OSHA recently announced that it will expand a regional refinery safety program to nationwide statues. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA will implement a National Emphasis Program to eliminate highly hazardous chemicals in the petrochemical industry.
This effort is just the latest move in OSHA’s efforts to beef up safety and security in the wake of a number of oil refinery disasters during the past few years. The most notable was the tragic Texas City, Texas explosion. The March 23, 2005 explosion near Houston, Texas killed 15 workers and injured more than 170 others. That event alerted OSHA to a number of problems in the refinery process.
Currently, OSHA administers two Regional Emphasis Programs that operate in Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. This nationwide program is the next step in refinery safety. The National Emphasis Program will take the successful regional program nationwide under the auspices of OSHA. The new program will provide guidance to OSHA national, regional and area offices. In addition, the 22 states with a state workers safety program will have access to OSHA directives, regulations and enforcement policies.
The National Emphasis Program focuses on preventing the release of hazardous chemicals by the oil industry. Process Safety Management, or PSM, has been an OSHA priority for many years, and a number of emphasis programs have evolved as a result of this standard. In fact, OSHA has a 104-page manual of standards for this particular hazard, including prevention techniques and inspection procedures.
“OSHA remains committed to enhancing the safety and health of America’s men and women working in the refining industry,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Edwin G. Foulke Jr. “By initiating this program, we are taking positive steps to maximize the protection of employees and eliminate workplace hazards at petroleum refineries.”
Under the new program, OSHA will conduct 81 inspections over the next two years at oil refineries throughout the nation. Assistant Secretary Foulke stresses that this new program is just one of multiple significant enforcement projects in the oil, gas and refining industries that OSHA is working on.
The current National Emphasis Program focuses on preventing unexpected releases of toxic, reactive or flammable liquids and gasses. It pinpoints industries that rely on such chemicals, including the petrochemical industry. According to OSHA, there is the potential for such chemicals to be released anytime they are not properly controlled. Such a release can have disastrous effects, as in the Texas City oil refinery explosion.
One important feature of this process was recently defined by OSHA. In a previous publication, OSHA prescribed certain safety measures when a given quantity of a hazardous material was “on site in one location.” This phrasing raised a number of questions for employers. If an employer divided the quantity between two equal stashes at separate ends of the property, were they exempt from the safety measures? If they had two plants within a few miles, did that count as “one location”?
On June 11, 2007 OSHA issued an official ruling to clarify that issue.
“This official interpretation should help provide additional clarity to an earlier Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the threshold quantities of highly hazardous chemicals,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Edwin G. Foulke, Jr. “This interpretation has been accepted by our stakeholders and should further aid those who are affected by the PSM standard.”
OSHA interprets “on site in one location” to mean that the standard applies when a specific amount of a highly hazardous chemical exists within an area under the control of an employer, or group of affiliated employers. It also applies to any group of vessels that are interconnected, or in separate vessels that are close enough in proximity that the HHC could be involved in a potential catastrophic release.
Under this ruling, if an oil company has two stores of a hazardous chemical close enough that they could be involved in the same explosion, they are considered one store under the safety regulations.
The terminology used in this case was so confusing that even OSHA itself had questions. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, OSHA’s enforcement branch, requested the clarification. The Review Commission asked whether the phrase “on site in one location” was meant to limit the application of the safety standards. The Review Commission wondered if two nearby storage tanks that were connected, or in close proximity on the property, should be counted together.
All-Terrain Vehicles are well-known for their recreational uses, but in recent years a number of employers have begun using these small vehicles in the workplace as well. ATVs are ideal for industries such as agriculture and security, since they are able to travel in areas where larger vehicles would have problems, but because they are generally seen as fun vehicles many employers and riders don’t take the time to ensure that they are used in a safe manner. Because of this, a warning has been issued in Texas by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in order to let employers know of the danger that the improper use of ATVs can present.
With employee safety being a priority, the Texas worker safety alert presented a number of guidelines which could be followed to help prevent the increasing number of serious injuries and deaths that result from workplace ATV accidents. These guidelines are designed to better familiarize employers and employees with the differences between ATVs and other vehicles, and to help employers to develop training for their employees which will teach them to properly use the vehicles. Key topics include the proper way to load cargo onto ATVs, how to avoid overloading the cargo racks, ways to avoid ATV roll-overs, and general safety tips such as always wearing a helmet while operating the vehicle.
These training programs and safety guidelines are essential to maintain a safe workplace while using ATVs, as many people are completely unprepared for the differences between these small vehicles and larger vehicles such as forklifts, tractors, and automobiles which the users may be more familiar with.
Many people would never dream of using heavy equipment without taking the proper safety precautions or being properly trained, but because of the ATVs smaller size and its reputation as a recreational vehicle these same people assume that it is perfectly safe to operate untrained.
