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By Brent I. Clark and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: New OSHA guidance documents may provide employers in these industries with another tool for carefully measuring compliance with the PSM standards.

OSHA recently released guidance documents on Process Safety Management for Explosives and Pyrotechnics Manufacturing (PSM Explosive Pyrotechnics Guidance) (OSHA 3912-03 2017), and the Process Safety Management for Storage Facilities (PSM Storage Guidance) (OSHA 3909-03 2017).

The PSM Explosive Pyrotechnics Guidance focuses on aspects of the standard particularly relevant to explosives and pyrotechnic manufacturers, found in OSHA’s standard on Explosives and Blasting Agents, 29 CFR 1910.109.  The PSM Storage Guidance focuses on aspects of the PSM standard particularly relevant to storage facilities generally.

OSHA notes that while all elements of the PSM standard apply to all PSM-covered pyrotechnics manufacturing or storage facilities, the following elements are most relevant to hazards associated with these facilities:

  • Employee Participation
  • Process Safety Information (PSI)
  • Process Hazard Analysis (PHA)
  • Operating Procedures
  • Training
  • Mechanical Integrity (MI)
  • Emergency Planning and Response

OSHA emphasizes that as to explosives, these PSM elements complement the “cardinal principle for explosive safety: expose the minimum number of people to the smallest quantity of explosives for the shortest period consistent with the operation being conducted.”

These Guidance documents provide employers with an outline to compliance with the applicable PSM standards that provide another review tool to achieve compliance.  Employers in these industries are encouraged to review these Guidance documents carefully to measure compliance with the standard, as you may be sure that OSHA’s inspector’s, if or when they visit, will do so.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.

By Brent I. Clark, Adam R. Young, and Craig B. Simonsen

Photo from CSB YouTube page video capture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCEErm18T2k
Photo from CSB YouTube page video capture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCEErm18T2k

Seyfarth Synopsis: The CSB found deficiencies in the facility’s design and labeling of the chemical loading stations, and failure to follow the company’s written chemical unloading procedures.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board recently released preliminary findings from its ongoing investigation of the toxic chemical release that occurred at a processing plant in Atchison, Kansas.  The investigation has identified several deficiencies in the design and labeling of the loading stations, and failure to follow the company’s written chemical unloading procedures.

In the Atchison case, a chemical tanker truck arrived at the facility to deliver sulfuric acid.  A facility operator escorted the driver to a locked loading area.  The operator unlocked the gate to the fill lines and also unlocked the sulfuric acid fill line.  The Board findings indicate that the facility operator likely did not notice that the sodium hypochlorite fill line was also already unlocked before returning to his work station.  The driver accordingly connected the sulfuric acid discharge hose from the truck into the sodium hypochlorite fill line.  The line used to transfer sulfuric acid looked similar to the sodium hypochlorite line, and the two lines were located in close proximity.

As a result of the incorrect connection, allegedly thousands of gallons of sulfuric acid from the tanker truck entered the facility’s sodium hypochlorite tank.  The resulting mixture created a dense cloud of poisonous gas, which traveled northeast of the facility until the wind shifted the cloud northwest towards a more densely populated area of town.  The Board’s investigation preliminary findings have concluded that “emergency shutdown mechanisms were not in place or were not actuated from either a remote location at the facility or in the truck.”

The Board indicated that a number of design deficiencies increased the likelihood of an incorrect connection.  These included “the close proximity of the fill lines, and unclear and poorly placed chemical labels.”  In addition, neither the facility operator of the tanker truck driver followed internal procedures for unloading operations.

This incident illustrates the necessity of maintaining both safety procedures, and regular training on those safety procedures.  Process safety management reviews and periodic reviews of operating procedures can also assist employers to find process areas that have potential weaknesses or issues that can be corrected, before incidents occur.

Human factors such as the chance of operator confusion appears to have played a role in this incident. Employer’s should continue to evaluate human factors as part of their hazard assessments.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.

By Brent I. Clark and Craig B. Simonsen

iStock_000062437178MediumSeyfarth Synopsis: OSHA has just announced a three month delay of enforcement of the Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction under 29 CFR 1926.1153.

Crystalline silica is a staple of our modern society.  OSHA notes that it’s a common mineral that is found in many naturally occurring materials, and used in many industrial products and at construction sites.  Materials such as sand, concrete, stone and mortar contain crystalline silica. Crystalline silica is also used to make products like glass, pottery, ceramics, bricks, concrete and artificial stone.  Industrial sand is also used in certain foundry work and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations.  OSHA estimates that 2.3 million workers are exposed to crystalline silica on the job.

