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OSHA Publishes Standards Improvement Project (SIP) Rules

In May, OSHA published its SIP-IV final rule, also known as the Standards Improvement Project (SIP) – Phase IV. For more than 20 years, OSHA has been required to periodically look at their regulations and determine if any rules are “outdated, duplicative, unnecessary or inconsistent.” Afterwards, they were to remove or update rules through the rulemaking process. The goal of the SIP updates is not to make substantive changes or improvements, but to tweak rules and make changes on the margins.

OSHA went through three such rulemakings between 1998-2005. The fourth round of SIP updates, which was just finalized in May of 2019, has been underway since 2011. Most of the changes that were proposed were adopted in this final rule, and most of them were supported by the LHSFNA and North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) in testimony before OSHA in 2012. Below is a summary of the 14 changes OSHA adopted for the construction industry:

  • Clarifying the requirements for recording work-related hearing loss under 1904.10 (b)(6)
  • Removing the requirement for periodic chest X-rays for lung cancer for the asbestos and cadmium standards in construction (initial X-rays will still be required and X-rays for asbestosis are still required)
  • Allowing the use of digital X-rays, though OSHA opted not to allow low dose computed tomography (LDCT)
  • Updating the terminology used to the new ILO classification of X-rays
  • Updating the requirement for contacting emergency services
  • Updating and clarifying the exposure limits table to refer to PELs instead of TLVs, noting that exposure limits must not be exceeded and adding a “skin designation”
  • Deleting the Process Safety Management standard for construction and cross-referencing the general industry version
  • Revising the breaking strength of lanyards to 5,000 pounds
  • Updating references to the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) to the 2009 version
  • Exempting most residential construction sites from posting load limits on floor storage areas
  • Updating requirements for the use of diesel equipment underground (older equipment is grandfathered in and doesn’t need to meet these requirements)
  • Updating the requirements for testing of rollover protective structures (ROPS) on construction equipment (again, older equipment is exempt from these requirements)
  • Deleting the Coke Oven standard for construction, allowing exposures to fall under the general industry standard
  • Removing the requirement for Social Security numbers on paperwork (e.g., medical questionnaires) in 19 standards

Most of these changes will likely have minimal impact. However, the 2009 version of the MUTCD contains significant improvements over the older version, and allowing the use of digital X-rays is another much-needed update.

There were a few important changes that were notably left out of this round of SIP updates. They include:

  • Changes to the Lockout/Tagout standard for general industry to remove the word “unexpected,” which has been misapplied by the courts
  • Changes to the PPE standard requiring a proper fit for each worker
  • Clarifications to the excavation standard regarding spoil piles to remove the phrase “that could pose a hazard”
  • Updating the decompression tables for tunnel work

The LHSFNA and NABTU argued strongly for updating the PPE standard to require that this equipment fit properly. This is particularly important for women in construction, who often have a hard time finding PPE that will fit them. Ill-fitting PPE can create safety hazards and make work more difficult.

The LHSFNA also advocated for updating the decompression tables in the tunneling standard. The existing tables are over 40 years old and tunnel work has changed significantly, which the existing tables don’t account for. This forces contractors to apply for a variance – essentially to prove that their methods are just as safe as the OSHA standard. It can be a long and involved process to get a variance approved. OSHA decided that updating the tables would require revisions to the standard beyond the scope of the SIP-IV, suggesting a new rulemaking would be required. Since standards often take 7-10 years to complete, it appears that construction contractors will continue to be saddled with applying for variances and potentially slowing down projects to do this work properly.

[Scott Schneider]

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