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OSHA Outlines Ambitious Agenda Through Year’s End

From the Associated Builders & Contractors … In its latest semiannual regulatory agenda, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration lists a host of Obama administration priorities plus rulemakings agency officials will address this year or in early 2015.

Confined Spaces
OSHA plans to release a final rule in August. The agency issued a rule in the early 1990s to protect employees who enter confined spaces for the general industry, but did not extend it to construction because of the unique characteristics of the industry’s worksites. A 2007 settlement forced OSHA to issue a separate proposed rule for construction workers in confined spaces. ABC and other construction groups weighed in on the proposal, arguing that OSHA had not demonstrated that the general industry standard was not working for construction, and stated that the adoption of the proposed rule would actually reduce employee safety rather than increase it. The association recommended that OSHA incorporate existing standards instead of adopting a new standard.

Electronic Recordkeeping
OSHA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in November 2013 that would require employers to submit specific injury and illness data electronically on a quarterly or annual basis, figures then posted in an online publicly searchable database. Under the rule, establishments with 250 or more employees will be required to submit injury and illness records on a quarterly basis to OSHA. Establishments with 20 or more employees in industries with high injury and illness rates (construction), will be required to submit a summary of their work-related injuries and illnesses electronically once a year. ABC and more than 900 members requested the agency withdraw the proposed rule. The association pointed out that the proposed rule exceeds the authority Congress delegated to OSHA and does nothing to achieve a stated agency goal of reducing injuries and illnesses. In addition, employer groups and the ABC-led Coalition for Workplace Safety expressed serious concerns over the proposal in writing and at an OSHA public meeting. The agency plans to issue a final rule in March 2015.

Silica Exposure
OSHA issued a proposed rule in September 2013 that would drastically lower the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of crystalline silica for the construction industry. The proposal also would require contractors to implement engineering controls and follow several “ancillary” provisions, such as exposure monitoring, medical surveillance and the establishment of regulated areas. ABC and more than 600 members submitted comments to OSHA requesting it withdraw the proposal. ABC and the Construction Industry Safety Coalition (CISC) pointed out in the comments that the agency has not met its burden of demonstrating that the proposal is technologically and economically feasible. In addition, the ABC-led CISC testified in a March public hearing. OSHA is allowing those who participated in the hearing to submit post-hearing comments by July 18.

Injury and Illness Prevention Program
OSHA has moved its controversial Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2) proposal to “Long-Term Action,” which agencies reserve for items under development but for which no regulatory action is foreseen until publication of the next regulatory agenda (expected in October 2014). Based on the agency’s public statements, I2P2 would require employers to implement internal safety programs that “find and fix” workplace hazards on a rolling basis under penalty of enforcement. If implemented, the I2P2 proposal could result in significant costs and compliance burdens and lead to “double-dip” citations (once under existing rules, and once under the new requirements), in addition to negatively impacting employers that already have effective safety and health programs.

Other actions, rules
OSHA also plans to move forward with proposed and final rules on a range of other issues of importance to the construction industry: a) Amendments to the cranes and derricks in construction standard, proposed rule in July; b) Clarification of employer’s continuing obligation to make and maintain an accurate record of each recordable injury and illness, proposed rule August; c) Vehicle backover injuries and fatalities, SBREFA Panel review in August; d) Updating OSHA standards based on national consensus standards eye and face protection, direct final rule in September; and, e) Walking working surfaces and personal fall protection systems (slips, trips, and fall prevention), final rule in October.



WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT ACT PROGRESSES

Aimed at strengthening the nation’s approach to businesses’ hiring and training needs and increasing employment opportunities, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) passed the U.S. Senate late last month on a 95-3 vote.

In a letter to Senators supporting the legislation, the Associated Builders & Contractors cited the importance of targeted and accessible workforce training programs to address the expected 19 percent increase of number of wage and salary jobs in the construction industry to be added through 2018. ABC believes effective programs will be crucial in preparing new workers for construction employment, while supporting current craft professionals’ career advancement opportunities.

“WIOA is an important step in ensuring our workforce development system is capable of providing workers with the skills they need, and providing our nation with a workforce that can respond to economic demand,” ABC Vice President, Government Affairs Geoffrey Burr told Senators. “Specifically, the legislation will ensure that small businesses, which create more than 65 percent of all new jobs in America, have the opportunity to participate in shaping the development of training programs targeted toward available career opportunities. By serving their communities through local workforce investment boards, business leaders can become directly involved in shaping the development of job training programs and serve as an authority on training, skills and job opportunities in their communities.”

ABC also supported the legislation due to the decision to allow existing programs that provide workers industry-recognized credentials, including craft training programs, access to workforce investment funding. The WIOA removes existing language limiting certain green job training grants to only union-associated firms, leaving the 86 percent of employees in the construction industry who choose not to be union-affiliated unable to access funding.