OSHA EXTENDS PERIOD FOR COMMENTS ON WHISTLEBLOWER COMPLAINT PROCEDURES

June 07, 2002

OSHA announced it would extend until June 30, 2002, the period for comments on the interim final rule that establishes whistleblower complaint procedures for airline employees.

The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) requested a 30-day extension of the deadline for submitting comments, citing the need for additional time to "evaluate the complex history of federal whistleblower laws..." The original deadline for comments was May 31, 2002.

"Providing an environment for employee complaints, free of retaliation, is critical for workplace safety and health," said OSHA Administrator John Henshaw. "By extending this comment period, organizations and individuals will have the appropriate amount of time to submit comments on an important issue."

The interim final rule was published by OSHA on April 1, 2002, and governs the employee protection provisions of Section 519 of the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR21). OSHA's interim final rule will protect airline employees against retaliation by air carriers, their contractors, or subsidiaries for providing information to authorities on air carrier safety violations. The rule explains requirements for filing complaints and provides investigation and due process procedures.

Persons wishing to comment should submit written comments, postmarked not later than June 30, 2002 to: Docket C-07, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, Room N-3618, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20210. Comments of 10 pages or fewer may be faxed to (202) 693-1861.


INADEQUATE SAFEGUARDS AGAINST HEARING LOSS LEAD TO NEARLY $90,000 IN FINES

A Franklin, Mass., employer's failure to adequately protect workers against the hazards of occupational noise exposure has resulted in $89,750 in proposed fines.

OSHA cited J & J Corrugated Box Corp. for alleged willful, serious and other violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act at its manufacturing plant.

"OSHA's hearing conservation standard requires employers to take effective steps to protect the hearing of workers who are exposed to high noise levels," said Brenda Gordon, OSHA area director for Southeastern Massachusetts. "These include annual audiograms for exposed workers, notifying those employees if testing reveals a deterioration in hearing ability and referring them for appropriate medical evaluation, if needed. These safeguards were not provided for all exposed workers at this plant."

The largest fine, $63,000, is proposed for an alleged willful violation for failing to refer workers for required medical evaluations. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations.

Fines of $24,750 are proposed for five alleged serious violations. Four citations deal with the employer's failure to maintain and monitor all elements of the hearing conservation program, not providing annual audiograms to all affected employees, not notifying all affected employees of test results in a timely manner and not posting the hearing conservation standard. The fifth citation is for failure to ensure the use of lockout/tagout procedures when workers entered a strapping machine to perform maintenance. A serious violation is one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.

An additional $2,000 in fines is proposed for two alleged other than serious violations for an incomplete illness and injury log and failing to record employees' hearing losses in a timely manner. An other-than-serious violation is one that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to either elect to comply with them, to request and participate in an informal conference with the OSHA area director, or to contest them before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.


OSHA CITES THREE ATLANTA-AREA CONTRACTORS FOR LACK OF FALL PROTECTION

Failing to protect workers from fall hazards at Cobb County's Mable House Amphitheater construction site has resulted in $111,750 in proposed penalties for three Atlanta-area contractors.

OSHA first inspected the job site on Nov. 30, 2001. Subsequent inspections were conducted Feb. 5, Feb. 27 and March 6, after the agency continued to receive complaints about unsafe working conditions.

During each of the inspections, OSHA observed Hoschton-based Southern Steel employees, at heights varying from 40 to 58 feet, installing and welding steel, working from elevated aerial baskets and climbing up and down steel columns without proper fall protection equipment. The agency issued three alleged willful citations, with proposed penalties of $98,000.

"Four of the nine worker deaths investigated by our office since Oct. 1 involved falls," said Susan Johnston, OSHA's Atlanta-West area director. "Nationwide, one-third of the agency's fatality investigations involved falls. "To help prevent these fatalities, we've initiated a program to inspect job sites where we see or are notified that fall hazards exists"

OSHA's revised steel erection fall protection standard is now in effect," Johnston added. "With only a few exceptions, fall protection must be provided for steel erectors at 15 feet, rather than 25.

Southern Steel also received two alleged serious citations with $2,250 in proposed penalties for using improper ladders and allowing employees to climb from elevated aerial baskets to steel structures without proper fall protection.

The general contractor, Buford-based Ricks Contracting, Inc., received four alleged serious citations with proposed penalties of $10,000 for allowing the unsafe conditions to exist. As the controlling contractor the company is responsible for assuring a safe workplace.

OSHA issued one alleged serious citation with a $1,500 proposed penalty to Riverdale-based McKnight Roofing, Inc., for allowing employees to install roofing without fall protection.

The three companies have 15 working days to contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.


HIGHLY REQUESTED TB TRAINING VIDEOS ARE OFFERED AS FIRST NIOSH PRODUCT ON DVD

Two training videos to help protect health care employees from the risk of job-related tuberculosis infection are available together in one package as NIOSH's first health and safety training resource in DVD format.

The free DVD includes "Respirators: Your TB Defense," a training video to educate health care employees about proper respiratory protection against TB exposure, and "TB Respiratory Protection: Administrator's Review," a companion video that takes health care administrators step-by-step through development of a worker respiratory protection program.

The two programs are NIOSH's most requested training videos in their previously released VHS videocassette format. The new DVD packages both videos in a convenient, easy-to-use format that provides greater visual clarity and more user options than VHS. The DVD also includes reference documents, forms, and checklists. Viewers can use an on-screen menu to choose among the videos and the supplementary features.

Three percent of all tuberculosis cases occur in health care employees. Respiratory protection is a key measure for preventing the risk of occupational exposure, and training is important for the proper selection and use of respirators.

