New OSHA Regulatory Initiatives Highlight Importance of Proactive Workplace Safety Management

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If you’re like many EHS professionals, you’re already stretched pretty thin. Adding to the challenge is that 2021 has gotten off to a rapid start when it comes to EHS regulatory updates and enforcement priorities. Whether it’s OSHA’s proposed updates the HazCom Standard or the Biden Administration’s Executive Order (EO) on COVID safety and revised OSHA COVID-19 guidance, the flurry of new regulatory activity is a stark reminder of how important it is for safety professionals to be focused,  proactive and agile when it comes to EHS management.

This is especially true for businesses in the manufacturing,  food & beverage,  and pharmaceuticals industries,  as well as other high risk industries which OSHA continues to zero-in on with its recent Site-Specific Targeting (SST) program, electronic injury & illness reporting requirements, and other targeted enforcement initiatives.

Here, we’ll recap some of the most important regulatory developments from just the first couple months of 2021, and spend some time discussing strategies you can implement to make sure you’re staying on top of regulations, including technology tools that can help you simplify and automate many of your safety management tasks.

 US HazCom Update to Align with U.N.’s GHS Revision 7

On February 5, OSHA published a long-awaited proposed rule to update its Hazard Communication Standard (HazCom) to align with Revision 7 of the UN’s Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). Some of the major changes proposed in OSHA’s proposed rule include:

New hazard classification categories for aerosols, desensitized explosives, and flammable gases

OSHA is proposing to follow the GHS Rev. 7 by expanding the existing Flammable Aerosols hazard class to include both flammable and non-flammable aerosols. OSHA also proposes to follow the GHS Rev. 7 by adding a new physical hazard class for desensitized explosives, and to subdivide Category 1 of the Flammable Gases hazard class into two subcategories, 1A and 1B. Under the proposal, pyrophoric gases and chemically unstable gases would specifically be classified as Category 1A.

New Labelling Provisions for “Small” and “Very Small” Containers

The proposed HazCom updates would allow manufacturers, importers, and distributors to use an abbreviated label (requiring only the product identifier, pictogram(s), signal word, chemical manufacturer’s name and phone number, and a statement that the full label information is provided on the immediate outer package) on containers with a volume capacity of 100 ml or less—referred to as “small containers.”

Updating Select Hazard and Precautionary Statements for More Precise Hazard Information:

OSHA is proposing to revise several hazard and precautionary statements to align with the GHS Revision 7, and is also proposing a system of prioritization in situations where the classification of a chemical product triggers multiple precautionary statements.

Trade Secrets/Confidential Business Information (CBI) on SDSs

OSHA is proposing to allow manufacturers, importers, and employers to withhold a chemical’s concentration range as trade secrets/CBI. OSHA is also proposing that when an ingredient’s exact concentration or concentration range is claimed as a trade secret, the SDS must specify a concentration range selected from a prescribed list of ranges. OSHA notes that the proposed ranges are the same as those required by Canada, presumably in an effort to further alignment with Canada’s Hazardous Product Regulations (HPR) and WHMIS requirements under the terms of the US-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC).

Section 2 of SDS

OSHA is also proposing changes to section 2 of the SDS to better communicate hazards identified under normal conditions of use that result from a chemical reaction. These hazards must be indicated on the SDS, even though these hazards do not need to be listed on the label.

In addition, OSHA is seeking comment on whether to include several specific provisions of GHS Revision 8, specifically:

  • Appendix A: Revision to include expanded use of non-animal test methods
  • Appendix B: Additional changes to classification of aerosols, including:
  • Appendix C: Revision of medical precautionary statements to reduce ambiguity over actions to be taken, such as to indicate when someone should call a poison control center instead of a medical professional

OSHA maintains that the Revision 7 updates will further enhance worker protections and reduce the incidence of chemical-related occupational illnesses and injuries by improving the quality and accuracy of chemical hazard information on container labels and Safety Data Sheets. The proposed rule is available to review in its entirety in the Federal Register, and OSHA is accepting public comments  through April 19, 2021.

These changes will affect SDSs and labels throughout the chemical supply chain, and safety professionals should be prepared to handle the SDS, shipped container and workplace container label updates that follow, while ensuring unhindered employee right-to-know access to chemical safety information.

 Executive Orders on COVID-19 Guidance

As we’ve previously blogged about, President Biden issued an executive order (EO) directing the Department of Labor to take the following actions:

  • Issue “revised guidance to employers on workplace safety during the COVID-19 pandemic” by February 4, 2021
  • Consider whether emergency temporary workplace standards are necessary, including wearing masks in the workplace – and, if deemed necessary – to issue the new standard by March 15
  • Review OSHA’s present enforcement efforts, and determine whether immediate or long-term changes are necessary to “better protect workers and to ensure equity in enforcement”
  • Launch a national enforcement effort focused on COVID-19-related violations that put the largest number of workers at serious risk or are contrary to anti-retaliation principles
  • Coordinate a multi-departmental, multilingual outreach campaign to educate workers on their rights under the safety and health laws, including through engagement with labor unions, community organizations and industries – with a special emphasis on communities that have been the hardest hit by the pandemic.

