The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has gone through some considerable changes recently as a result of the new Obama administration. Some changes occurring right now or soon to occur are:
Increased focus on enforcement of OSHA law under the direction of OSHA's new Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels.
Decreased funding for Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP). As of right now, the Senate has proposed that all funding be cut completely for the popular OSHA program which allows businesses to work directly with OSHA to increase employee protection voluntarily, before any citations or fines take place.
The budget for OSHA will increase by 10 percent under Obama's new budget proposal.
OSHA is imposing higher dollar value fines and pursuing proposed criminal prosecutions for "willful" violations.
Money gained from the sum total of increasing the OSHA budget, raising the monetary value of fines, and directing money away from VPP's will be directed into hiring more field inspectors and increasing the number of OSHA inspections.
A new law, "Protecting America's Workers Act," has been proposed to expand coverage of OSHA to include railroad employees and airline employees.
OSHA is currently pursuing a major re-write of the 29 CFR Part 1910 for walking/working surfaces and fall protection systems.
OSHA has proposed many changes to the current law. The change of most importance to the mass transit industry is the proposed wording change of the definition of "competent person." Per OSHA law, all organizations that use fall protection must have a "competent person" who is responsible for the day-to-day use, training, inspection, monitoring and enforcement of fall protection usage. The new proposed OSHA law reduces some of the enforcement requirements of the competent person.
At first this seems counterintuitive because reducing enforcement at the competent person level may appear to lead to unsafe practices. The intent, however, is not to reduce safety but to shift responsibility, and legal liability, more directly onto upper management and/or business owners. The objective is to both shield the competent person, who generally tends to be a rank-and-file blue collar worker or supervisor, from negligence lawsuits, and focus responsibility of enforcement more directly onto upper management and/or business owners.
The new leadership in Washington and OSHA has made it perfectly clear that safety violations will become more punitive in the future with higher fines and stronger and swifter criminal prosecutions for "willful" violations via the "Protecting America's Workers Act. "
ANSI, on the other hand, has been hard at work developing new equipment and user standards that increase the safety of fall protection equipment and the safety of workers using fall protection.
Although ANSI is a voluntary standard and not federal law, OSHA can site ANSI as a "nationally recognized safety standard" and hence a requirement for providing working safety under OSHA's "General Duty Clause" OSHA Section 5(a)(1).
Here are some new developments from ANSI that would be of interest to the mass transit industry.
ANSI Z359.1, which has been the original fall protection code from 1992 until present, will slowly be "phased out" as the new ANSI standards Z359.0 and Z359.2 through Z359.18 will take its place. As of today's date the following new standards have been released:
ANSI/ASSE Z359.0-2007: Definitions and Nomenclature Used for Fall Protection and Fall Arrest: ANSI/ASSE Z359.1-2007: Safety Requirements for Personal Fall Arrest Systems, Subsystems and Components: ANSI/ASSE Z359.2-2007: Minimum Requirements for a Comprehensive Managed Fall Protection Program: ANSI/ASSE Z359.3-2007: Safety Requirements for Positioning and Travel Restraint Systems ANSI/ASSE Z359.4-2007: Safety Requirements for Assisted-Rescue and Self-Rescue Systems, Subsystems and Components ANSI/ASSE Z359.6-2009: Safety Requirements & Specifications for Personal Fall Arrest Systems ANSI/ASSE Z359.12-2009: Safety Requirements for connecting components for Personal Fall Arrest SystemsANSI/ASSE Z359.13-2009: Safety Requirements for lanyards and energy absorbers for Personal Fall Arrest Systems