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I2P2 On Back Burner, But Hazard Assessment Remains a Priority for OSHA

Darren J. Hunter, Rooney, Rippie & Ratnaswamy LLP, Chicago

(Click here to see the story as it appears in July's Modern Casting.)

Recently, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) proclaimed the Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2) a rulemaking priority and announced it would propose an I2P2 rulemaking by the fall of 2014. On May 23, however, OSHA issued a surprise announcement that it had moved I2P2 to its long-term action list. Realistically, OSHA will not propose an I2P2 rulemaking until at least 2016, if at all.

OSHA did not state the reasons for its decision. Its resources may be taxed, as OSHA has a number of other key rulemakings on its agenda, including crystalline silica, and has ramped up its enforcement efforts. It also might have concluded that its current I2P2 proposal does not address certain gaps, such as how employers must prioritize and abate potential hazards.

Regardless of OSHA’s rationale, employers are still under a clear mandate to comply with existing hazard identification rules. Hazard identification comes in many different shapes and sizes. Some employers refer to the process as a Job Hazard Analysis (JHA); others refer to it as a Job Safety Analysis (JSA). Indeed, OSHA’s standards are replete with references to hazard identification, such as the process safety analysis under the PSM standard, identification of electrical safety hazards, periodic review of lockout/tagout procedures, and recognition of fall prevention measures, to name just a few.

The primary method of hazard identification, however, is the requirement to perform a job hazard assessment under Subpart I of the General Industry Standards for the purpose of selecting the correct personal protection equipment (PPE). To comply with the minimum standards, the hazard assessment should include a risk assessment of the workplace, including a survey of all hazards or potential hazards based on the equipment and the nature of the operations (i.e., impact, motion, sharp objects, chemicals, electrical, etc.), and an analysis of whether the hazards can be eliminated through administrative or engineering controls.

Under section 1910.132(d)(2), employers are required to certify the hazard assessment was performed. At a minimum, the certification must identify the areas of the workplace that were evaluated, the date(s) the assessment was performed, and the person who certified the evaluation was performed.

The use of PPE is a fundamental aspect of health and safety in the workplace, yet so many injuries occur because employees do not utilize proper PPE, which leads to the question: Why does compliance with the hazard assessment standard often fall by the wayside? There is no simple answer, but a number of factors seem to indicate many employers are not aware of the nuances of the OSHA standard and the hazard assessment requirements.

Let’s examine some of the reasons that explain non-compliance:

1.    Most employers understand the importance of PPE and have implemented written PPE procedures, such as requiring all employees to use safety glasses, safety gloves, a hard hat, hearing protection and steel-toed boots. While these requirements demonstrate at least partial compliance with the PPE standard, a written PPE procedure is not a substitute for a hazard assessment, which must be performed.

2.    Most employers correctly rely on the recommendations from equipment manufacturers and incorporate those recommendations into the PPE requirements at the workplace. Although those recommendations must be taken into account as part of the hazard assessment, they are not, in and of themselves, a substitute for a hazard assessment.

3.    It is common for employers to perform a “partial” hazard assessment of the workplace. For example, the assessment may include each manufacturing department, but the assessment may not address other departments, such as shipping and receiving. The hazard assessment must include all locations and operations where hazards and risks exist.

4.    Many employers perform what they believe is a complete hazard assessment of the workplace, but the assessment is not comprehensive in scope and does not address all potential risk factors. For example, the assessment may not include air sampling or noise monitoring.

5.    Many employers also forget to update their hazard assessments after new hazards are introduced into the workplace. Under the law, whenever a new hazard is introduced, such as new equipment or new procedures, the hazard assessment must be updated.

6.    Many employers perform a hazard assessment for their regular operations, but do not perform a hazard assessment for “one-off” projects. Keep in mind that it is a good practice to perform a JSA whenever an employer embarks on a task where risks are present, even if it is a one-time only project.

7.    Finally, many employers perform strong and thorough hazard assessments, but don’t know that assessments must be certified.

These gaps demonstrate that many employers do not understand the scope of the hazard assessment standard. Hazard identification is a key ingredient in so many existing OSHA standards. And even though OSHA has decided to delay the implementation of I2P2, hazard assessments are a key ingredient of the I2P2 process. Thus, compliance with the existing hazard assessment standards is, in and of itself, a form of I2P2.

As a concluding thought, given OSHA’s increased enforcement initiatives over the last couple years, employers may consider reviewing their hazard assessments with an eye towards whether they are complete and up to date.

Contact the author at darren.hunter@r3law.com, www.r3law.com.

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