Current OSHA initiatives outlined

At the most recent meeting of the Elk County Gas Task Force, Compliance Assistance Specialist Mark F. Harmon of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Erie office gave a presentation on the organization’s role and recent activities. "We regulate workplace safety," said Harmon of OSHA's chief role. Harmon said a big initiative at OSHA right now is working on a Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals to implement standardized labeling and ensure more safety for employees at workplaces where various chemicals are used. OSHA already has a hazard communications standard that specifically details the use of chemicals, but the GHS system will provide a more universal form of labeling that is easier for people to understand. "To make it easier [to understand], I guess you could say a chemical is going to be anything other than water, so gasoline, diesel, solvents, paints-- anything that you could use in the work environment that would be a chemical," Harmon said. "The Globally Harmonized System, or the GHS as it’s now referred to, is a change that’s coming about. It's a change to an existing standard. We’re changing what we already have in place, and the reason we’re changing it is because we’re trying to come into line with some of the other agencies, not just in the federal jurisdiction, but from an international standpoint."Harmon explained that the GHS system was first launched through the United Nations. "After Sept. 11 [2001], a lot of stuff changed, even in the work environment, domestically, but also think of an environmental standpoint. Whether we had chemicals from the U.S. going outward, or even more importantly, chemicals coming from the outside world into the U.S., they wanted to come up with a way to label chemicals," Harmon said. He said prior to 9/11, a typical chemical was probably labeled with some type of placard or information on shipping containers. There were also issues with chemicals having a variety of different labels, some of which were in foreign languages, making it difficult for workers to identify the contents of a container and their hazard level. “This is sort of the idea of GHS. It’s a way in which, from an international standpoint, you can label chemicals so that they’re understood universally,” Harmon said. "OSHA, being a part of that, we had to take the standard we had and adapt it so it is now working with the GHS language. We’re now taking into account placards are not the sole means to label a chemical. We’re actually going to a pictogram. These are pictures, something visual-- we want it so that a worker would be able to see a chemical and without necessarily knowing what the chemical is, the pictogram would be able to explain visually that it is a flammable material. "It’s not enforceable right now, but it will be, and there’s a timetable. The first target date for enforcement is not until December 2013. We have a phase-in period.” Harmon said more information on the changes and how organizations can work toward compliance will be issued as the first target date draws near. OSHA also is in the process of conducting national, regional and local emphasis programs that focus on various workplace safety issues. One of those programs is on heat stress, which can quickly affect workers in hot climates or weather conditions."Heat stress-- here it is August, and believe it or not, we do have a heat stress campaign that we are promoting," Harmon said. "That just means, what can you do to prevent heat stress from occurring in your work environment. Believe it or not, in Pennsylvania we do have heat, maybe not as much as Texas or Alabama. "We’re trying to promote this, make sure people are aware that there may not be an OSHA standard, a regulation in the book that says a working environment has to be 72 degrees. There’s no OSHA standard that says you have to have a heater, just as there’s no OSHA standard that says you have to have an air conditioner. We get a lot of phone calls [on that]. But heat stress is a concern, especially for people working in the hot summer months, outside, especially. To tie that in to oil and gas, they do work outside, and they work 24 hours a day, seven days a week in some cases on locations. They’re always busy out there. "We’re promoting the campaign of, obviously water must be provided, but also rest and shade. So if they do start to overheat, you’ve got to let them slow down. If that means let them take a break, then that’s what they need to do. Originally, this was for people maybe working in an agricultural setting, but construction’s the same way. So the heat stress campaign is very important to us, and we’ve been fortunate enough to see good response from industry, whether it’s agriculture, oil and gas, construction--everyone’s on board with that.”Pick up a copy of the Monday, Aug. 20, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.