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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez

DOL Regulations - Live Q&A Session with OSHA

The live chat with OSHA has concluded. Please view the archive of the chat below or join us for one of the other live chats scheduled for this week.




Archived Q&A Session with OSHA

Monday December 7, 2009

4:02 Jordan Barab: This is acting Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab, I want to welcome you to this Web chat about OSHA's regulatory plan. As you can see, OSHA has set an ambitious fall 2009 Agenda that includes 29 regulatory items. The agenda projects that OSHA will publish two RFIs; seven NPRMs; and six final standards. Through these regulatory actions, the Agency continues to ensure good jobs for everyone through a safe and healthful workplace.

We encourage you to raise questions, submit views, and otherwise provide input to us on the Department's plans for upcoming regulations. Our main purpose today is to have a dialogue on the overall regulatory priorities reflected in the plan. Are there other subject areas that should be included?

Many of the prospective regulations being discussed today are not yet in the formal Administrative Procedure Act (APA) process for proposed regulations, but rather they are still in the conceptual stage.

When DOL's proposed regulations are published for comment, you can find them by visiting www.regulations.gov, and you can also directly submit your comments on these proposed regulations. If you want to comment on the substance of specific proposed regulations, this should be done through the formal comment process specified under the APA rather than through this Web chat.

4:08 Comment From Judie Smithers: From the Secretary's chat: The agenda has an entry at the proposed rule stage to add requirements to record musculoskeletal disorders in a separate column on the 300 log. Does this signify that OSHA is considering future action to promulgate an ergonomics standard?

4:08 Comment From Marie: From the Secretary's Chat: OSHA Injury and Illness record keeping: use of lagging indicators such as these are not useful. The agency has recognized the shortfalls of trying to enforce the regulation but has not attempted to find alternative means to monitor. Second, VPP is a good concept, but after the initial surge to gain the VPP status, compliance w/ OSH regulations becomes lax. If you look to the trendsetter's, you'll see atrophy in their programs.

4:08 Jordan Barab: Thanks, Marie, the OSHA 300 Log data is a lagging, or trailing, indicator. However, it still has value in assessing safety and health conditions at individual work places and for assessing conditions for the nation through the BLS statistics. As we continue to improve the quality of the statistics, they will be even more useful. Of course, we encourage employers to use leading indicators and other metrics that can be used to improve safety and health conditions.

4:08 Jordan Barab: Judie, This is not a prelude to a broader ergonomics standard. No, we are simply putting the MSD column back on the OSHA log as was originally intended in the 2001 issuance of OSHA's record keeping standard. MSDs continue to be a major problem for American workers, but at this time, OSHA has no plans for regulatory activity.

4:14 Comment From David LaHoda: Without an aerosol transmissible disease standard for the current H1N1 pandemic, did you think OSHA was hampered with regard to its educational preparedness and enforcement activities?

4:14 Jordan Barab: No, it has not hampered us. OSHA has moved aggressively to address the hazards of H1N1 pandemic influenza in the workplace. We have worked closely with the other federal agencies and the White House to ensure that workers are safe. While a standard on airborne transmissible diseases would have been preferable, we believe that we are responding to the issues effectively using existing standards and the General Duty Clause. In part, as a result of our experience with pandemic influenza, we have added the airborne transmissible diseases "Request for Information" to the regulatory agenda to further explore how we can better address these issues through the regulatory process.

4:18 Comment From jeff johnson: Dust "I see a regulation is in the works but how soon do you expect an industrial combustible dust rule to be developed? When might it become final and is this an expedited rulemaking? Reactive chemicals "Is there any consideration of requiring increased regulation of reactive chemicals in PSM regulations? Management of Change "Are you considering including management of organization changes in the PSM regulations? JEFF JOHNSON, CHEMICAL AND ENGINEERING NEWS

4:18 Jordan Barab: Regarding the combustible dust rule, we do not yet have a date for final issuance. OSHA recently published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to obtain information and comment. We are holding stakeholder meetings next week.

It is too early to say how or when we will be addressing the issues of reactive chemicals or management of change in the PSM regulations.

4:20 Comment From Eric: Most of your regulations only affect workers and companies in a few industries. Do any of them apply pretty widely across many industries, and how will they help the workers and the companies affected?

