Welcome to the Wacky World of OSHA: Walking-Working Surfaces

 

The most commonly cited OSHA standard is 29 CFR 1910 Subpart D, Walking-Working Surfaces.  It’s not surprising: the biggest causes of death in construction are falls and being struck by an object, both of which the standard tries to prevent.

Like much of the OSHA regulations, it tends to spell out the common sense approach.  Railing, scaffolds, ladders, etc need to be well put together and guard against objects rolling off and smacking someone.  People high up need harnesses and safety lines so they are not one slip away from a splat, and the harnesses need to be inspected just like a parachute.  Lots of explicit listing of just how big a railing needs to be and what the spacing needs to be, etc.  Like nearly every standard, it begins with a set of definitions for all of the words / concepts specific to the standard.  For example:

Fall protection means any equipment, device, or system that prevents an employee from falling from an elevation or mitigates the effect of such a fall.

Self-evident, right?  Well, these are legal documents, enforceable with fines and evil government lawyers (TM)  Everything needs to be defined clearly.  Take this example:

Opening means a gap or open space in a wall, partition, vertical walking-working surface, or similar surface that is at least 30 inches (76 cm) high and at least 18 inches (46 cm) wide, through which an employee can fall to a lower level.

This means openings smaller than the definition do not qualify.  There are numerous cases in my job where the exact words of a regulation make all the difference.  A chemical hazardous waste cannot be treated or neutralized outside of a proper facility.  However, you can do all kinds of things with a chemical before it is declared a waste, including demonstrating a neutralization reaction.  The fact that the result is non-hazardous is no problem.  I did all kinds of demonstration reactions in my previous job, saving taxpayer money and my tiny budget.

Now, even with all this detail, sometimes things are not exactly clear, so the company writes OSHA and asks for an interpretation.  Standard interpretations are used by OSHA inspectors, but are not on the same legal standard.  I’ve run into quite a few standard interpretations that went a really annoying way.  For example, Bloodborne Pathogens training requires a person to be available to answer questions as the person takes the training.  Easy for in-person training, but for the online training offered to the midnight shift?  It turns out using a voicemail or email box for questions is not good enough.  Cue a few nights sleeping in my office.  We have a better system at my current employer, but it is still a bit annoying.

The remarkable things is that I have usually found OSHA’s helpline to be genuinely helpful, and relatively common-sense.  They run a safe harbor generally, so if you call and there is a problem, they are not going to pounce on you for it.  If you have any questions on OSHA standards, feel free to post in the comments with a harness and properly anchored safety line.

(This is part of the group writing series on Work)

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  1. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Coolidge
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo…
    @GumbyMark

    I usually found OSHA much easier and more reasonable to work with than EPA.  Of course, that is a relative statement.

    There are numerous cases in my job where the exact words of a regulation make all the difference. A chemical hazardous waste cannot be treated or neutralized outside of a proper facility

    This is one of my favorite examples of the bizarre and counterproductive impact of EPA regs.  I actually had to stop a pollution reduction improvement at one of our facilities because they would have been illegally treating a hazardous waste, even though it was just another process step from an engineering perspective.  The engineers involved were appalled that they could not proceed, and I was appalled to have to give them the advice.

    My other favorite was all the regulatory problems created under EPA rules if you had a project which would actually reduce air emissions but under EPA rules would be viewed as an emissions increase because the project had the potential to increase emissions.

    • #1
  2. Judge Mental, Secret Chimp Member
    Judge Mental, Secret Chimp
    @JudgeMental

    Every time they write a reg, the country as a whole get dumber.  They substitute the judgement of a few for the judgement of thousands.

    • #2
  3. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin
    @OmegaPaladin

    Judge Mental, Secret Chimp (View Comment):

    Every time they write a reg, the country as a whole get dumber. They substitute the judgement of a few for the judgement of thousands.

    I honestly don’t see that.  It’s replacing  the jury in a lawsuit with a team of dudes.

    Some of the regulations are stupid, but they do not dumb down the country.

    • #3
  4. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    It’s replacing the jury in a lawsuit with a team of dudes.

    I’m not quite sure what this means, but you make it sound like the original purpose of OHSA has been hijacked. 

    • #4
  5. OkieSailor Member
    OkieSailor
    @OkieSailor

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    Judge Mental, Secret Chimp (View Comment):

    Every time they write a reg, the country as a whole get dumber. They substitute the judgement of a few for the judgement of thousands.

    I honestly don’t see that. It’s replacing the jury in a lawsuit with a team of dudes.

    Some of the regulations are stupid, but they do not dumb down the country.

    I do appreciate your attitude toward the situation but I still think it’s just impossible for anyone, however well intentioned or intelligent, to write sensible regulations for the myriad of situations across a country this large and diverse. In other words they are tasked with doing the impossible so how could I be disappointed when any particular solution falls short? The problem is they are also given the power to enforce those solutions with heavy fines whether they fit the situation or not.  There could not be a much better way to suppress economic prosperity it seems to me.

