OSHA focusing on height-related hazards

URBANA — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is taking increased interest in people who work up high.

Among the federal agency's new emphasis areas for this year are tree trimming and "fall hazards" such as unsecured ladders, said Brian Bothast, a compliance assistance specialist with OSHA's area office in Peoria.

The agency is also expected to take increased interest in isocyanates, which are found in polyurethane products used by auto body shops. Isocyanates can cause respiratory problems if not properly controlled.

Bothast spoke to about 30 health and safety professionals — most of them from area businesses — at the Eastern Illinois Safety Network's monthly meeting Thursday at the Urbana Country Club.

With regard to ladders, Bothast said, they should extend at least 3 feet beyond the point they're resting against, so it's easy for people to get back on them.

Ladders should have feet, be secured to the structure and be placed at no steeper than a "1-to-4 angle" — that is, the height should be no greater than four times the distance between the base of the ladder and the structure it's leaning against.

"Do an inspection of the ladder every time it's used," Bothast said.

Tree-trimming safety goes beyond avoiding power lines, he said. If trees are being trimmed within 15 feet of a road, proper traffic controls need to be in place.

Trimmers should also be aware of the dangers of falling debris, wood chippers, lift equipment and chain-saw hazards — as well as the dangers of noise, he said.

Those who work in auto body shops or who install truck bed liners need to be wary of polyurethane products with isocyanates. Those chemicals are often are used in "two-part paints" that include a hardener, Bothast said.

Isocyanates can trigger asthmatic-type reactions and irritate eyes and respiratory tract, he added.

Bothast stressed the danger of on-the-job, heat-related illnesses, noting that body temperatures can rise to 106 degrees in 10 to 15 minutes.

It's not sufficient just to move someone to an air-conditioned vehicle or move them under a shade tree, he said.

Managers and other employees need to watch for signs of confusion, irrational behavior, loss of coordination and loss of consciousness — and call 911 if they notice any of those symptoms.

They need to have a water-intake plan for people working in heat — and that specifically means water, not just Mountain Dew, Bothast said.

Workers expecting to be working in high heat and humidity need to be acclimated gradually to those conditions, Bothast said. Employers should have plans for medical services before the services are needed.

Bothast also previewed new labels for hazardous chemicals. On June 1, 2015, all hazardous-chemical labels will be required to have pictograms resembling diamond-shaped roadway signs.

Those pictograms will use a flame to indicate flammable chemicals, an exclamation point to indicate irritants, an exploding bomb to indicate explosives and a skull-and-crossbones to indicate acute toxicity.

The pictograms will bring OSHA's hazard communications standards into alignment with the "globally harmonized" system of classification and labeling of chemicals.

Employers are required to train employees on the new label elements by Dec. 1, 2013, according to OSHA regulations.

 

OSHA tests new approach to whistleblower complaints

CHICAGO — The Chicago regional office of OSHA is one of two regional offices that will test a pilot program for dealing with whistleblower complaints.

The pilot program will use "alternative dispute resolution" for complaints filed through OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program.

Two voluntary methods of alternative dispute resolution — early resolution and mediation — will be used.

When a whistleblower complaint is filed, parties will be notified of their options and can work through a regional coordinator to use those methods.

"Alternative dispute resolution can provide immediate relief and finality to both parties," said David Michaels, the assistant labor secretary for occupational safety and health, in an agency release.

The Chicago regional office handles whistleblower investigations for cases filed in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio.

The other regional office participating in the pilot program is in San Francisco. That office handles investigations of cases filed in California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii.

OSHA receives about 2,500 whistleblower complaints annually.

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