4:20 Jordan Barab: Thanks Eric, many of our rules are directed at limited industries, however, the Hazard Communications Rule to adopt globally harmonized system will provide improved chemical hazard information across almost all industries. This will help workers and employers understand these commonly found hazards.

4:26 Comment From Jerry Laws: How will OSHA move the confined spaces in construction standard forward? Comments submitted about it were mostly opposed to enacting an OSHA rule on this at all.

4:26 Jordan Barab: Thank you for your question, Jerry. We conducted a hearing on this issue in July 2008 and OSHA is continuing to analyze the comments submitted during the hearing and subsequent comment period. Once the analysis is completed and comments are addressed, the agency will move forward with a final standard.

4:27 Comment From Dave Johnson, Safety& Hyg: 1. Why does the OSHA regulatory agenda published today omit any mention of standards-setting plans for: a) updating 400+ permissible exposure limits; b) a workplace injury-illness prevention program; and c) a workplace ergonomics program? 2. Does this omission mean OSHA has no plans to work on standards in these 3 areas during the first term of the Obama administration? 3. Does this omission indicate OSHA has decided updating PELs is too complex a challenge to invest time and resources in? 4. Does this omission indicate OSHA has decided having another go at setting an ergonomics standard is too politically controversial?

4:27 Jordan Barab: Dave, these are very important and complex issues. While the agency has not made a determination about how to proceed at this time, we continue to look at strategies that protect workers from chemical hazards.

4:27 Comment From Larry: When can we expect the final ruling on crane operation standards.

4:27 Jordan Barab: Thanks, Larry. The cranes and derricks standards for construction is one of our highest priorities. We issued a proposed rule and held hearings last year and plan to issue the final standard in July 2010. You can see the proposed rule and comments on www.regulations.gov.

4:30 Comment From Sarah O.: With regard to OSHA's Request for Information on "Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories; Supplier's Declaration of Conformity" (OSHA-2008-0032), is OSHA still analyzing the comments it received during the October 2008-January 2009 comment period? In a response to all commenter's (dated May 29, 2009), OSHA indicated that "we expect to complete the analysis some time this Fall" and would either proceed with obtaining clearance by the DOL for a final decision on SDoC or "if the comments do not provide sufficient information for a recommended action, OSHA will determine how best to obtain the necessary information". What is the current status of the RFI review?

4:30 Jordan Barab: Thanks, Sara. OSHA has completed its evaluation of the SDOC RFI and is awaiting the arrival of the new Assistant Secretary, Dr. Michaels, to determine how to proceed.

4:30 Comment From Michele Marill: Do you envision an airborne infectious diseases standard that would be modeled after the California standard? It took years for California to achieve a consensus among employers, labor and other stakeholders. How long and contentious do you think this would be nationally? Also, can you give us an update as to enforcement of the H1N1 infection control guidelines. Have any citations been issued related to protection of health care workers from 2009 H1N1?--Michele Marill, editor, Hospital Employee Health newsletter

4:30 Jordan Barab: Michele, Secretary Solis actually addressed this question during her chat. You can view the transcript here: http://www.dol.gov/regulations/chat-solis-static.htm

4:31 Comment From Inside OSHA: Sen. Sherrod Brown recently sent a letter to Secretary Solis expressing his concern that OSHA has not acted quickly enough in setting enforceable diacetyl standards. Meanwhile, the reg agenda indicates OSHA won't initiate the peer review of health effects and risk assessment until next October. Can you explain what accounts for this delay?

4:32 Jordan Barab: Diacetyl is a priority for OSHA and DOL, and developing a sound assessment of health risks is critical for the success of the rulemaking. The Agency's analysis for diacetyl is particularly challenging given the nature of available health studies and ongoing research in this area. We believe the projected Oct. 2010 date for the peer review reflects a reasonable timeframe in which to meet this challenge and develop a scientifically sound assessment.

4:32 Comment From Holly: In a speech recently, you called ergonomics a ``huge health and safety problem'' and said the govt must ``take the field and make some fundamental changes.'' Given these comments, why WOULDN'T OSHA have plans for regulatory activity?

