OSHA officials talk compliance assistance

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Motivating agricultural retailers and distributors to have a safe working environment and employees trained in proper safety operations was the topic of two speakers at the 2013 National Agronomic, Environmental, and Health Safety School.

Nothing that two Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials talked about in August addressed any major changes in the aftermath of the West, Texas, explosion.

What they did contend is that the administration has goals of helping companies be in compliance with regulations rather than writing citations. They brought up many diverse points about training and prevention programs.

Tim Bielema, OSHA Peoria, Ill., area, director, and Brian Bothast, OSHA area compliance assistance specialist, spoke during the NAEHSS annual school. The two tried to dispel the old punch line to the joke: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” Bothast has been an annual  presenter at NAEHSS for the last several years.

The OSHA website, www.osha.gov, is geared to national audiences and does not have a lot of specific information for agriculture, except issues such as fertilizer handling, Bielema said.

Ag-specific issues often have required being addressed through regional offices, Bielema said.

But the effort by OSHA officials is to make sure there is consistency from region to region.

Bielema said, “We are proud of being safety and health professionals and hope we motivate you.” He referred to injury and illness prevention programs as being extremely important so that common sense and proven tools are in place to fix hazards before injuries or deaths occur.

There are six core elements or principles that need to occur for a prevention program to work, according to Bielema. “You need to get six core elements embedded into your operation,” he said.

 

The six are:

• Management leadership.

• Worker participation.

• Hazard identification and assessment.

• Hazard prevention and control.

• Education and training.

• Program evaluation and improvement.

OSHA has conducted studies to look at how well they have worked with ag companies. There are a lot of reasons for ag companies to be paying close attention to OSHA assistance for prevention program regulations, he said. He expressed proven benefits for ag company prevention programs:

• Transform a workplace safety and health culture.

• Reduce injuries, illnesses and deaths.

• Lower workers’ compensation and other costs.

• Improve morale and communication.

• Improve processes, products and services.

The top benefits of effective workplace safety programs cited in the most recent OSHA study as collected from financial decision makers is that cost to a company on average was reduced 28 percent and productivity improved by 43 percent.

 

SPECIFIC ACCIDENT HAZARDS

Some specific issues that OSHA directed its inspectors to focus on during 2013 to prevent injury, and mentioned by the two officials, was a downplay compared to what could be coming as a focus after the Texas fertilizer plant catastrophe. The accident hazards of falls, electrocution, struck by and crushed were explained as the 2013 emphasis.

Bothast noted the fall emphasis related to ladders. “You have to have a record of training in ladder use,” he explained. What seems like simple points in ladder use training include inspecting a ladder for broken or defective parts before use, not exceeding the ladder’s load limit, ensuring the ladder extends three feet above the landing surface, using nonconductive ladders when near electrical lines and setting the ladder at a four-to-one angle against any structure.

Working on or near live electricity requires significant emphasis because there always can be hazards of arc flash, arc blast and shock. Additionally, work performed on or near energized circuits such as testing, troubleshooting and measuring voltage requires training. Bothast also mentioned conducting flash hazard analysis and establishing protection boundaries.

Crushed by typically can be related to rollovers by mobile equipment, the roll off of materials from a truck and simple failure of equipment, Bothast noted.

Part of the struck by emphasis has been that employees know appropriate traffic control to be operating in a safe zone with traffic channeled away from a work zone.

 

HEAT STRESS PREVENTION

An additional point of emphasis following the 2012 drought and extreme temperatures in the nation was heat stress prevention planning. What might have once been considered necessary and important in some portions of the country is equally important in more of the country than ever.

Bothast explained what needs to occur with workers to avoid heat stress including:

• Workers need to gradually build up to heavy work; they need to become acclimated through a process of acclimatizing.

• Workers and those managers around them need to know the signs of heat illness—confusion, irrational behavior, loss of coordination, headache, nausea, convulsions and loss of consciousness.

• A plan for adequate water intake is a simple must.

• Management must check on workers and watch how workers are looking and responding to working in heat.

• Everyone at work sites have to know the proper response to an emergency and know that it is ok to contact 911.

Low risk conditions are listed as heat indexes of less than 91 degrees, moderate risk occurs with heat index between 91 degrees and 103 degrees. High risk heat index occurs from 103 degrees to 115 degrees. Working in a heat index greater than 115 degrees is a real worry. And risk aversion plans vary per risk level.

Bothast noted how some training cannot be hands on, but other training must be hands on, such as the annual fire extinguisher training.

Quite close to the situation that occurred in the Texas explosion and concern for hazardous chemical release was information provided about calling for designated emergency responders. Bothast hit on points related to emergency response to hazardous substance releases.

“There are situations for first responders being the contact rather than employee responders,” Bothast noted. Employees have to know an emergency situation that requires no action beyond notifying authorities. First responders need at least eight hours of specific training related to hazardous chemical releases to know how to contain a release from a safe distance and evacuate the area in a defensive manner.

 

SAFETY DATA SHEETS

As for general safety training, Bothast noted the use of pictograms becoming more important and the need for proper dealing with new safety data sheets that will have to be designed to one specific format. The deadline for manufacturers to have formatted all their safety data sheets is June 2015.

“Safety data is expected to be in this specific order,” he said, in referring to a list from one to sixteen:

1. Identification.

2. Hazard(s) identification.

3. Composition/information on ingredients.

4. First-aid measures.

5. Firefighting measures.

6. Accidental release measures.

7. Handling and storage.

8. Exposure controls/personal protective equipment.

9. Physical and chemical properties.

10. Stability and reactivity.

11. Toxicological information.

12. Ecological information.

13. Disposal considerations.

14. Transport information.

15. Regulatory information.

16. Other information.


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