DOL regulatory agenda holds a few surprises
OSHA also has a new Hazard Communication rulemaking at the final rule stage, and it, too, is over at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for review. It will change the format of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) labeling, include the use of pictograms, and will require retraining of all workers.
In late January 2012, OIRA announced that it was extending the review period beyond the standard 90 days for that rule as well, after business interests lobbied against the inclusion of “unclassified hazards” in the HazCom rule. The rulemaking is designed to bring OSHA’s HazCom standard (29 CFR 1910.1200) in sync with the Global Harmonization System (GHS) adopted by many foreign countries, as well as by other US agencies (e.g., Department of Transportation, Consumer Products Safety Commission). Interestingly, MSHA has yet to put HazCom/GHS coordination on its regulatory agenda, which raises the specter that separate training, labeling, and MSDS formats could be required by MSHA that are required at OSHA-regulated worksites.
In addition to the OSHA rulemaking initiatives discussed above, OSHA will also seek to modernize its recordkeeping system (although the appropriations bills funding OSHA and MSHA have riders barring OSHA from spending funds to move forward with that rulemaking). The idea is to require employers to electronically submit injury and illness data to OSHA through modification of 29 CFR Part 1904. Currently, employers simply need to record (not report) injuries at OSHA-regulated entities, whereas MSHA-regulated companies must affirmatively report any injuries or illnesses resulting in medical treatment, lost-time, or restricted duty.
OSHA whistleblower protection regulations would also be altered under the agenda, through new procedural rules that cover various whistleblower standards that OSHA enforces (e.g., transportation, consumer product safety, Food and Drug Administration, and Sarbanes-Oxley Act, among others).
Other rules on OSHA’s agenda include the following:
- Confined Space in Construction (final rule due June 2012);
- Electrical Power Transmission and Distribution, Electrical Protective Equipment (final rule due May 2012);
- Walking Working Surfaces and Fall Protection (final rule due October 2012); and,
- Revision of Underground Construction and Demolition Standards related to cranes and derricks (direct final rule due February 2012).
With respect to MSHA’s ongoing revision of the Pattern of Violations (POV) criteria, the agency says that the current regulations do not “reflect the statutory intent for section 104(e)” of the Mine Act, and that Congress intended this enforcement tool to be used against mine operators with disregard for health and safety or whose chronic history of persistent S&S violations exposes miners to the same hazards again and again. The final rule should, MSHA says, improve consistency in applying POV criteria. The targeted final rule date is April 2012.
Another item on MSHA’s regulatory agenda concerns notification of the agency about legal identity. The existing requirements are not viewed as providing sufficient information for MSHA to identify all “operators” responsible for safety and health obligations under the Act, and so this initiative would expand the universe of information required to be submitted to MSHA. No further details are available about this activity, other than April 2012 is the due date for a proposed rule.
MSHA also plans to change its civil penalty structure once again, with a proposed rule slated for February 2012, according to the agenda. The last time MSHA changed Part 100 in 2007, it was a contributory factor in creating what — at one point — was a 19,000-case backlog at the Federal Mine Safety & Health Review Commission. MSHA’s goal this time around is to “improve the efficiency” of the agency’s efforts and “to facilitate the resolution of enforcement issues.” Beyond that, details are vague. However, at a recent conference, one MSHA metal/non-metal district manager suggested that the range of options on negligence (now allowing an inspector to select “no, low, moderate, high, and reckless disregard” as the choices) and gravity (which runs from no lost workdays to fatal and from no likelihood of occurrence through unlikely, reasonably likely, highly likely, and occurred) would become more limited. This does create speculation that under a revised scheme, more citations would be characterized as high negligence and significant and substantial.
What is perhaps most interesting about the MSHA agenda is that its “I2P2” rulemaking — which was once part of the DOL’s P3 priorities for MSHA — has disappeared from the agenda. This is curious given that, as recently as November 2011, the agency was still holding public hearings on the issue. In addition, having a safety and health management program in place is one of the “mitigating factors” MSHA would consider in de-selecting a mine from a POV list, according to the POV proposal. Moreover, in January 2012, Assistant Secretary Joe Main urged adoption of these comprehensive safety management programs in a letter he sent to the mining community, claiming: “In order to prevent mine deaths, operators must have in place effective safety and health management programs that are constantly evaluated, find-and-fix programs to identify and eliminate mine hazards, and training for all mining personnel.” Given the prominence of this approach in the agency’s communication, it is odd that the regulatory initiative was dropped from the agenda without explanation.
About the author: Adele L. Abrams is an attorney, Certified Mine Safety Professional and trained mediator who is president of the Law Office of Adele L. Abrams P.C. in Beltsville, Md., a seven-attorney firm focusing on safety, health, and employment law nationwide. Abrams also provides consultation, safety audits, and training services to MSHA- and OSHA-regulated companies. She is a member of the Maryland, D.C., and Pennsylvania Bars, the U.S. District Courts of Maryland and D.C., the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit and 4th Circuit, and the United States Supreme Court. She is a graduate of the George Washington University’s National Law Center and earned her Bachelor of Science in Journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park. For more information, contact her at email@example.com or visit the The Law Office of Adele L. Abrams on the Web at www.safety-law.com.
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