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Lawmakers Contest Osha-Industry Alliances, Demand Stiffer Penalties

An April 18 directive issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) might interest producers who have elected to participate in OSHA's

BOB ECKHARDT

An April 18 directive issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) might interest producers who have elected to participate in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) and Star initiatives, as it addresses operational procedures for their administration. While changes included in the 173-page OSHA directive are primarily internal, they include revised instructions on how the agency is to calculate VPP benchmark injury and illness rates; an alternate reapproval process for VPP Star participants; and, modified procedures for VPP applications, on-site evaluations, and annual participant self-evaluations.

The revised benchmarking requires on-site VPP inspection teams to review contractors' injury and illness rates. The recalculated rates call for new and current participants to compute annual as well as three-year rates for the last three complete calendar years.

Replacing a 2003 OSHA directive, the latest instructions also modify procedural letters and include changes in the VPP recognition process. A full version of the directive can be viewed at www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=DIRECTIVES&p_id=3851; and, a summary of OSHA VPP programs is posted at www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/factsheet-vpp.pdf.

OSHA THREATS

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) started showing long-term incident rate improvement around 1993, about the time that OSHA began implementing cooperative programs with industry. VPP, Alliance programs, and other more conciliatory initiatives were significant elements in OSHA's expanded cooperative effort to achieve joint safety solutions. Consequently, OSHA claims credit for industry incident rate improvements.

Yet, a disparity sometimes is evident between proven avenues to incident rate improvement and OSHA regulatory approaches. Fertile ground for political machination exists where industry players face some 5,000 to 6,000 OSHA regulations, and the agency's regulators are charged with enforcing compliance to an immense volume of rules. The urge toward saber rattling and punitive measures apparently is irresistible for some regulators, who now are campaigning for tactics reminiscent of earlier, more aggressive strategies.

On April 1, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), chairing a Workplace Safety Senate subcommittee, used language such as horrifying and rampant abuses in response to the hearing's testimonials, emphasizing that she would like to see far stiffer penalties against corporate bad actors. Accordingly, she and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) have introduced legislation that calls for increases as much as 40 percent in willful and repeat violation penalties, ranging to $100,000. In addition, proposing criminal penalties for repeat and willful safety law violations, Murray asserted, I am very concerned, because the evidence shows that in the last seven years, OSHA has been dangerously ineffective.

Also a committee member, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) said in a written statement, OSHA needs to be reinvigorated. He called for additional inspectors, increased penalties for violators, and better ways to identify the most dangerous employers.

FLATBED FALLS

Producers employing delivery drivers to man their equipment are all too familiar with occasional serious injury sustained by drivers falling off flatbed trailers Û a problem not yet adequately resolved. While some employers have implemented partial solutions, a uniform fall protection standard remains elusive. A final remedy may be found in trailer redesign or standardization of a loading system for flatbeds.

Falls from trailers can be classified into three basic categories. Among these, the most common type includes falls occurring while drivers climb onto or off the trailer. The second is falling directly off the trailer; and, the third encompasses injuries that occur when a driver steps through rotten trailer decking or holes in the trailer deck.

Falls due to inadequate access and egress are related to the lack of trailer stairs or steps. Flatbeds are difficult to mount, especially since most flatbeds used for concrete delivery feature a header-board that is part of the trailer, rather than affixed to the cab. Header-boards attached to cabs provide better climbing access to trailers, as compared to maneuvering around a header-board affixed to the trailer; however, since a cab-affixed header-board moves as the truck turns, it has the disadvantage of not allowing a load to be lashed against it. Restraining inertial forces associated with a large space between the header-board and load only increases the risk of a loose load, unless excessive tie-down hardware is used at the front. And, using excessive tie-down hardware presents additional hazards.

Climbing onto trailers with a header-board mounted on the truck cab is easier, since steps and handhold points are frequently provided for that purpose. Trailers with a header-board typically lack such access, causing the driver to step on the axle, step onto a tire, and then climb onto the trailer with no Û or only limited Û handhold points. Those who have never attempted such a maneuver might be surprised at its difficulty.

One valuable method to facilitate trailer mounting is welding handholds to the trailer, after the driver has indicated precisely where assists are needed. While helpful, this method of trailer access nonetheless falls short of an entirely satisfactory solution.

Commercially available ladders can be mounted onto a trailer's side or back. Such equipment is easily found online via browser using the terms Îflatbed trailer ladderÌ to complete the search. Yet, while frequently helpful in trailer mounting and dismounting, ladders without rail extensions above the trailer deck fail to provide a handhold, making the last step, or steps, a belly flop-and-roll exercise. At least one brand of side-mounted ladder provides a retractable, extending rail that greatly assists mounting and dismounting, but offers no side step.

Another option is lightweight removable ladders that hook onto the back or sides of a trailer with extended handrails; however, these tend to interfere with loading or unloading and require moving and storage. On the other hand, permanently affixed ladders tend to bend and break off under the strain of jobsite conditions.

Some producers mount carrying hooks under the trailer, so that a straight or folding ladder can be transported for the driver's use. Although stowing a ladder works well for some producers, others report that drivers will not use it, leave it on the jobsite, or the equipment gets stolen. Apparently easily resolved problems all, they nevertheless are reported as reasons for not providing the ladders. By contrast, a built-in stair system on the trailer constitutes an alternative requiring an industry design standard.

Regarding the second fall category (wherein injuries are sustained falling off a trailer after successfully mounting it), the construction industry's six-foot fall-protection standard does not adequately cover trailers due to their lower height. Fall protection remains a dilemma, since overhead lifeline and fall protection systems are not available on job sites and generally are not viable for a production facility's ever-shifting storage stack.

Side rails are largely impractical owing to necessary side-load accessibility for forklifts. A number of suppliers online offer side-rails in sections, which might provide a reasonable solution for some producers. The constant removal and replacement that using these sections entails, however, might constitute a greater incidence-risk factor than that of falling from a four-foot trailer. A sectional system of collapsing or folding handrails could be useful, but that would involve a redesign effort by trailer manufacturers.

In general, flatbed fall protection has escaped regulatory control on the job site due to the construction industry's six-foot fall-protection rule. General industry's four-foot fall-protection rule Û applicable at the plant yard Û is another matter, since flatbed decks typically vary between 48 and 54 inches from the ground. Meanwhile, low-boy or drop-deck trailers remain outside fall-protection provisions, although risk naturally is reduced due to the diminished fall distance.

Presently, ladder access to trailer decks constitutes the best system for eliminating falls during trailer deck mounting and egress. Fall protection from the deck remains a problem with no clear, reasonable engineering solution yet available. Finally, the problem of stepping through rotted decking or holes on the deck can be easily solved through a system of inspections and repair.

A TWO-IN-ONE OSHA RESOURCE COVERS ASPHALT, LEAD STANDARDS

Asbestos Standard for the Construction Industry and Lead in Construction, a new resource from compliance and management publisher Government Institutes, combines two Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) booklets in one user-friendly reference handbook. Written by the regulatory enforcement agency, Part I examines requirements of the construction industry asbestos standard, 29 CFR Part 1926.1101, regulating asbestos exposure in all construction activities.

Part II examines OSHA's construction industry lead standard, 29 CFR Part 1926.62. This section covers lead in a variety of forms, including metallic lead, all inorganic lead compounds, and organic lead soaps.

The 88-page, softcover Asbestos Standard for the Construction Industry and Lead in Construction [ISBN: 0-86587-521-9 (978-0-86587-521-0)] can be ordered by calling 800/462-6420 or visiting www.govinstpress.com and entering Asbestos in the book search box. The cost of the publication is $29.00.