Because crystalline silica is so important to modern society, the OSHA silica standards rulemaking has been contentious.  We have blogged previously how OSHA Proposes Silica Worker Exposure Hazards Rule, OSHA Extends the Comment Deadline for Proposed Silica Worker Exposure Hazards Rule, New OSHA Hazard Safety Bulletin for the Hydraulic Fracturing Industries, and Senators Ask OSHA to Consider the Fracking Industry Economy and to More Fully Extend the Comment Deadline for Proposed Silica Worker Exposure Hazards Rule.

OSHA estimates that nearly 676,000 workplaces will be affected, including in construction and in general industry and maritime.  In addition, the rule is expected to result in annual costs of about $1,524 for the average workplace covered by the rule.  The total cost is estimated by OSHA at “just over $1 billion” (per year).

In an effort to remedy some of the issues and problems in compliance with the new rule, to provide OSHA with the opportunity to conduct additional outreach to the regulated community, and to provide additional time to train compliance officers, the Agency has decided to delay enforcement of the standard from June 23, 2017, until September 23, 2017.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.

By Patrick D. Joyce, Jeryl L. Olson, and Craig B. Simonsen

iStock_000011623330_MediumSeyfarth Synopsis: In a significant proposal, EPA moves to ban the use of TCE in aerosol degreasing and spot cleaning at dry cleaning facilities, as part of a larger effort to ban TCE in other industrial uses.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to ban certain uses of Trichloroethylene (TCE) – one of the most commonly used solvents – because of alleged health risks from its use as an aerosol degreaser and for spot cleaning in dry cleaning facilities. 91 Fed. Reg. 91592 (Dec. 16, 2016). The proposed rule was issued under the recently-amended Section 6(a) of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

This is a significant and controversial step. Not only is this EPA’s first use of Section 6(a) in 25 years, it is EPA’s first use of the “new” Section 6(a), which was revised in June 2016. In addition to the current proposed ban, EPA has indicated it intends to issue a proposal to ban TCE in vapor degreasing, and will publish one final rule banning TCE use in aerosol degreasing, spot cleaning at dry cleaning facilities, and vapor degreasing.

TCE is a volatile organic compound (VOC) that is both produced and imported into the United States, with use estimated to be around 250 million pounds per year. TCE is a clear, colorless liquid with a sweet odor and it evaporates quickly. TCE is used industrially as a solvent, a refrigerant, and in dry cleaning fluid. The majority of TCE is used (about 84 percent) in a closed system as an intermediate chemical for manufacturing refrigerant chemicals. Much of the remainder (about 15 percent) is used as a solvent for metals degreasing. Only a small percentage accounts for other uses, including use as a spotting agent in dry cleaning and in consumer products.

While the use of TCE in aerosol degreasing and spot dry cleaning constitute the least common use of the solvent in the United States, under this current proposal, EPA will prohibit the manufacture (including import), processing, and distribution in commerce of TCE for use these limited uses. However, EPA has indicated it is also developing a proposal to ban the use of TCE in other industries and in other operations with higher volume uses of the chemical (i.e., vapor degreasing). EPA’s final rule will includes the current proposed ban on aerosol use and spot cleaning in dry cleaning facilities, as well as the upcoming proposed ban on vapor degreasing.

The proposed ban on aerosol and dry cleaning uses includes requirements that manufacturers, processors, and distributors of TCE notify retailers and others in their supply chains of the prohibitions on use in aerosol degreasing and spot dry cleaning, and it is presumed the ban on vapor degreasing will have similar notification requirements.

Comments will be received on the proposed rule, Docket No. EPA–HQ–OPPT–2016–0163, until February 14, 2017.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Seyfarth Environmental Compliance, Enforcement & Permitting Team.

By Patrick D. Joyce, Jeryl L. Olson, and Craig B. Simonsen

Blog - Fracking WaterSeyfarth Synopsis: With significant objection from Industry, EPA has issued its Final Report on whether hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources under certain circumstances.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published its controversial final report on “Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas: Impacts from the Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle on Drinking Water Resources in the United States.” In the report, which has already been subject to great objection from Industry, EPA issued its finding that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) activities in the U.S. may have impacts on the water lifecycle, affecting drinking water resources. The Agency had put out a draft of the report for public comment in June 2015, which we blogged on at that time. 80 Fed. Reg. 32111.

The report was prepared at the request of Congress. Its purpose was to follow water resources used for fracking through the entire water cycle from water acquisition, to chemical mixing at the well pad site, to well injection of fracking fluids, to the collection of fracking wastewater (including flowback and produced water), and finally, to wastewater treatment and disposal. EPA claimed that the study “identified conditions under which impacts from hydraulic fracturing activities can be more frequent or severe.” The report also identified “data gaps [that] limited EPA’s ability to fully assess impacts to drinking water resources both locally and nationally.” The final conclusions were based on review of over 1,200 cited sources.