To request copies of the new DVD, contact Roger Wheeler, NIOSH Education and Information Division, at rlw3@cdc.gov, or call toll-free 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674).


CDC ANNOUNCES NEW SAFETY TRAINING TOOL TO PROTECT LIVES IN UNDERGROUND MINE EMERGENCIES

The CDC has announced a new computer-based training program to help save miners' lives in underground mine emergencies.

The program, called Mine Emergency Response Interactive Training Simulation (MERITS), is an interactive, multimedia program that simulates underground and surface activity at a mine where a safety crisis occurs, putting miners at risk of death or serious injury. The program places the trainee in the role of the mine superintendent who has responsibility for controlling the emergency and directing the safe, successful rescue of the miners.

CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health ( NIOSH) will introduce the software at several mining industry conferences beginning June 6. Some of the presentations will include "train the trainer" sessions to instruct individuals and organizations in its use. In turn, users trained in those sessions will be prepared to instruct others. Beginning in July, NIOSH will make the program available free on compact disk and for download from the Internet.

"In a crisis at an underground mine, knowing what to do and doing it quickly is essential for saving lives," noted CDC Acting Director David Fleming, M.D. "NIOSH's new simulation program will provide users with hands-on experience for making the right decisions, based on information from the scientific literature, interviews with veteran mining safety professionals, and observations from real and simulated disasters."

The simulation begins with a routine business day at a mine. Then a problem develops, and the trainee directs the emergency response as the problem threatens to assume catastrophic proportions. This response entails all of the tasks that the trainee would face in directing a command center in an actual situation, including directing traffic control at the site, providing food for rescue workers, and responding to questions and concerns from distraught relatives of miners who have been trapped underground. Each action by the trainee determines the next step in the interactive process. The total program can take from four to six hours to complete.

"The MERITS program is an outgrowth of NIOSH's ongoing cooperative work with industry, labor and other government agencies, and it comes at a time when it is increasingly needed," said NIOSH Acting Director Kathleen M. Rest, Ph.D., M.P.A. "As more and more mining veterans retire, they leave a shortage of mentors to whom their less experienced colleagues can turn for safety advice. MERITS offers an easy-to-use source of institutional safety knowledge to help fill that gap."

NIOSH introduced MERITS in a presentation on June 6 at the Holmes National Meeting in Virginia Beach, Va., and will put on a presentation that will include a train-the-trainer session on June 21 at a seminar in Grand Junction, Colo., co-sponsored by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

Subsequent presentations will be held at the Annual Institute on Mining, Health and Safety Research on Aug. 11-13 in Roanoke, Va., and with train-the-trainer sessions during the Training Resources Applied to Mining/National Mine Instructor's Conference on October 15-18 in Beckley, W.Va.

For information about attending the training sessions, contact Patricia Henning, NIOSH Pittsburgh Research Laboratory, Pittsburgh, Pa., at (412) 386-6466. The MERITS software, along with a trainer's guide, will be provided to participants at the sessions. For more information about NIOSH's mining safety research, visit the NIOSH website at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/mining/. For more information on MERITS, visit http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/mining/merits/default.htm.


OSHA OFFERS TWO NEW PUBLICATIONS

Updated publications on bloodborne pathogens and electrical hazards are available to assist employers and workers in maintaining safe and healthful work environments.

Controlling Electrical Hazards, OSHA 3075, is an up-to-date overview of basic electrical safety, OSHA electrical safety standards, and information employers need to comply with those standards. The booklet provides guidance for employees who work with electricity directly, such as engineers, electricians, electronic technicians and power line workers, as well as the millions of people who deal with electricity indirectly in the course of their everyday work.

A newly revised Bloodborne Pathogens fact sheet explains what bloodborne pathogens are, protections offered by OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogen standard, and steps employers can take to protect their workers.

Controlling Electrical Hazards can be downloaded at http://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3075.pdf. In addition, hard copies are available through OSHA's Online Publications Order Form and from the OSHA Publications Office at (800) 321-OSHA. The Bloodborne Pathogens fact sheet can be downloaded at http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_BloodborneFacts/bbfact01.pdf


NIOSH ISSUES FIRST APPROVAL UNDER PROGRAM FOR CERTIFYING EMERGENCY RESPONDER RESPIRATORS

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) on May 31, 2002, issued its first approval of respirators for occupational use by emergency responders against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents.

NIOSH approved Spiromatic Models 9030, 6630, and 4530, manufactured by Interspiro USA Inc., Branford, Conn. The respirators are self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) that provide users with air from a pressurized cylinder or tank carried on the back.

The approval signifies that the products are expected to protect fire fighters and other responders from chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear exposures in the line of duty. NIOSH based its determination on positive results from rigorous laboratory tests, evaluation of product specifications for the devices, and assessment of the manufacturer's quality control procedures.

The action allows the manufacturer to label the approved devices as NIOSH-certified for occupational use by emergency responders. It does not constitute a commercial endorsement of the products.

NIOSH tested and evaluated the devices under criteria announced in December 2001 for certifying SCBAs for occupational use by first responders against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents. The criteria built on NIOSH's existing program for certifying respirators for occupational use in traditional workplace settings such as factories, construction sites, and health care facilities. Development of the new program involved broad national support and collaboration by many agencies, organizations, and stakeholders.

NIOSH is continuing to test and evaluate other SCBAs submitted by manufacturers for certification under the new program. It also is developing similar criteria for approving other types of respirators, such as air-purifying devices, for use by emergency responders. For more information, visit http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/scbasite.html or call toll-free 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674).