot or more it would be in violation of the standard and landing on the trough or other device will no doubt still cause serious injury even though impalement may not occur. OSEA's suggestion is to utilize mushroom caps where rebar poses cut, abrasion or minor injury problems particularly when work is at grade level and workers are at same. However, there is no substitute for rebar protection, when elevations are involved, other than fall protection to prevent falling in the first place -- and that is the rule to follow.

OSHA continues to procrastinate with efforts to update the PEL's for hazardous chemicals. This update involves what are commonly referred to as the Z Tables or Code of Federal Regulations, 29 CFR 1910.1000-1500. When OSHA originally was created, it was informed by Congress that it had two years in which to assemble rules and regulations to govern safety and health in the workplace. In the case of permissible exposure limits (PEL), it elected to adopt the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) 1968 Edition of Values. That made sense as this was an authoritative source of governmental scientists who take in, review and adopt data from all interested parties as to the relative safety of hazardous chemicals. By the early 1980's many of these exposure levels were clearly outdated and in 1988 OSHA proposed to update more than 400 of its PEL's. This attempt was made in a single broad brush approach which was implemented into a final rule in January of 1989. This rule raised the permissible exposure level for one substance, reaffirmed 52, lowered 212, and set PEL's for 164 previously unregulated substances. As is often the case, both industry and labor challenged aspects of the rule making and in July 1992 the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision that struck down the updated PEL's and forced OSHA to revert to the outdated PEL's as set in the early 1970's. It is truly interesting that 13 OSHA approved state plans, where regulations may be more stringent than the federal rules, do in fact follow the revised PEL's. You must wonder, why can one entity improve while the federal sector stays stagnant? We agree with the ruling that forced OSHA to enhance efforts to perform more quantitative risk analysis for exposures, to document health effects other than just cancer, and provide more health evidence for each substance with improved detailed feasibility analysis. But we question why the updated values which certainly are based on good science could not be implemented for the good of the workplace or what we often refer to as best management practice. While many interested parties have submitted information and input to OSHA in its present path to renew these PEL's, no one has come up with a concrete plan with specifics. Of particular concern is a need for a consistent approach to risk analysis for all PEL's so the process can be ongoing and dynamic since information on these materials changes with each new research initiative. Late in 1995, OSHA took another stab at these health standards and released a list of 20 priority substances that the agency would like to include in a new rule making procedure. The idea was to use these 20 PEL's as a template for the process of updating all of the PEL's. Of course, as of last February at a public meeting on the 20 substances, it was confirmed that many issues remained on the table and both industry and labor again voiced concerns. Some of the concerns were: why those particular substances? how were the risk assessments conducted? what sort of economic analysis would OSHA conduct? what is the timetable for the rest of PEL update? and so forth, and so forth, and so forth... Seemingly, continuing on a ridiculous path, if any at all! We need to get beyond the continuing debate and questions that arise holding up progress. The questions that are offered (without answers) make it seem like the OJ Simpson trial, where the question of preponderance of evidence seemingly became the issue and each and every possibility was linked to the issue of 100% acceptability no matter how outlandish! I believe we have enough information on the items listed already to enact new PEL's for the standards while using the good science that we already have available to us and many dedicated trained professionals to put together a systematic approach to continually updating and presenting new PEL's for exposure potential and testing. Certainly, proactive employers are using the most conservative numbers possible when going forward to test environmental conditions and the impact of hazardous materials in their operations. But from a regulatory standpoint, we must proceed with implementing regulations that are effective and go beyond just the lobbying efforts of many parties who will always ask "WHY?"