In response to EPA’s report, the American Petroleum Institute (API) blasted the EPA’s “abandonment of science in revising the conclusions to the Assessment Report….” API and the fracking industry requested changes to EPA’s Draft Report that EPA did not incorporate in the Final Report. As a result, API Upstream Director Erik Milito said, “the agency has walked away from nearly a thousand sources of information from published papers, technical reports and peer reviewed scientific reports demonstrating that industry practices, industry trends, and regulatory programs protect water resources at every step of the hydraulic fracturing process.”

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Seyfarth Environmental Compliance, Enforcement & Permitting Team.

By Benjamin D. Briggs, Adam R. Young, and Craig B. Simonsen

bottleSeyfarth Synopsis: In a challenge brought by trade associations for the farm supply and fertilizer industries, the D.C. Circuit vacates OSHA memorandum narrowing the retail exemption from the PSM standard.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit recently ruled against OSHA on a Petition for Review of an OSHA interpretative memorandum in Agricultural Retailers Ass’n & Fertilizer Inst. v. United States Department of Labor, No. 15-1326 (D.C. Cir. Sept. 23, 2016).

In this case, the Agricultural Retailers Association and the Fertilizer Institute sought review of a July 22, 2015 OSHA memorandum and interim policy interpretation that had significantly narrowed the Retail Facilities Exemption to the Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals (PSM) standard, 29 C.F.R. § 1910.119.   The challenged interpretation had a dramatic effect on agricultural retailers that provide fertilizers to end users in the agricultural industry.  In that regard, the interpretation swept in many previously-exempt fertilizer and farm supply retailers into coverage under the onerous PSM standard.

OSHA issued the interpretation after a 2013 explosion at a West, Texas fertilizer supplier left 15 people dead and many others injured. Under the interpretation, OSHA retreated from the so-called “50 percent test” for determining whether a seller of highly hazardous chemicals qualified for the retail exemption.  Under that test, an establishment was exempt from PSM coverage if it “derived more than 50 percent of its income from direct sales of highly hazardous chemicals to the end user.”  Application of this test meant that fertilizer suppliers typically fell within the exemption despite having large quantities of highly hazardous chemicals at their establishments.  The challenged interpretation applied a different, much narrower, test to determine applicability of the exemption.  Under that test, retail facilities included only those “organized to sell merchandize in small quantities to the general public” as set forth sectors 44 and 45 of the NAICS Manual.  This definition precluded employers that sold or distributed large, bulk quantities of highly hazardous chemicals (i.e., farm and fertilizer supply businesses) from relying upon the retail exemption.

The thrust of the petitioners’ challenge to OSHA’s memorandum was that it was actually an OSHA standard, not an interpretation, and that, in turn, OSHA was required to follow rulemaking procedures, including notice-and-comment requirements. OSHA admittedly did not follow these procedures.  OSHA contended that rulemaking procedures did not apply because its action was a mere interpretation of a standard, and that its memorandum did not issue or modify a “standard.”  The D.C. Circuit rejected OSHA’s argument and agreed with petitioners.  In so doing, the court held that the memorandum amounted to a “standard within the meaning of the OSH Act” because its purpose was to correct “a particular significant risk,” rather than guide general enforcement.  Given that determination and OSHA’s admitted failure to follow rulemaking procedures, the court granted the petition and “vacated” OSHA’s memorandum.

For the time being, this means that employers (including agricultural retailers) may once again rely on the “50 percent rule” for determining applicability of the retail exemption to the PSM standard. How long that reprieve lasts remains to be seen given OSHA’s apparent commitment to this issue, but one thing is clear — any future change to the retail exemption will afford stakeholders the opportunity to be heard through notice-and-comment procedures.

In the meantime, we will continue to monitor and keep you updated on this issue as it develops.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the OSHA Compliance, Enforcement & Litigation Team.

By James L. Curtis, Adam R. Young, and Craig B. Simonsen

iStock_000011623330_MediumSeyfarth Synopsis: U.S. Chemical Safety Board offers recommendations and best practices for chemical facilities regarding emergency planning and response programs.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (the “Board”) is an independent federal agency charged with investigating significant chemical accidents. According to the Board, inadequate or poor emergency planning or response is a recurring finding in the Board’s investigations of chemical accidents.  To date, 14 Board investigations have found deficiencies in a community’s, facility’s or emergency responder’s response to an incident at a chemical facility

The Board recently announced that emergency planning and response will be added to the Board’s existing “Most Wanted Safety Improvement” Program.  The Board’s also provided 46 recommendations aimed to address the deficiencies the Board found during its investigations.  The Board’s recommendations concentrate on the following areas:

  • Training for emergency responders, including hazardous materials training;
  • Local emergency planning, and community response plans and teams;
  • Use of community notification systems;
  • Use of an incident command system and the National Incident Management System;
  • Conducting emergency response exercises; and
  • Information sharing between facilities, emergency responders and the community.