4:33 Jordan Barab: Holly: You're right. I called musculoskeletal disorders a "huge health and safety problem." I also called it a "huge political issue" and that we are in the process of determining how we are going to address it. Our new Assistant Secretary will arrive later this week, and we will intensify the process of determining how we are going to address ergonomics.

4:38 Comment From Laura Walter, EHS Today: On this agenda, OSHA has included 9 items in the pre-rule stage, 8 in the proposed rule stage, another 8 in the final rule stage, as well as two long-term actions and three completed actions. How does the scope of this agenda define how OSHA is currently approaching regulatory action, and is this the level of activity we can continue to expect in the future?

4:38 Jordan Barab: Laura: OSHA is currently focusing on moving a number of standards that have been stuck in the pipeline for the past eight years. In addition, we have added combustible dust, airborne infectious diseases and the MSD column back on the OSHA injury and illness log back onto the regulatory. Now that our new Assistant Secretary has been confirmed, we will be moving forward on additional regulatory initiatives.

4:39 Comment From Greg Hellman, BNA: With regards to OSHA's emergency response and preparedness stakeholder meeting- as part of the agency's request for information, is it looking for comments on whether employers should be required to maintain emergency response plans?

4:39 Jordan Barab: Greg, the agency received a number of very thoughtful and substantive responses to the emergency response RFI. We recognize the importance of the work that emergency responders do. The purpose of the stakeholder meetings is to better understand the complexity of their work as the agency moves forward.

4:41 Comment From Betty Hintch: What do you anticipate as the outcome of the stakeholder meetings on combustible dust? Will the focus be determining engineering controls, analyzing prior events or jumping in on standard setting?

4:41 Jordan Barab: Betty: OSHA anticipates obtaining good information on combustible dust programs, the use of effective engineering and work practices to mitigate hazards and information about what makes sense in a standard. Of course, prior incidents serve to inform this discussion. OSHA plans to use this information, along with comments submitted in response to the advance notice of proposed rulemaking, to identify the most effective approaches for developing a combustible dust proposed rule.

4:41 Comment From Laura Walter, EHS Today: 2. What are OSHA ¹s main goals and expectations in developing a hearing conservation program for construction workers, and for how long do you anticipate the process of collecting/analyzing information will continue before the agency is able to move forward to the next step?

4:42 Jordan Barab: Laura, this is one of many issues that has not received adequate attention. As OSHA finishes up some of the items on the existing agenda we will evaluate other safety and health issues to see if we can make progress on the highest priority items within our budget constraints.

4:44 Comment From Anonymous: When (approx month or what stage) will be the next opportunity to submit "official" comments on diacetyl?

4:44 Jordan Barab: Regarding the question about commenting on diacetyl, at this time it is too early in the process to say when the next opportunity for public comment will be. Our next step is to conduct the peer review of health effects. When the agency proceeds to the proposal stage, there will be ample opportunity for stakeholder notice and comment.

4:46 Comment From Travis Rhoden: The Walking-Working Surfaces second proposed rule has been on the past few agendas. Realizing that priorities and resources can change, is there a push to ensure that the items on the agenda can be acted upon in the estimated timeframes?

4:47 Jordan Barab: Travis, thanks for asking. The subpart D rulemaking is very important as it deals with slip, trip and fall hazards found in many workplaces. We plan to issue a new proposal in March 2010. The proposal is expected to prevent 20 workplace fatalities per year and over 3,500 injuries serious enough to result in days away from work.

4:50 Comment From Laura Walter, EHS Today: 1. How does OSHA plan to use the information that would be included in the proposed WMSD column on the 300 Log to improve safety and health policymaking and statistics? Does this attention to WMSDs indicate any potential future intentions of developing an ergonomics standard?

4:50 Jordan Barab: Laura, OSHA believes that putting the MSD column back on the log will improve the nation's occupational injury and illness statistics as well as providing useful information that employers and workers can use to better identify musculoskeletal disorders in their workplaces. Musculoskeletal injuries are one of the biggest worker health and safety problem in this country. But addressing this problem is also a complicated regulatory and political issue which the agency is considering. At this time, OSHA has no plans to pursue ergonomics regulation, although the incoming Assistant Secretary will be addressing this issue as one of his highest priorities..