First Aid/CPR training has always made a great deal of sense. Anyone having the opportunity to obtain such training should do so for both personal and work situations. Many businesses depend on the immediate availability of local first aid response through either volunteer or paid fire departments, ambulance services, police, etc. The 911 system is efficient and response is quick. There are, however, many locales in both the industrial and construction arenas where the response time is not immediate given the distance required to reach locations of emergency. OSHA has a first aid requirement in its 29 CFR 1910.151 In that standard it is expected that a reasonable response time will be available for first aid treatment to be provided in case of an accident involving injuries. The debate often occurs around the term reasonable but there is specific reference and answer to that inquiry. Essentially, any potential accident-producing agent that can cause severe bleeding and breath stoppage would require medical attention within four minutes of the onset of the medial emergency. If professional medical attention is not available within that 4 minute time frame, then the requirements of OSHA's standard to have a person trained in first aid available at the workplace is invoked. As the result of citation an appeals court has agreed with specific reference to OSHA's first aid standard and enforcement that first aid must be promptly administered in "serious accidents causing severe bleeding or breath stoppage." Brennan v. OSHRC and Sante Fe Trail Transportation Co., 505 F2d 869, 872 (10th Cir. 1974). The obvious need for first aid is to ensure that it be given in a timely and effective manner. Thus, whether an employer may comply with the standard by relying on outside first aid response will depend on the nature of injuries that are reasonably foreseeable in the particular workplace and the amount of time that would elapse before the outside responder could begin to administer first aid. An example would be an injury involving fractures (simple or compound) where a 15-minute response time would usually be satisfactory. In comparison, in certain immediately life threatening situations a 15-minute response time would be too long. For example, if employees are working with materials that could adversely affect their respiration or are subject to electrical shock which could cause loss of breathing function, first aid must usually be commenced within 4 minutes if irreversible brain damage due to lack of oxygen is to be avoided. Depending on type and location of the injury, severe arterial bleeding would also be regarded as an immediately life threatening situation requiring a very prompt response. Although arterial bleeding and loss of breathing function are two fairly common emergency situations in which first aid should be commenced within 4 minutes in order to be effective, there may be others. An employer's first aid planning must take into account and be tailored to the particular circumstances of their workplace. Many types of construction work do involve hazards that could result in immediately life threatening activities; but some construction activities may not. The same holds true for industry. For example, painting work often will not involve such hazards. On the other hand, painting in the vicinity of uninsulated overhead electrical lines may involve an electrical shock hazard. An employer should not hesitate to consult with a physician when evaluating whether the nature of work and workplace make immediately life threatening injuries reasonably foreseeable. It is difficult to dispute the need to respond immediately to those incidents involving the loss of breathing function, severe traumatic injury or arterial bleeding. In those cases, an 8-15 minute time response would be too long and immediate on-site attention would be necessary. Accordingly, if hazards likely to cause such injuries are present and professional medical attention is not available within four minutes of the onset of the condition, then the employer must comply with the requirements for a person trained in first aid to be available at the workplace. First Aid/CPR training is an excellent component to add to a company's list of required attention. The payback is tremendous not only on the professional side but also the home safety area where individuals will have this training available in accident situations. Both the American Red Cross and National Safety Council offer excellent first aid/CPR training programs which should be considered. Each employer should assess their workplace and where necessary seek outside assistance to see if serious injuries are a potential. As a minimum plan accordingly with on-site first aid response with both trained personnel and available first aid resources on hand as suggested by the appropriate medical professional. We are dealing with the most important resource we have and after an accident occurs it's too late to think about the need to have a trained first-aider.

One may say this question is easily answered by citing OSHA Regulation 1926.501(a)(2) Subpart M, which states that each employee on a walking working surface (horizontal or vertical surface) with an unprotected side or edge which is six feet or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling by the use of guardrail systems, safety net systems or personal fall arrest systems. But, when answering this question a closer examination of other working conditions must be accomplished. Under OSHA Subpart M, 1926.500 (Fall Protection) other subparts may take precedence depending on the type of work. For example, a scaffold that is greater than 45 inches in all directions does not need fall protection until a height of ten feet is reached above a working surface (1926.500 Subpart L). Before any work is attempted in these additional Subparts, the individual regulations should be consulted. Subpart M also includes an exception, "the provisions of this Subpart do not apply when employees are making an inspection, an investigation or assessment of workplace conditions prior to the actual start of construction work or after all construction work has been completed." At Occupational Safety & Environmental Assoc. -- The Workplace Experts -- we recommend to all our clients that any time an employee is working six feet above a lower level or there is a potential to fall onto unsafe materials or equipment, some means of fall protection should be used.