Employers who operate chemical plants may wish to review and evaluate company emergency planning and response programs, policies, and training initiatives to assess for compliance with the Board’s recommendations. OSHA frequently looks to the Chemical Safety Board for guidance on appropriate areas for enforcement efforts.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the OSHA Compliance, Enforcement & Litigation Team or Workplace Policies and Handbooks Team.

By Brent I. Clark, Adam R. Young, and Craig B. Simonsen

iStock_000011623330_MediumThe Occupational Safety and Health Administration has recently released a draft Guidance on Data Evaluation for Weight of Evidence Determination: Application to the 2012 Hazard Communication Standard.

We had previously blogged about OSHA’s 2012 Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), including an Enforcement Guidance,  and a Directive on Inspection Procedures.  OSHA implemented the HCS to protect against hazardous chemical injuries and illnesses by providing employers and workers with sufficient information to anticipate, recognize, evaluate, and control chemical hazards. The HCS requires employers, manufacturers, and importers to communicate the information through safety data sheets (SDSs), labels, and employee training.

OSHA provided this draft Guidance to help employers “consider all available information in relation to the classification of a hazard.” The Guidance proposes a “weight of evidence (WoE)” approach to assist manufacturers, importers and employers in evaluating scientific studies on the potential health hazards of a chemical and determining what information must be disclosed on the label and SDS for compliance with the HCS. The draft WoE Guidance “compliments” OSHA’s also recently published 432 page “Hazard Communication: Hazard Classification Guidance for Manufacturers, Importers, and Employers,” No. OSHA 3844-02 2016.

The WoE Guidance, OSHA explained, helps employers apply the “WoE approach” systematically and explains the types of information that need to be considered in order to establish classifications under the HCS. The Guidance provides “general examples on how to apply” the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) criteria, to help manufacturers/employers properly “classify chemical hazards.”

OSHA has extended the comment period on the draft Guidance to May 2, 2016.

By Mark A. Lies, II, Patrick D. Joyce, and Adam R. Young

Safety at workINTRODUCTION

The New Year is here and with that comes yet another year of enhanced OSHA enforcement and new OSHA regulations. Further, due to the upcoming end of President Obama’s time in office , questions exist as to whether OSHA will continue with its aggressive agenda of enhanced enforcement with increased citations and greater penalties or whether OSHA will respond due to political pressure from the Congress. In either case, the New Year will bring new levels of uncertainty with the agency that we have not seen since the current Administration took office in 2009. This article will address OSHA’s current and upcoming enforcement initiatives and trends, all of which will affect employers in the coming year.

OSHA’S ENFORCEMENT INITIATIVES

Though a number of OSHA’s enforcement initiatives may not technically be considered new for 2016, we can expect that OSHA will continue to increasingly issue citations under the General Duty Clause and the multi-employer worksite doctrine. We can also expect OSHA to continue to focus its attention on the training and protection provided to temporary employees, especially under OSHA’s Powered Industrial Truck (forklift) standard, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards and Lockout Tagout (LOTO) regulations. OSHA has also been stepping up its workplace heat illness initiative, sending expansive subpoena requests to dozens of employers engaged in industries where employees typically are potentially exposed to heat,including manufacturing and construction, even if no injuries or illnesses have been reported. As such, it is important that employers remain aware of these issues to try to limit liability in 2016.

INCREASED OSHA PENALTIES

The new bipartisan budget, passed by both the House and the Senate and signed by President Obama on November 2, 2015, contains provisions that will raise OSHA penalties for the first time in 25 years.  The budget allows for an initial penalty “catch up adjustment,” which must be in place by August 1, 2016.

The maximum initial “catch up adjustment” will be based on the difference between the October 2015 Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the October 1990 CPI.  The October 2015 CPI was released on November 17, 2015, and came in at 237.838.  Based on the October 1990 CPI of 133.500, the maximum catch up adjustment will be approximately 78.16% and the new maximum penalties could be:

Current

August 2016

  • Other than Serious violations:

$7,000

$12,471

  • Serious violations:

$7,000

$12,471

  • Willful violations:

$70,000

$126,000

  • Repeat violations:

$70,000

$126,000

 

After the initial catch up adjustment, OSHA will be required to implement annual cost of living increases, with the adjustment tied to the year over year percentage increase in the CPI.  Adjustments must be made by mid-January each subsequent year.