4:50 Comment From David LaHoda: With the Michaels confirmation, does that mean you are leaving OSHA, and if so, can we look forward to new posts from the confined space Web site?

4:50 Jordan Barab: David: The agency is very excited to have Dr. Michaels on board. Once he assumes his duties as Assistant Secretary, I will continue in my permanently assigned position as Deputy Assistant Secretary. I have been privileged to serve the Secretary in my acting capacity and look forward to continuing to work on OSHA's aggressive agenda.

4:51 Comment From Michele Marill: In the area of ergonomics, would OSHA consider industry-specific standards, such as a safe patient handling standard?

4:51 Jordan Barab: Thanks, Michele, there are many options that OSHA might consider if the agency decides to pursue rulemaking in this area. Industry specific standards is one option that would be considered.

4:51 Comment From Peg Seminario, AFL-CIO: A question on silica: According to the reg agenda, the peer review on silica will be finished in January 2010. But the proposed rule will not be issued until July 2007. Why the 6 month lag from the completion of the the peer review to issuing the proposal? And do you expect that peer reviews on other rules will cause the same kind of delay as we have seen over the years on silica?

4:52 Jordan Barab: Peg, the peer review of OSHA's draft risk assessment on silica will provide the agency with valuable scientific input on the strengths and comprehensiveness of our analysis. After receiving the reviewers' comments, OSHA must address them in the risk assessment to be published with the proposed rule. In addition, OSHA is completing the rest of its work to evaluate feasibility of the proposed rule, and will need to clear the proposal with the Department and OMB prior to publication.

4:57 Comment From Mark Schoeff Jr.: What is your estimate of the cost to employers of the new transparency and record-keeping requirements? Did you get any feedback from business in advance of this proposal?

4:57 Jordan Barab: Mark: OSHA preliminarily estimates that the combined annualized costs of the record keeping changes would be less than $2 million for all affected establishments combined. The individual establishment costs ($4 for familiarization and 67 cents for recording an MSD) would not pose an economic difficulty for any firm. We'll be getting feedback from business and all other entities during the comment period, which is scheduled to start in January.

4:59 Comment From Greg Hellman, BNA: -OSHA announced it plans to publish a proposed rule on adding column on its 300 log for recording musculoskeletal disorders. Is this a prelude to a broader ergonomics regulation?

4:59 Jordan Barab: Thank you for your question, Greg. We have addressed the question earlier during the Secretary's Web chat. Please refer to that transcript for this information, http://www.dol.gov/regulations/chat-solis.htm.

5:01 Comment From Sarah O.: Will OSHA be making a concerted effort to update some of its regulations that incorporate national consensus standards by reference? For example, for purposes of determining compliance for safety signage in workplaces, OSHA must rely on its 1968 regulations that reference the ASA Z35 and Z53 standards. What is the likelihood/willingness of OSHA to adopt the most recent ANSI Z535 standards by reference so that employers can purchase/use improved signs that will enhance workplace safety?

5:01 Jordan Barab: Sarah, OSHA has had a long-standing project to update our standards based on the latest consensus standards. Many of these standards that require major changes will result in a lengthy full rulemaking process. Others, which have minor changes can be done much more rapidly. OSHA is identifying additional opportunities to update our standards and will do so in light of our other regulatory priorities.

5:02 Jordan Barab: Brett: OSHA is actively engaged in an open government initiative which addresses many of these issues. You will be seeing the first results of this initiative very soon.

5:02 Comment From Brett Banditelli: What's the new OSHA's greater communications strategy or is this something David is planning on working? Expanding record keeping is great, but right now its incredibly difficult to get information on what local companies are reporting, or is this a bad direction because low accident rates doesn't necessarily mean good safety standards? Feel free to cut up this question in any way possible.

5:04 Jordan Barab: This ends the OSHA regulatory Web chat. Thank you very much for participating. I hope we have been able to answer most of your questions satisfactorily. Please continue to follow our regulatory process and participate fully when appropriate. We need standards that protect workers, but also standards that make sense in the workplace. And we need your participation to ensure that OSHA issues effective standards that will protect American workers.

Please note that input received during the course of this web chat is not part of the formal rulemaking process. You can find DOLís proposed regulations, and submit comments, by visiting www.regulations.gov.

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