The utility sector mirrors what happens with the general industry and construction sectors throughout America. The field personnel conduct trenching, excavations, even erecting structures on a regular basis. Plant personnel are exposed to chemical, biological hazards, and many other hazards that can cause injury or illnesses. OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is the regulatory body that has jurisdiction to guide the employers in ways to protect the employees.
However, only states that have their own approved OSHA program can regulate public water and wastewater utilities. Each state plan must be as strict as or more stringent than the federal OSHA as a term of their program approval. In addition, the state programs must adopt the federal OSHA regulations within six months for the final ruling in the Federal Register. This article will highlight four key regulatory changes or pending changes in 2015.
According to OSHA’s Unified Agenda, there are three stages for rules to become law:
Recordkeeping requires the employer to denote workplace injuries, illnesses, catastrophes, or fatalities within a certain timeframe. After January 1, 2015, a catastrophe will be one hospitalization instead of three, which has been modified. Once the worker is admitted to the hospital, OSHA has to be notified within 24 hours of the hospitalization. In addition, any amputation or loss of an eye must be reported to the OSHA office within 24 hours. A workplace fatality must be reported no later than eight hours of notification.
The utility can report to OSHA by:
OSHA has been making a push to get companies to switch from highly hazardous chemicals to safer alternatives. This switch will help reduce the exposure to chemical hazards to the workers and the community. Liquid utilities have to disinfect with chemicals in a large quantity, therefore, several are under the Process Safety Management program or the EPA Risk Management Program. There is a guidance electronic tool (e-tool) provided by OSHA that gives seven steps transition to safer chemicals. These steps are:
Fall Protection for General Industry
Falls in constructions is a known hazard that is addressed in OSHA’s Focus 4 (the four leading causes of death) initiative. The construction standard, 29 CFR 1926, even has Subpart M, which is expressly for Fall Protection. However, the General Industry standard 29 CFR 1910, there are sporadic mentions of fall protection. Falls to lower levels can end tragically, but there are not standards to cite when a general industry worker is maintaining a building at an elevated height. A simple task of changing a windsock on a steep pitched roof would not violate a specific standard except the General Duty Clause in 5A1 of the OSH Act of 1970 that states in part that an employer must furnish a place of employment free from any known or suspected hazards.
In the Unified Agenda, OSHA has a final rule on the revision of the Walking Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection System (Slips, Trips, and Fall Prevention). However, this final rule for this 29 CFR 1910 revision to Subpart D (Walking Working Surface) and Subpart I (Personal Protective Equipment) has been pending since May 2010. If 2015 were the year that the fall protection for general industry passes, then the utilities would have an additional regulation to be aware of and comply. Training on compliance requirements and additional PPE will be needed by the utility.
Confined Space is defined:
When a confined space has a hazard present such as electrical, atmospheric, configuration, etc., then it becomes a permit-required confined space. The permitting process is in-house, but it takes account of the situation, entrants responsibilities, attendee responsibility, and how to protect the worker from the hazard that is present.
In construction, excavations meet the definition of a confined space; therefore, the workers must be protected in the same manner as general industry. OSHA has made the final rule for this change, so now the utility must adjust and train workers as to how to protect themselves.
Although, this article only highlighted four occupational safety concerns and future and/or current regulations, the utility must remain vigilant to protect the workers from injury and illnesses. As always, protecting the workers is a high priority with each public sector throughout the U.S.