OSHA has the option to implement a catch up adjustment less than the maximum if the Agency determines increasing penalties by the maximum amount would (1) have a “negative economic impact” or the social costs of the increase outweigh the benefits and (2) the Office of Management and Budget agrees.  However, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels has long advocated for a substantial increase in penalties so it is difficult to envision the Agency seeking anything other than the maximum increase.

INCREASED USE OF THE GENERAL DUTY CLAUSE

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s General Duty Clause, designated as section 5(a)(1), employers are required to protect employees from recognized workplace hazards that are correctible and likely to cause serious harm or death.  Where OSHA lacks a specific standard to address a workplace hazard, the Agency has increasingly used the general duty clause  as a “gap filler” for enforcement.  OSHA thus has used the General Duty Clause to cite employers for a wide range of alleged hazards, and to enforce policies the Agency issued through guidance documents rather than formal regulations, including:

  • ergonomics,
  • illness due to exposure to heat and cold,
  • arc flash/arc blast,
  • combustible dust,
  • chemicals and other hazardous materials for which there is no existing regulation, and
  • fall protection.

In 2016, we expect that the Agency will use the General Duty Clause to cite employers for  repetitive tasks causing ergonomic issues and musculoskeletal disorders.  Moreover, in light of the increasing publicity given to the hazard because of tragic incidents involving workplace shootings, OSHA will continue its emphasis on citing employers for workplace violence incidents and violations, particularly in certain industries such as healthcare, certain retail facilities and public transportation such as taxi cabs.  Employers should maintain policies and training on these issues to prevent liability and business disruptions from OSHA’s increased use of the General Duty Clause in 2016.

OSHA TO REDUCE RELIANCE ON PERMISSIBLE EXPOSURE LIMITS

In a move that could drastically affect day to day operations at a large number of employers, OSHA has signaled in a new permissible exposure limit (PEL) request for information from industry and other stakeholders that it plans to “revoke a small number of obsolete PELs.”  Though the rulemaking did not list the PELs OSHA is considering revoking, the revocation of any PELs opens the door for greater use of the General Duty Clause to regulate employee exposure through standards that are not generally industry standards such as NIOSH standards or ACGIH recommended exposure limits.  Several commentators believe the PEL walk back is simply OSHA’s attempt to increase employer liability for more citations while avoiding formal rulemaking to establish PELs.  Combined with higher fines to be implemented by August, 2016, this could be seen as a new revenue stream for OSHA.

MULTI-EMPLOYER WORKSITE DOCTRINE

The presence of multiple employers, contractors, consultants, and temporary workers at the same workplace is increasingly common in construction, manufacturing and other industries.  OSHA has taken note and made the prosecution of multiple employers at the same workplace a major Agency priority. Under OSHA’s Multi-Employer Worksite policy, more than one employer may be citable for a hazardous condition that violates an OSHA standard, so long as OSHA determines that they violated a duty under the Act. This can occur even when the employer being cited had no employees exposed to the hazard in issue. The Agency will use a two-step process to determine whether more than one employer is to be cited.

The first step is to determine whether the employer is a creating, exposing, correcting, or controlling employer. A creating employer, who caused a hazardous condition, is citable even if the only employees exposed are those of other employers at the cite.  The exposing employer, whose own employees are exposed to the hazardous condition, is citable if (1) it knew of the hazardous condition or failed to exercise reasonable diligence to discover the condition, (2) it failed to take steps consistent with its authority to protect its employees.  The correcting employer, who is responsible for correcting the hazardous condition, is citable if it fails to meet its obligations of correcting the condition.  The controlling employer, who has supervisory authority over the worksite and the power to correct safety and health violations or require others to correct them, is citable if it fails to exercise reasonable care to prevent and detect violations on the site.  In General Industry the host employer is typically the controlling employer, while in the Construction Industry it is the General Contractor, and, therefore, carry a higher compliance burden than other employers.

If OSHA determines an employer falls into one (or more) of these four categories, OSHA will then determine whether the employer met its obligations with regard to preventing and correcting the violations.  It is important to note that the Multi-Employer Worksite Policy can also be utilized for criminal prosecution of employers if the underlying elements are present which require (1) a fatality, (2) violation of a specific regulation, (3) the violation was willful and (4) there is a causal connection between the violation and the death. As OSHA continues its aggressive application of the Multi-Employer Worksite Doctrine,  employers should be wary as to potential liabilities for contractors, temporary workers, and other non-employees at their worksites.

