OSHA to Consider Mandating Guidelines On Safety and Health for Federal Agencies

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

(BNA Occupational Safety and Health Reporter)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will consider making mandatory for federal agencies its 1989 guidelines on safety and health management program practices, Jordan Barab, acting assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, told BNA Sept. 15.

 

Barab made the comment following a special meeting of OSHA's Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health (FACOSH), which recommended to the agency it revise its standard on basic program elements for federal employee occupational safety and health programs (29 C.F.R. Part 1960) and make failure to provide adequate workforce protection training during an influenza pandemic citable.

 

He cautioned, however, while the agency would seriously consider the recommendation, changing the regulations are a very long and involved process.

 

The 1989 safety and health management guidelines, which excluded construction activities, included four elements: management commitment and employee involvement; worksite analysis to identify not only existing hazards but also conditions and operations in which changes might occur to create hazards; hazard-prevention controls triggered by a determination that a potential hazard exists; and safety and health training that addresses all relevant personnel at a worksite.

 

The recommendation to incorporate the guidelines was one of 14 broad ones made by FACOSH Sept. 15 related to H1N1 Influenza A protection for the federal workforce to the secretary of labor. The recommendations were developed by an Emerging Issues Workgroup comprising 12 federal departments or agencies and seven labor unions (39 OSHR 545, 7/2/09).

 

Better Worksite Coordination Needed

 

According to the workgroup report, federal agencies reported significant differences in actions taken during the Spring H1N1 influenza outbreak.

 

FACOSH recommended the labor secretary should urge federal agency heads to form site-specific interagency groups, including labor and contractor representatives, to coordinate precautions.

 

In addition, OSHA should further revise its standard on basic program elements for federal employee occupational safety and health programs to clarify its policies on multi-employer worksites, especially with regard to the duties of employers who control or create hazards or who have responsibility for correcting hazards.

 

For example, at the same site employees of one agency were wearing N95 respirators, while another agency's employees were not wearing [personal protective equipment], the report said. This issue became particularly obvious at airports, federal buildings, ports, detention centers, and medical facilities.

 

Additional recommendations made by FACOSH included notifying federal agency heads OSHA is the lead federal authority for workforce safety and health protection and personal protective equipment guidance during a pandemic; emphasizing federal agencies' responsibility to identify and abate any known hazards, such as H1N1 influenza; encouraging better stakeholder involvement in the pandemic planning process; and facilitating the immediate release of OSHA's influenza pandemic eTool (39 OSHR 587, 7/16/09).

 

FACOSH also recommended the labor secretary communicate the need to conduct hazard assessments during a pandemic, direct OSHA to develop and conduct safety and health-related pandemic training for senior federal agency officials, and encourage federal agencies to provide pandemic-related information for all levels of employees.

The labor secretary should also instruct federal agency heads to conduct hazard assessment before issuing personal protective equipment, FACOSH recommended.

 

More White House Coordination Needed

 

Finding inadequate training on agency-specific, operational, and workforce protection procedures, FACOSH recommended the White House mandate pandemic preparedness training for the entire federal workforce.

 

The White House should coordinate information provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and OSHA so that they provide a consistent set of guidance, FACOSH recommended. Also, the White House should help determine what events trigger the implementation of pandemic plans at the local, state, regional, and national levels.

 

By Greg Hellman

 

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