Regarding your inquiry as to whether slings can be attached directly to forks on a forklift truck, the answer is NO. Forks are designed to be placed under loads with the load typically distributed across the forks, i.e., pallet, boxes, etc. Placing a sling, wire rope, or other type of device on a fork does not meet with manufacturer's approval and places stresses on the fork (particularly the heel) which can lead to immediate or future failure. Unless the manufacturer of the forklift and/or lifting device specifically approves this type of lifting, it can not be done and is certainly an accident producing possibility as well as OSHA violation.

Regarding your inquiry on the need for forklifts to be equipped with seat belts, the answer is YES. OSHA's position, now emphasized with the repromulgation of the forklift standard, is that seat belts should be worn by operators in vehicles. OSHA has historically cited employes when seat belt devices were available on forklifts and they were not utilized. Now, it expects that forklift users of equipment without seat belts will contact their supplier and see if retrofit kits have been made available. If retrofit kits have been made available for the forklift by the manufacturer, OSHA expects that they be put on the vehicle and used. The simple answer to your question, then is yes you should be using seat belts and I believe you will find on contact with most all manufacturers (Hyster, Yale, etc.) that retrofit kits are available for installation. I hope this answers your inquiry

Good Morning. I'm John Doe, a Compliance Safety and Health Officer out of the local Wisconsin office of OSHA. Here is my federal I.D. for your review. If you'd like, copy down my number and name so you know who I was. I'd like to conduct an opening conference to explain to you why I am here and after that I'd like to get with someone you may assign from management as well as an employee representative and tour the facility. I'm here at this opening conference to explain to you the purpose of my visit. The purpose is simply to check on overall workplace safety conditions to see if they are in compliance with the federal standards as enacted under the OSHA regulations 29 CFR 1910 or 1926 or applicable regulations. My visit today has been generated as a result of your random selection from our data base based on your SIC code. This information comes from our contractor, the University of Tennessee, which assimilates, collates, and gathers information on workplaces and SIC codes to provide a uniform non-discriminatory method of selecting a workplace. This has also been established as an administrative basis. What I hope to do today, and possibly on succeeding days as the inspection opens up, is to check on workplace conditions to see if, in fact, management has fulfilled its obligations under the Act to provide a safe and healthy workplace. Our expectation is that a safe workplace will be provided paralleling the shipment of quality products without defects; we expect products to be shipped without associated injuries. We are looking for conditions which could produce injuries and we use the administrative guidelines and OSHA standards as a foundation for this inspection. If there are items that are not covered by the regulations you have a general duty to maintain a safe workplace and if I feel that a violation is apparent I will suggest a citation be issued as a general duty clause violation. From time to time during my inspection, I will need to speak with employees in the shop on a confidential basis. This is allowed under the Act and felt to be a reasonable request. If an employee is in a high demand job and his/her removal would create unnecessary hardship to the company, we can make other arrangements. I would expect, however, that all jobs will not fit into that category. You as management have a right to request the conferences to be reasonable in length and if I go beyond this time limit, we can discuss that and make other arrangements to complete the discussion. These discussions are important to me to gain an understanding of your workplace and practices and how written programs you will produce for me are actually put into practice. Consider this a TQM audit directly relating to safety. With that I would like to review your record keeping: OSHA 200 log, safety program documents, training records. Anything you can show me that would be helpful in my understanding of the culture of your workplace and your management commitment to safety can have an important bearing on the result of this inspection. Finally, I may want to collect information in the form of photographs, videotape, statements from employees, and possibly samples taken by our industrial hygienist. In those cases, you are free to conduct similar undertakings and certainly can request that all information taken be treated in a confidential proprietary manner as is covered by the Act. Employees who are requested to speak with me are not required to do so; however, we would consider it a discriminatory practice if employees wished not to speak with us out of fear of retribution. If an employee wishes to meet with me along with another representative, that would be allowed also. However, we prefer to meet in private and that is what I will attempt to do. Our agency has limited resources but we are committed to the pursuit of a safe workplace as enacted by legislation. We truly feel that working toward this goal will improve the productivity and profitability of the workplace for all involved.