FINAL IMPLEMENTATION OF NEW GLOBALLY HARMONIZED SYSTEM (GHS) STANDARDS

OSHA adopted new HCS 2012 SDS standards on December 1, 2013.  Chemical end users must come into compliance with the new SDSs passed down from up-stream suppliers and manufacturers by June 1, 2016.  Employers should not simply swap in a new SDS for an old MSDS and throw away the old MSDS.  Previous MSDSs should be kept on file for several reasons:

  • to provide proof that an employer was compliant with old HazCom standard.
  • the prior MSDSs can be useful evidence in defending against worker’s compensation claims by employees for occupational diseases alleged to have arisen from exposure to hazardous materials during the course of employment and
  • the prior MSDS can be useful evidence in defending third party toxic tort claims alleged to have been caused by exposure to hazardous materials that the employer may have incorporated into products manufactured and sold by the employer or by products that are resold or distributed by the employer.

The new SDSs also presents an opportunity for employers to update their training, hazard communication, and safety procedures for chemicals. The new SDS includes sixteen separate sections, some of which are similar or identical to the existing MSDS sections.  There are, however, a number of significant changes and compliance challenges.

When OSHA begins enforcement against employers on June 1, 2016, it will focus on whether the employer has reviewed the SDSs to identify any new risks as well as whether it has evaluated its existing compliance programs in light of the sixteen requirements in the new SDSs.

The Hazard Communication Standard affects nearly every employer, from chemical manufacturers to retailers to hotels whose employees work with cleaning agents.  Employers need to be aware of their obligations to communicate hazards of chemical substance, and must have a process for updating existing labels, SDS, hazard assessments, and training programs to comply with HCS 2012.  Here are some best practices for employers to follow:

  • Employers should review the new SDSs in a timely fashion upon receipt.
  • If the employer does not receive the SDSs in a timely fashion, it should promptly communicate in writing with the manufacturer to obtain the SDSs. If the employer does not receive the SDSs by June 1, 2016, OSHA has indicated that it will not cite employers who show “good faith efforts” to obtain the SDSs.
  • Employers should evaluate the workplace using the SDSs to identify hazardous chemicals and how their employees may be exposed.
  • Employers whose employees work with or around hazardous chemicals must ensure that they review the updated SDSs and assess each of the employer’s underlying compliance programs (e.g., emergency action plan, storage of flammable and combustible materials, PPE, respiratory protection, etc.) that may be impacted by the SDSs.
  • Employers should ensure that employees who work with or around hazardous chemicals are trained to recognize the pictograms and hazard warnings that will be required under the new Hazard Communication Standard.  Employers should document this training and develop mechanisms to ensure that employees understand the hazards of working with or around hazardous chemicals.

TEMPORARY EMPLOYEES

In 2014, OSHA implemented an initiative to protect temporary employees under the premise that those workers are not provided the same level of training and protections as full-time employees. Under this initiative, OSHA inspectors are required to inquire during inspections whether the inspected worksite has temporary employees and determine whether those employees are exposed to hazardous conditions. Moreover, during the inspection, OSHA will also inquire as to whether the training provided to the temporary workers is in a language and vocabulary the workers can understand. If OSHA determines that the host employer failed to provide adequate training or protections to the temporary employees, OSHA could issue citations not only to the temporary staffing agency, but also the host employer under the multi-employer worksite doctrine.  In order to enforce this initiative, OSHA has hired compliance officers who are bilingual (or certified interpreters) to conduct employee interviews of employees to determine if the employees understood the training.  If the training were in English and the employee is not fluent in English, then the training is not “effective” and the employer can be cited. Likewise, if the training material is in writing and the employee is illiterate, the training may not be considered “effective.”

POTENTIAL RECORDKEEPING RULE CHANGES

One anticipated rule would require employers to submit their injury and illness records “regularly,” electronically instead of only when OSHA requests them through a formal request. With such disclosure, the OSHA 300 Log and supporting documents could be used to trigger OSHA inspections. In addition, the records would be made available to the public so anyone could see an employer’s injury and illness rates.  This opens employers to risk of adverse public reaction if such information becomes available in the media, without understanding the context of the records and the complexity of the recordkeeping requirements so the public may erroneously construe the injury and illness rate as creating an unsafe workplace. This disclosure could also result in additional worker’s compensation litigation by attorneys who could utilize this information to file claims.

Even more concerning for employers is another anticipated rule that would make the recordkeeping requirements an “ongoing obligation.”  OSHA is expected to interpret this change to allow OSHA to cite recordkeeping violations up to five years old, well past the OSH Act’s six month statute of limitations.  This is in direct contradiction to well established case law, including a 2012 D.C. Circuit decision affirming the six month limit.1  There is hope, however, through a recent Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals2 case that prevents OSHA from reinterpreting a rule in such a way  that is “plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation.”  This will be an area to which employers should pay close attention.