    • #5
  6. CJ Inactive
    CJ
    @cjherod

    It is always interesting to me to think about how the function of OSHA would be provided as a service in the free market. For instance, if your company wanted affordable insurance, there would probably some regulations that the insurer would provide as “best practices” so that you could get the best deal on your premium.

    • #6
  7. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    OkieSailor (View Comment):
    The problem is they are also given the power to enforce those solutions with heavy fines whether they fit the situation or not. There could not be a much better way to suppress economic prosperity it seems to me.

    The progressive, regulatory state would be much better if there was a separation of powers already at the lowest level. 

    • #7
  8. danok1 Member
    danok1
    @danok1

    CJ (View Comment):

    It is always interesting to me to think about how the function of OSHA would be provided as a service in the free market. For instance, if your company wanted affordable insurance, there would probably some regulations that the insurer would provide as “best practices” so that you could get the best deal on your premium.

    Isn’t that the basic concept behind Underwriter Laboratories? 

    • #8
  9. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    CJ (View Comment):

    It is always interesting to me to think about how the function of OSHA would be provided as a service in the free market. For instance, if your company wanted affordable insurance, there would probably some regulations that the insurer would provide as “best practices” so that you could get the best deal on your premium.

    I am told (but haven’t seen the graph myself)  that if you look at a graph of annual workplace injuries/fatalities over time that begins many years *before* OSHA came into being, the slope of the line doesn’t change before/after.

     

    • #9
  10. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    I went to ABC (a right to work construction industry organization) safety meetings for 10 years.  Every year they talked about the same two things:  fall protection and trench collapse.

    • #10
  11. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin
    @OmegaPaladin

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    OkieSailor (View Comment):
    The problem is they are also given the power to enforce those solutions with heavy fines whether they fit the situation or not. There could not be a much better way to suppress economic prosperity it seems to me.

    The progressive, regulatory state would be much better if there was a separation of powers already at the lowest level.

    It would not be hard.  The rulemaking groups of the EPA & OSHA are separate from enforcement.  Stuff them under Congress – it would be more constitutional.

    • #11
  12. jeannebodine Member
    jeannebodine
    @jeannebodine

    As a property and casualty broker specializing in Workers Compensation insurance, clients often asked me to help them with OSHA reporting. Manufacturing clients like Campbell’s, Hershey’s, Merck, etc. did their own, of course, but they often had several people in  risk management departments assigned to the task because the record-keeping and reporting was cumbersome. It wasn’t the record-keeping as such but the need to massage the data into a format that the government required, one that didn’t follow the normal way they and their insurance companies kept their data re: type of injury, work days lost, etc.

    When I had to help companies with mostly professional staff, it was frustrating and time-consuming and ultimately, the OSHA reports were useless in identifying trends, risks and lost time. My favorite part was choosing injury and cause codes as the choices were endless and often hilarious. In the end, each of these clients hired people whose main functions were keeping and reporting OSHA data, emblematic of the administrative state. 

    However, this was in the dark ages of the 1990s and no doubt software has effectively eased this burden.

     

     

    • #12
  13. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin
    @OmegaPaladin

    OSHA Form 300 is a bit easier, and has good instructions, but it is not a good safety indicator.  It is good for letting people know the company’s record, and like most safety regs it targets the real bad actors as opposed to normal companies.

    • #13
  14. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    OSHA Form 300 is a bit easier, and has good instructions, but it is not a good safety indicator. It is good for letting people know the company’s record, and like most safety regs it targets the real bad actors as opposed to normal companies.

    I am so glad that companies with less than ten employees don’t have to do OSHA reporting.

    • #14
  15. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Coolidge
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo…
    @GumbyMark

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    OSHA Form 300 is a bit easier, and has good instructions, but it is not a good safety indicator. It is good for letting people know the company’s record, and like most safety regs it targets the real bad actors as opposed to normal companies.

    We spent a lot of time training and checking to get the recordkeeping right but you’re right – we looked at other things as our safety indicators.

    An OSHA program we liked was VPP which recognized sites for safety excellence.  It was a great motivator to get management engaged with employees which had benefits beyond just safety.

    • #15
  16. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    OkieSailor (View Comment):
    The problem is they are also given the power to enforce those solutions with heavy fines whether they fit the situation or not. There could not be a much better way to suppress economic prosperity it seems to me.

    The progressive, regulatory state would be much better if there was a separation of powers already at the lowest level.

    It would not be hard. The rulemaking groups of the EPA & OSHA are separate from enforcement. Stuff them under Congress – it would be more constitutional.

    That, or get the Supreme Court to stop giving so much deference, leading to the same result—Congress driven to actually write specific laws or to leave the issue alone.

    OmegaPaladin’s informative post has served the extra safety function of staving off the Charmin Bears!

    This post is part of our Group Writing Series under the March 2020 Group Writing Theme: “Working.” There are plenty of open days, so get busy and work it! Stop by and sign up now.
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    • #16
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