OSHA Update

OSHA is proposing to relax seatbelt requirements for lift truck drivers. Learn why some are opposing this change and get up to speed on other recent agency developments.

OSHA May Relax Seatbelt Rule Since 1995, OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) inspectors have required lift truck operators to wear seatbelts while driving or else allow their employers to get slapped with a citation. Now, some business owners have asked OSHA to relax these safety standards to boost drivers' productivity. The federal agency has already drafted a document—released on Sept. 26th—saying that the workplace will not be cited for skipping seatbelts if conditions are safe enough. OSHA will grant forgiveness if the following four standards are met—the workplace is clean and flat, the truck has been properly maintained, its use follows safe limits, and the driver has received extensive training. The draft reads: "Where an evaluation of the above factors, and of any other factor determined to be relevant, indicates that the possibility of a tipover is remote, and in fact there is no history of tipovers or near misses, a citation for failure to use an active operator protection device or system will not be issued." "Theoretically, it's not a bad argument," says William J. Montwieler, executive director of the Industrial Truck Association (ITA). "But realistically, it's a dream world. Since 1990, all forklifts have come with seatbelts. The reason is that you rarely have an environment that's totally safe or a driver that's totally trained. Put those two together and you get accidents." While proponents of the draft hope that the change will increase workers' productivity, especially when they're driving the trucks in reverse, Montwieler thinks that it will compromise safety. "This proposed policy puts perceived productivity ahead of demonstrable safety," he says. Montwieler opposes the change outright. "The ITA, representing manufacturers of lift trucks, thinks that's an awful idea," he says. He points out that, according to OSHA statistics, 110 people die each year in forklift accidents. Just like the automobile seatbelt law, Montwieler says, drivers shouldn't be allowed to bypass seatbelts because they're inconvenienced. In addition, Montwieler cites an industry standard. "The ANSI B 56.1 standard, which calls for the use of operator restraint devices, was developed by forklift manufacturers, users, insurers, labor unions, and various safety experts," he says. "There is no exception in the ANSI standard, and there shouldn't be one for the unrealistic world that OSHA describes." ITA will lobby OSHA to keep regulations unchanged and will submit remarks by a Dec. 1 deadline. OSHA Asks for Your Feedback OSHA wants to know what you think about the second phase of its standards improvement project, which seeks to change inconsistent, repetitive or outdated provisions in its health standards for general industry, maritime and construction. The agency is addressing some 40 provisions in 23 OSHA health standards. Proposed modifications to the standards aim to ease regulatory burdens on employers while still protecting the health and safety of employees. The agency is proposing to revise or drop medical provisions in older standards that are no longer necessary in current medical practice. For instance, the agency would modify the coke oven emissions and vinyl chloride standards, calling for annual, rather than semi-annual, medical exams for employees exposed for long periods of time. This proposed revision would make standards more in keeping with recent regulations. In addition, the agency is supporting the elimination of reporting obligations that have not benefited employee health, proved useful or followed the Paperwork Reduction Act. Finally, the agency would revise the exposure provisions of many standards to make them uniform in terms of monitoring frequency and disclosure of results to employees. The deadline to submit remarks on OSHA's proposed revisions is Dec. 30, 2002. You can turn in comments by mail (OSHA Docket Office, Docket No. S-778-A, Room N2625, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington D.C. 20210), fax (202-693-1648) or through the Internet (http://ecomments.osha.gov.). For more information on submitting feedback, call the Docket Office at 202-693-2350. OSHA and the American Meat Institute Team Up They have worked together for more than 10 years, but now it's official—OSHA and the American Meat Institute (AMI) have formally joined forces in the continued promotion of good working conditions for meat industry workers. "OSHA and AMI are committed to reducing ergonomic hazards in the workplace," says OSHA Administrator John Henshaw. "We worked together in 1990 to develop ergonomic guidelines for meatpacking plants. Now, this alliance provides an even stronger opportunity to reach out to the meat industry and reduce occupational musculoskeletal disorders even more." The formal alliance will tackle specific goals. Among its top priorities is informing AMI members and others in the meat industry on how to help safeguard workers' health and safety—particularly how to minimize ergonomic hazards. The organizations will also work together in providing training on ergonomics techniques, program organization and applications in the meat industry. Outreach and communication represent a major priority of the alliance. OSHA and AMI will develop and distribute information through the media, particularly through their individual web sites. AMI members will be encouraged to take part in mentoring and in OSHA's cooperative programs, such as compliance assistance, the Voluntary Protection Program, Consultation, and the Safety and Heath Achievement Recognition Program. Training and education objectives have already been established. These include working jointly to cross-train OSHA personnel and industry professionals in AMI ergonomic programs. AMI will also incorporate ergonomics training sessions at the yearly AMI Foundation Worker Safety, Health and Human Resources conference. OSHA and AMI representatives will convene at least every quarter to create a plan of action, set working procedures and determine participants' roles and duties. OSHA will also allow representatives of the Occupational Safety and Health State Plan Association and the association of state Consultation Projects to take part in the alliance. Sources: OSHA May Skip Seatbelts
Modern Materials Handling, Nov. 1, 2002
http://manufacturing.net/MMH/index.asp?layout=articleWebzine&articleid=CA255889 OSHA Requests Comments on Proposed Improvements to Twenty-Three Health Standards
OSHA Trade News Release, Oct. 30, 2002
http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=NEWS_RELEASES&p_id=9799&p_text_version=FALSE OSHA, American Meat Institute Form Alliance
OSHA Trade News Release, Oct. 24, 2002

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