Training in the operation of the ATV in the workplace is not keeping up with the vehicle’s increasing use on the job.
A Texas worker safety alert warns that more ATVs than ever are seeing use at work, and the outcome is serious. In the past 10 years, more than 100 workers have died as a result of ATV accidents on the job.
A new bulletin sets out some important guides for both operation of ATVs and training in their safe use. Texas OSHA and the Texas Department of Labor are jointly announcing that workers are not getting the training they need to drive ATVs on the job.
The problem may be that employers have a tendency to underestimate the risks involved in operating an All Terrain Vehicle. Most people perceive ATVs as something just used for weekend recreation. Children drive them. So there is an assumption that they’re easy to handle. In fact, the opposite is true. An ATV doesn’t handle like a car, and it doesn’t handle like a motorcycle.
Workers using ATVs are exposed to risks similar to the recreational operator. And that is a serious matter, because the number of deaths in recreational use has sharply increased. From 1982 to 2004 – just 22 years – the death toll has risen from 29 a year to 470. The total number of injuries hit a record breaking 136,100. Over the last decade, there were a staggering 800,000 ATV injuries.
Those statistics, from a report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, show a disturbing trend.
The Texas worker safety alert not only points out the need for employers to institute ATV operation training. It also stresses the importance of changing work practices in the interests of safety. For example, workers are urged to use helmets while operating All Terrain Vehicles.
The guidelines in the Texas worker safety alert are for any off-road vehicle that is motorized, operates with low-pressure tires, has handlebars, and is equipped with a seat that the driver straddles.
Round three has begun.
It’s round three of the competition for a new federal grant designed to help regions throughout the U.S. that have always been stuck in a cycle of bad economics and high unemployment.
The grant is called the “WIRED Initiative,” for Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development Initiative.
U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao announced the third round recently with letters to every governor in the nation.
Hopefully, the third round of WIRED grants will include a Texas unemployment grant. A Texas unemployment grant, through WIRED, was awarded during the second round. The grant should be hopeful news for Texas workers, especially those in a region of the state, where economic stagnation has been traditional.
Such regions have been left behind by recent national trends. Most recent U.S. numbers show that the jobless rate is around 4%. Economists consider that good. They rank anything below 5% as a “job shortage.”
According to Secretary Chao, the WIRED Initiative recognizes that local economies often do not line up clearly with geographic boundary lines. She said WIRED brings different organizations together to help prepare workforces by supplying them with “the skills needed to succeed in the 21st century worldwide economy.” Some of those organizations are economic development groups, foundations, community colleges, businesses and universities.
Each governor is invited to submit no more than two grant proposals, with each proposal no larger than $5 million. The regions involved in those proposals must show other sources of funding, such as private, regional and state money. That way the U.S. Labor Department can complement those sources.
This blog’s regular readership knows the value of the WIRED grants. WIRED began in February of 2006. At that time, the Labor Department awarded grants to 13 regions through a highly competitive grant process.
While the national jobless rate is just 4%, the figure is even lower for the highly skilled and those with college educations. For that sector, the rate is 1.9%.
While you might think that flu season is over, a recent Texas OSHA alert warns about the possibility of a global influenza epidemic, or pandemic.
Most healthy adult develop some immunity to the flu virus. We refer to the unpleasant illness that became visible every fall and winter as influenza, or the flu. It is not dangerous for most of the population. Exceptions include those with debilitated immune systems, the aged and small children. This is a recurring seasonal flu. But according to a Texas OSHA Alert, it is not the same as an influenza pandemic.
The Texas OSHA alert points out that regardless if you are an employee or an employer, you should include a plan to respond to a worldwide influenza plague at the office. During a pandemic, a new form of the influenza virus emerges, and everyone is in danger. The virus spreads across the world, passing from person to person.
Some of the easiest and effective guidelines to stop contagion are the following:
When you are infected, don’t go to work.
If you are going to cough or sneeze, use a disposable tissue to cover up your mouth
If you are in the same place of an infected person, stay no less than 6 ft. away from him or her
Wash your hands often
At work, you can reduce contact between the public and employees using drive-thru windows. Reduce contact between colleagues by scheduling conference calls instead of meetings, or giving authorization for some employees to work from home.
Between 1918 and 1920, the last worldwide influenza pandemic of great magnitude occurred. The virus appeared for the first time in a military center in Kansas and then multiplied quickly across the globe. Within a year and a half more than 50 million people died, many of them healthy young adults.
The seasonal flu that normally occurs curing the fall and winter is not a major risk. Fortunately, there is at present no influenza pandemic, and no new type of the influenza virus has appeared.