NEW SILICA RULE EXPECTED TO BE RELEASED BY JANUARY 2017

Crystalline silica particles are commonly dispersed in the air when workers cut, grind, crush, or drill silica-containing materials such as concrete, masonry, tile, and rock.  OSHA estimates that 2.2 million American workers are regularly exposed to respirable silica, with 1.85 million of those workers in the construction industry.  Other common sources of exposure are building products manufacturing, sandblasting and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of oil and gas wells.  Crystalline silica exposure can cause lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and silicosis, an incurable and sometimes fatal lung disease.

OSHA has outlined a new Silica Rule as a top priority since the beginning of the Obama administration.  The Agency sent a draft rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in February 2011, and has pledged to release a final rule by January 2017.  (See the notice of proposed rulemaking at https://federalregister.gov/a/2013-20997).

OSHA’s Silica Rule that will establish permissible silica exposure limits for all workers at 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, cutting allowable exposures in half in general industry and maritime businesses, and even more in construction. The proposed rule also includes preferred methods for controlling exposure — such as using water saws to reduce airborne silica dust.  The rule will also require that employers conduct periodic air monitoring, limit workers’ access to areas where exposures are high, enforce effective methods for reducing exposures, provide medical exams for workers who have been exposed to elevated levels of silica, and require training for workers about silica-related hazards.

ENHANCED CRIMINAL LIABILITY

OSHA has had the ability to seek criminal liability against employers and managers since the advent of the law if a willful violation of a regulation causes the death of an employee, although a conviction is a misdemeanor with a six month period of imprisonment and a $500,000 penalty for the employer and $250,000 for an individual.

This seemingly minimal criminal liability has now given rise to a recent criminal enforcement agenda announced by the Department of Justice on December 17, 2015, to seek additional liability against employers when there is a workplace safety violation having nothing to do with a fatality. The DOJ will seek criminal penalties under other criminal laws for lying during an OSHA inspection, making false statements in government documents, obstructing justice and tampering with witnesses which are felonies and can result in imprisonment ranging from 5 to 20 years and enhanced monetary penalties.

With the advent of this criminal prosecution initiative, employers must be extremely careful during OSHA inspections, particularly in the aftermath of a fatality or serious injury, not to engage in any conduct that remotely approaches lying during an inspection, obstruction of justice, tampering with witnesses and must engage knowledgeable counsel at the outset to be able to understand and avoid these liabilities.

OSHA’S USE OF THE RAPID RESPONSE FORM

On January 1, 2015, OSHA’s more robust reporting rules took effect, requiring employers to report all work-related in-patient hospitalizations, amputations, and losses of an eye within 24 hours of the event:

  • Within eight (8) hours after the death of any employee as a result of a work-related incident (which includes heart attacks);” and
  • Within twenty-four (24) hours after the in-patient hospitalization of one or more employees or the occurrence of an injury to an employee involving an amputation or loss of an eye, as a result of a work-related incident.”

To streamline these reports, OSHA adopted new procedures: the Interim Enforcement Procedures for New Reporting Requirements.  Under these Interim Enforcement Procedures, OSHA triages new reports to determine whether the report warrants an inspection or a “Rapid Response Investigation” (RRI).  “Category 1” reports — including fatalities, multiple hospitalizations, repeat offenders, and imminent dangers — will automatically trigger an on-site inspection.  “Category 2” reports may trigger an on-site inspection if they involved two of the following factors: continued exposures, safety program failure, serious hazards, temporary workers, referrals from other agencies, and pending whistleblower complaints.  If Category 2 factors are not present, the Agency may initiate a Rapid Response Investigation in lieu of an inspection.

OSHA may initiate a Rapid Response Investigation where the Area Director believes that there is a “reasonable basis that a violation or hazard exists.” The Agency will direct employers to “find out what led to the incident and what  modifications can you make now to prevent future injuries to other workers.”  The Agency will fax a letter instructing employers to “immediately conduct your own investigation into the reported incident and make any necessary changes to avoid further incidents,” and complete a “Non-Mandatory Incident Investigation” form (attached to the letter).  The employer’s report and investigation will be used by the Agency to determine whether to conduct its own inspection.  A word of caution, these rapid response forms could be used against employers as admissions of liability for a violation of a regulation as well as grounds for OSHA to find a “willful” violation if the employer responds in a way that it appears to admit prior knowledge of the hazard which could be an “admission” of liability.  Accordingly, as rapid response forms are increasingly used in 2016, employers should write only limited, careful responses and avoid any language that might support an admission.  Employers must preserve attorney client privilege in the conduct of their underlying root cause analysis investigation and disclosures on the forms, and seek the advice of counsel where necessary.

