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Top 3 OSHA Changes to Watch For in 2018

By Haley Bass | 01/08/2018

In 2016, 2.9 million employees suffered some type of injury while at work due to unsafe conditions. As new dangers and risks emerge in offices, factories, or on worksites, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for ensuring safe working conditions for all employees. OSHA develops new solutions and standards to protect employees from injury and illness. 

Employers must also stay up-to-date on any OSHA changes to remain legally compliant, or face fines and costly claims that could lead to lawsuits. While it can be hard to know what the latest rules and regulations mean to an employer’s business, Concentra makes it our business to help your business. As work health experts, we keep an eye on any regulations that impact the health and safety of your workforce.

As we head into the new year, here are the top 3 OSHA changes to watch for in 2018:

Final Rule on Occupational Exposure to Beryllium (and proposed rule to modify standards)

Beryllium is a lightweight but strong metal commonly used for its electrical and thermal conductivity. Workers who inhale airborne beryllium can develop serious lung diseases and cancer, so beryllium has been classified as a human carcinogen and work hazard.

OSHA felt that previous exposure limits for beryllium were outdated and ineffective for preventing disease, so they published a new final rule on beryllium exposure on January 9, 2017. The final rule reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of air (μg/m3) averaged over 8 hours, establishes a short-term exposure limit (STEL) for beryllium of 2.0 μg/m3 over a 15-minute sampling period, and adds some ancillary provisions. OSHA issued three separate standards in the final rule for general industry, shipyards, and construction.

Employers are required to comply with most elements of the final rule by March 12, 2018. To comply, employers need to:

  • Use engineering and work practice controls
  • Provide respiratory protection and personal protective clothing when necessary
  • Develop and implement written exposure control plans
  • Offer medical examinations to certain exposed workers

On June 23, 2017, OSHA announced a proposed rule to modify the beryllium standards for shipyard and construction sectors. Representatives from these industries and members of Congress claimed they did not have an opportunity to comment on how this rule would apply to their industries, and believe some of the listed ancillary provisions were redundant with existing standards. The proposed rule would revoke these redundant or unnecessary ancillary provisions for only the shipyard and construction industries - it does not impact general industry.

OSHA announced that it will not enforce the January 9, 2017 standards for construction and shipyard until a decision has been made about the proposed revisions.

THE TAKEAWAY: Employers in general industry, shipyards, or construction need to comply with the new beryllium exposure limits by March 12, 2018; employers in the construction and shipyard industries don’t need to comply with the ancillary provisions until a decision has been made on the proposed rule.

Final Rule on the Crane Operator Certification Extension

OSHA issued a final rule on cranes and derricks in August 2010, which included standards for crane operator certification. Several stakeholders (including construction contractors, labor unions, and accredited testing organizations) felt that an operator certification wasn’t enough to ensure that crane operators could operate their equipment safely. The stakeholders believed that a certified crane operator needed additional training and evaluation, and most agreed that the responsibility should fall on the operator’s employer.

Because of these comments, OSHA proposed that the deadline for crane operator certification be delayed to November 10, 2017. The extension gave OSHA time to address the raised issues with the existing certification standards. In November 2017, OSHA delayed the compliance deadline again. Currently, employers must comply with the requirements for crane operator certification and employer duty by November 10, 2018.

OSHA’s rule offers four options for crane operators to get certified:

  1. Certification by an independent testing organization accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting organization
  2. Qualification by an employer’s independently audited program
  3. Qualification by the U.S. military
  4. Compliance with qualifying state or local licensing requirements (mandatory when applicable)

Option one is the most commonly used, since this type of certification is “portable” from job-to-job and is available to all employers. Employers are required to pay for their employees’ certification. 

THE TAKEAWAY: Employers must comply with crane operator certification and employer duty requirements by November 10, 2018.

Compliance with Certain Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection Systems Standards

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports slips, trips, and falls as the leading cause of workplace injuries and fatalities in general industry. To prevent and reduce these injuries, OSHA revised and updated its general industry standards on walking-working surfaces. Walking-working surfaces are defined as “any surface on or through which an employee walks, works, or gains access to a work area.” This includes floors, ladders, stairways, ramps, and scaffolds.

OSHA issued a final rule on Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection Systems consisting of:

  • Revised and new provisions addressing fixed ladders, rope descent systems, fall protection systems and criteria, and training on fall hazards and fall protection systems
  • Increased consistency between the general industry and construction standards
  • Updated requirements to reflect advances in technology

While most of the rule became effective on January 17, 2017, there’s a requirement on fixed ladders with a compliance date of November 19, 2018: Existing fixed ladders installed before November 19, 2018 and new fixed ladders installed after the compliance date must be equipped with a personal fall arrest system, ladder safety system, cage, or well.

OSHA extended this compliance date so employers had time to get familiar with the new standards, evaluate necessary changes, purchase the necessary equipment, and develop and implement required training. The extension also reduces compliance costs by allowing employers to upgrade their fall protection systems as part of the normal “business cycle” or “useful life” of equipment.

THE TAKEAWAY: Employers need to install the required protections on existing fixed ladders by November 19, 2018, and continue equipping fixed ladders purchased after the compliance date.

Keeping up with changing federal and state regulations can be difficult, but keeping your workforce safe and healthy is easy. By partnering with Concentra, you gain our 35+ years of experience in protecting employees and helping businesses stay compliant. Our more than 300 centers across the country have the services and resources you need to comply with OSHA standards, including respirator fit tests, surveillance screenings, and regulatory physicals.

Talk to a Concentra work health expert to learn more about what services we can provide your workforce.