Many, including former OSHA Director David Michaels, have stated the belief that with its new leadership, OSHA is now likely to affirm the need for a COVID standard and may already be working on it.

New OSHA COVID-19 Guidance

The first bullet point above about Biden’s EO on COVID-19 indicates that the new administration asked OSHA to quickly issue updated COVID-19 guidance. OSHA’s new guidance, released on January 29, comes in response to and in fulfillment of that request. The new guidance reiterates much of what was provided in previous Agency guidance but is more comprehensive and specific.

Key points from the new OSHA COVID-19 guidance states:

  • Employers should provide their workers with COVID-19 vaccinations at no cost
  • Employers should provide their workers with face coverings unless their work requires the use of a respirator. Specifically, the guidance advises that face coverings should have at least two layers and should not feature exhalation valves or vents. If employees work in operations where face coverings can become wet or soiled, employers should provide them with more frequent replacements.
  • Employers should implement a COVID-19 Prevention Program containing provisions for conducting hazard assessments, identifying measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 and ensuring that workers who are infected or potentially infected are separated and sent home from the workplace, and protect workers who raise COVID-19 related concerns from retaliation.

While the text of the new guidance indicates that it is “advisory” in nature, safety professionals should know the Executive Summary states that it is “intended to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace,” mirroring language from OSHA’s General Duty Clause, which implies that OSHA believes this guidance better enables employers to meet their obligations under that clause to protect worker safety. The guidance also provides us with an insight into OSHA’s current thinking on employer responsibilities to protect their workers from COVID, and a potential preview of what we would see if they should issue the anticipated COVID standard.

Increased emphasis by OSHA on workplace COVID-19 safeguards, as well as the very real prospect of a federal COVID-19 Standard means that employers should already be thinking about how to meet these requirements. There are several areas of your safety program you should revisit and re-evaluate to ensure you’re prepared for new COVID-19 requirements, including:

  • Reporting of Work-Related COVID-19 Cases – Ensure that you have an easily accessible system for documenting work-related cases of COVID-19. Your system should allow for rapid follow-up actions to isolate confirmed cases, initiate precautionary measures such as disinfection protocols, use of PPE and implementation of necessary engineering controls, and document confirmed cases in your workplace injury and illness logs (e.g. OSHA 300, 301, 300A).
  • COVID-19 Questionnaires & Workplace Inspections – Implement a system for deploying, performing and tracking workplace COVID-19 pre-entry questionnaires to help track potential exposures and cases, as well as verify that COVID-19 controls (e.g. disinfection protocols, PPE, physical distancing measures, engineering controls, etc.) are in place.
  • Job Safety Analysis – It’s also critical that you have systems to evaluate the full range of jobs and job tasks in your workplace, then assess each job task for potential COVID-19 exposure risks. Once JSAs are performed, you’ll also need to have systems to document those risks, prioritize them for controls and other corrective actions, schedule and initiate those corrective actions, and document that you’ve taken the appropriate steps to demonstrate compliance.
  • Safety Meetings – Your workplace safety committee is the tip of the spear when it comes to planning and executing your workplace COVID-19 compliance measures and safeguards, so be sure to give them the tools they need. Careful coordination and thorough documentation of safety committee activities is essential to making sure that your committee is addressing all applicable requirements, and that those actions are also documented for compliance purposes.
  • Corrective Action Management – All of your EHS management activities, including your COVID-19 preventive measures, will necessitate corrective actions or other action items. Making sure that the right people are assigned, that they receive notifications of their assignments, and that action items are completed and tracked requires coordination of numerous moving parts. Having a system that is purpose-built for planning, assigning and tracking your action items is essential for compliance in all areas, but especially as you implement strategies to tackle new and emerging requirements.

Let VelocityEHS Help!

It can all feel overwhelming, but VelocityEHS is here to help.

Our cloud-based Safety Management Solution delivers versatile EHS management capabilities, covering a wide range of the most common EHS tasks — including SDS & chemical management, incident management, inspections, JSAs, safety meeting management, corrective action management, and more! We help you centralize your activities, save time, better engage others in your EHS program, and ultimately, better adapt to evolving regulatory demands, allowing you to take a more proactive approach to safety management.

If you’re looking for a faster, easier, more cost-effective way to manage your day-to-day EHS tasks, and the agility you need to stay ahead in today’s changing regulatory landscape, request a demo today!