In answer to your inquiry regarding the need for safety belts on forklifts, the answer is YES. Per the new forklift standard, operators are required to wear safety belts on forklifts. OSHA has always insisted upon the use of safety belts whenever a forklift has been equipped by the manufacturer with the capability of seat belts. Now, with the new standard, the enforcement practice would be a check with the manufacturer to see if a retrofit kit had been made available for the forklift. If so, and it was either not placed on the vehicle or was just not used, a citation will be used. When assessing the severity of the penalty (other than serious, serious) and the amount, the degree of seriousness of injury, probability of occurrence, etc. come into play as it regards the environment, i.e., flat working surface as opposed to tip over possibility. I believe you may find information on OSHA's citation policies regarding seat belts and forklifts on its web site at www.osha.gov. Be sure to look not only in the regulations but also under Standards and Interpretations. If we can provide any further information, please let us know. I would also like to introduce you to our Small Business Safety Assoc. group which can be of great assistance to your business with questions such as these. I am attaching information on the group for your review.

A study just released by the Center for the Study of American Business at Washington University in St. Louis analyzed 25 major rules issued by OSHA since 1980. This study determined that OSHA's burden on business is substantially greater than originally estimated. There have been several earlier studies completed which estimated compliance costs to be about $10 billion. This new review indicates the burden to be $33 billion. Economics professor Harry James, who wrote the study states, "The regulatory burden on small and medium sized business is big enough to cause concern among businesses. The compliance cost number is high because we analyzed individual regulations and the man power costs associated with it. " The Washington University study showed the following findings: Every manufacturing firm pays an average of $9,000 - $36,000 yearly to comply with OSHA's rules on air quality and process safety respectfully. OSHA's strict hazardous waste operations regulations are costing construction firms across the nation more than $700,000 yearly. OSHA rules on labeling and classifying materials cost businesses the most. It is interesting to note how these studies fail to cost account the value of prevention that these rules and procedures (as required by the agency) save business. Thinking purely in an economic tone, it is not hard to envision the reduction in occupational exposures, accidents and injuries that many of these rules prevent with compliance. Certainly OSHA as an agency is open to a great deal of criticism in the way they approach regulatory enforcement, select companies for inspection and effect regulatory update. Business should really ask themselves - "what would happen if we don't pay attention to these rules?" or better put, "given our operations what best management practice is called for to protect our most important resource - the worker?" Is it difficult to put a value on that resource? Each company needs to answer that question separately. Here is where "culture" plays an important role! As every safety professional knows, it's very difficult to put a value on accidents or exposures that don't occur or are not reported. It is easy, however, to see the positive impact that many of these rules have had in the workplace, especially those that involve the training of workers in handling exposures and workplace situations. The study, which discusses as one issue the hazardous waste operation regulations, takes on what this writer feels to be one of the most important regulations OSHA has espoused in the last 10 years. This regulation, which requires comprehensive training under several guidelines depending on the workers activity, has forced us to provide a great deal of information, understanding and tools for the employee to work with in not only preventing accidents and exposures, but improving job site productivity under potentially hazardous situations. When workers understand the exposures they face they react positively. Given the proper tools to work in potentially unsafe environments productive results occur. There is an intense parallel line developing regarding OSHA and its regulations. We should in the business community embrace reviews of the operation and regulations of any agency which regulates the workplace. But without a doubt they are needed. More importantly, it would be refreshing for many of these universities, study groups and others to research the positive value of agencies such as OSHA, the impact of the regulations so that we can have a better handle on how to improve them, not eliminate what has already been found to be causing positive workplace improvements for all involved. OSHA reform should take place with inspection targeting, training of staff, educational programming and regulation review and updating, not elimination.

This question brings up one of the difficulties in dealing with OSHA across the country. From office to office you often do not know what administrative rule or procedure will be invoked during or after an inspection. We are, however, aware of cases where willful's have been issued with part of the basis for that citation being the attendance of a management individual at a 10-Hour Outreach OSHA certified course. That was part of several considerations used to base the willful and certainly became an important part of the negotiation in an effort to settle the case amicably. In the case of OSHA 10-Hour courses, it is difficult to take very specific instances and cite them as willful since the course covers a great deal of information and while it is excellent and advised for all to attend (supervisor and worker alike). It does not in our opinion, have enough basis in fact and information delivery to be the basis of a willful citation.

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