Dealing with OSHA regulations is not an easy task for many companies. As an employer, you are responsible for the safety of your workers who are handling chemicals or working on surfaces with unprotected edges or sides above 6 feet on a daily basis. Therefore, it is crucial to stay on top of OSHA updates.
This year, the Obama Administration has set a rigorous agenda for new regulations and enhanced OSHA enforcement. This article will shed light on OSHA changes in 2016 to help you better prepare for them.
1. Increases in Fines
Over the past 24 years, many businesses have been issued lower fines that resulted from OSHA violations. However, employers who violate OSHA standards are now subjected to new maximum penalties in 2 phases: an initial catch-up adjustment and an ongoing subsequent adjustment period.
The initial catch-up adjustment increases the penalties to reflect the changes in inflation between the October 2015 Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the October 1990 CPI. This makes a nearly 80% increase in assigned fines for 2016.
For the ongoing subsequent adjustment period, OSHA will be required to implement annual cost of living increases, with the adjustments based on the year over year percentage increase in CPI. Hence, employers should expect to see an increase in fines by January 25th of each subsequent year.
Beginning this year, willful or repeat fines can now reach a maximum of about $127,000 each. This is a dramatic change from the $70,000 maximum fine that businesses used to enjoy under more lenient regulations. Likewise, the ceiling for serious violations will jump from $7,000 to around $12,000.
2. More Inspections Related to the General Duty Clause
According to OSHA’s General Duty Clause, employers must protect their employees from recognized workplace hazards that are likely to cause serious harm or death, such as ergonomics; fall protection; chemical and other hazardous materials for which there are no existing regulations; illness due to exposure to heat and cold; and combustible dust.
Businesses should expect the number of inspections involving workplace violence incidents and violations, ergonomics, chemical exposures, and process safety management to increase. OSHA is determined to investigate serious hazards, allowing enforcement personnel to take on complex or challenging inspections. These thorough inspections make a big difference as they involve both management and employees, continually ask “why” until the underlying cause is identified, and focus on the most effective solutions that are more likely to satisfy OSHA regulations.
3. Final Rule for Recordkeeping and Distinctive Policies
In order to prevent injuries and illnesses in workplaces, accurate injury and illness records are essential. Most employers will be obliged to keep a new electronic reporting called OSHA 300 Logs. In particular, companies with more than 250 employees will have to submit their OSHA 300 Logs to the agency on a quarterly basis. The information is provided on OSHA Forms 300 and 300A.
In turn, OSHA will publish the OSHA 300 Logs on its website, making them available to anyone who is interested in reviewing them. This will also encourage all companies to implement safe practices at their workplace.
Besides the new electronic reporting, OSHA may also make certain safety incentive programs illegal if those programs are deemed to discourage employees from reporting work-related injuries and illnesses. For example, these programs may disqualify employees from their current job if they report 2 injuries or illnesses; automatically discipline employees who seek medical attention; or require a worker who reports injury to undergo drug testing when there was no reason to suspect drug use. Therefore, it’s important to review your safety incentive programs in order to assess whether they could discourage employees reporting injuries and illnesses, and make considerable changes.
Implementing OSHA-approved incentive programs is a good alternative to help promote worker participation in safety-related activities. This can involve providing t-shirts to workers serving on safety and health committees, throwing a recognition party at the successful completion of a company-wide health and safety training, or offering rewards for workers who suggest ways to strengthen health and safety.
4. Updated Safety and Health Program Guidelines
The latest Safety and Health Program Guidelines reflect modern technology and practices as well as focus on finding and fixing hazards before any injury or illness incident can occur. The guidelines help employers incorporate proactive approaches to safety by dividing into 7 core elements, each containing action items to accomplish:
- Management Leadership
- Worker Participation
- Hazard Identification and Assessment
- Hazard Prevention and Control
- Education and Training
- Program Evaluation and Improvement
- Coordination and Communication on Multi-Employer Worksites
5. Final Rule for the Occupational Exposure to Crystalline Silica
Silica dust is identified as a deadly hazard, which can cause lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease. It’s commonly dispersed in the air when workers cut, grind, crust, or drill silica-containing materials such as rock, concrete, and tile. OSHA estimates that about 2.3 million American workers are regularly exposed to respirable crystalline silica in their workplaces.
In March of this year, the agency published the final silica rule to improve worker protection in ways that are both economical and viable for employers to implement. At the same time, the new rule will enable workers to earn a living without sacrificing their health.
The rule establishes permissible silica exposure limits for all workers at 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift. It also addresses the preferred methods for controlling exposure – using water saws to keep dust from getting into the air or a ventilation system to capture dust where it is created. In addition, employers are required to conduct periodic air monitoring, limit employees’ access to high exposure areas, train workers about silica-related hazards, and provide medical exams to highly exposed workers.
Significant regulations and guidance documents have been made in 2016 that can affect the outlook of your business. Without question, it’s imperative for companies to vigilantly keep an eye out for any OSHA changes in order to address and respond to them properly.
For those in the construction industry, its also imperative to be vigilant to watch for changes to IBC and OHSA construction standards.