HOW TO DEAL WITH AN AGING WORKFORCE

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in every five American workers is over 65, and in 2020, one in four American workers will be over 55.  Though the overall effects of an aging workplace are not entirely clear, there are several precautions employers should take to protect aging employees:

  • Workstations and job tasks must be matched to the needs of the individual employee.
  • Older workers tend to have fewer accidents but when they do have accidents, the injuries tend to be more severe resulting in a longer recovery time.
  • Older workers tend to experience more back injuries.
  • Older workers are more likely to develop musculoskeletal injuries because they have been performing repetitive motions for a longer period of time.
  • Muscular strength and range of joint movement may decrease.
  • Vision and hearing challenges may be more prevalent in older workers.

OSHA has begun to analyze the potential hazards associated with these employees and will likely propose guidance.

MIDNIGHT REGULATIONS AND INTERPRETATIONS

As with any outgoing administration, there is always the potential for “midnight regulations,” often implemented through rulemaking in the waning days of an Administration, particularly after an election.  Though President Obama will not leave office until January 20, 2017, employers should prepare for last minute regulations or potential “executive orders” that may have lasting effects on employers.  For example, under the Clinton administration, OSHA issued an ergonomics rule shortly after the 2000 election and Congress was forced to repeal the rule shortly after President Bush took office in January 2001.  The likelihood of midnight regulation under President Obama depends heavily on which party wins the presidency in November 2016.  To avoid potential political fallout for a new administration, OSHA will likely implement any new regulations as early as possible in 2016.

Midnight regulations are not the only potential consequence of an outgoing administration.  New last minute interpretations of existing regulations and guidance could also have a significant impact on employers.  While the Eighth Circuit’s ruling in Loren Cook Company, discussed above, may lessen the likelihood of drastic reinterpretations of rules, employers should still be on the lookout for changes in interpretation and implementation that may affect how companies do business.

CONCLUSION

The first seven years of the current Administration have been very challenging for employers under OSHA and other employment laws. 2016 may be the most challenging as the current Administration wants to project its agenda in the waning days of its authority. The President has said that in his last year he intends to “leave it all on the field” as to his agendas which means that employers must continue to be vigilant, keep informed and respond properly.

By Patrick D. Joyce, Philip L. Comella, and Craig B. Simonsen

bottleThe U.S. Senate yesterday passed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (Chemical Safety Act).

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), in an announcement, indicated that the legislation creates a “predictable and transparent federal system to regulate the safety of chemicals based on the latest science, providing greater regulatory certainty to the chemical manufacturing industry and striking a balance between state and federal roles in chemical safety management.”

The 39-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is the last of the major environmental laws passed in the 1960s and 70s that has not been modernized. While thousands of chemicals are currently in existence, as many as 1,500 new chemicals come on the market each year.  Over TSCA’s history, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has only restricted five chemicals as posing an “unreasonable risk” and has only prevented four new chemicals from going to market – out of more than 23,000 new chemicals manufactured since 1976.

As summarized by the Senators, the bill as it passed the Senate would:

  • Require safety reviews for all existing chemicals active in commerce;
  • Going forward, require EPA to review and approve new chemicals that come on the market each year;
  • Ensure the EPA takes into consideration only the impact on health and the environment when determining whether to allow a chemical to be sold or manufactured;
  • Require chemical companies to contribute to the cost of safety assessments;
  • Prevent industry from hiding information on their chemicals from the public view;
  • Preserve strong private rights of action to hold industry accountable for negligence and harm; and
  • Explicitly require that the EPA base its decisions on how chemicals impact the most vulnerable populations — children, pregnant women, the elderly, and chemical workers.

In addition, the bill will promote transparency by requiring up-front substantiation of claims to protect confidential commercial information. The bill also allows for judicial review of “low priority” designations, safety determinations, regulatory rulemakings, and decisions on State waiver applications.

Before the Chemical Safety Act can be presented to the President for signature, a conference committee must reconcile the Senate and House versions of the bill.  Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.) had been holding up passage of the Senate version in an attempt to strengthen protections provided by the Act, but will now seek those additional protections during the reconciliation process.

While it is unclear what the full impact of the Chemical Safety Act will be, one thing is certain: EPA will now have more authority to regulate toxic chemicals and the chemical approval process will be more rigorous than ever before.  Stay tuned for an update when the final reconciled Act is presented to the President for signature.