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OSHA standards cited most frequently in 2017 released

The annual list of most-frequently cited OSHA standards was released this week at the National Safety Council (NSC) Congress & Expo in Indianapolis. Although the list looks pretty similar to years past, there has been some movement.

The general requirements of fall protection (1926.501) ranked first on the list again this year, as it did last year and the year before that. The top five categories, in fact, have held their positions for the past three years.

The hazard communication requirements (1910.1200) have held steady as the second-most-frequently cited set of OSHA standards.


The numbers associated with each category indicate the number of violations cited under each set of standards (see below). A final report will be published in the December edition of NSC’s Safety+Health magazine.


Where there's smoke there's fire.  These are the areas OSHA inspectors look hard at because they know this is where the most injuries occur.  Inventory your safety program and near misses for 2017 and see how you rank against the national data. 


If you need assistance with safety audits or improving your safety programs please contact us today.





























Construction Foreman Sentenced to Jail Following Employee Death

A New York City, 51-year old construction foreman whose negligence left a 22-year-old crushed to death was sentenced to 1 to 3 years behind bars for criminally negligent homicide Thursday, as a Manhattan judge ripped into him for the accident, saying, “You let him die. To put it bluntly — but for you, he would be alive today,” Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Anthony Ferrara told Wilmer Cueva, referencing his late employee Carlos Moncayo. “Your negligence killed him,” the judge continued. “The bottom line is the foreman is supposed to protect his employees, his friends. And you let him die,” according to the New York Post December 15, 2016 story.

Moncayo was crushed to death when the side of a Meatpacking District trench he was working in collapsed, after inspectors repeatedly told Cueva the site was unsafe, according to trial testimony.

The young man, who Cueva had called his “friend”, was exiting the trench for lunch when “a large chunk fell and buried him alive, crushed him alive — crushed his bones, crushed his chest, his teeth, his skull..literally crushed his heart,” prosecutor Diana Florence told the court.

Often the top four causes of fatal construction injuries are referred to as the "fatal four." The fatal four include falls, being struck by an object, electrocutions and being caught in between objects which is what this incident would be considered.


We should not be so naive to think just because we have a STOP Work Authority Program in place that all supervisors and foreman are following it. This story is a sad reminder for us all to ensure our supervision is following company safety guidelines and listening to workers when they express concerns. As leaders we need to get out in our plants or to our job sites, talk to workers, let them know that if their concerns are not being heard they can come to us without fear of retribution, and make sure the safety programs we have in place are what we expect them to be.

O'Brien's Safety Services, L.L.C. can assist you with safety program compliance with our environmental, health & safety audits and employee surveys. Contact me at carri@obrienssafetyservices to learn more about these programs or other compliance assistance services.


Top 10 OSHA Citations for FY2016

Patrick Kapust, deputy director of OSHA’s Directorate of Enforcement Programs, presented the agency’s Top 10 list of most frequently cited violations for the past fiscal year in October during the 2016 National Safety Council Congress & Expo in Anaheim, CA. “Take the list,” Kapust said, “and look at your own workplace off of that list. ‘These are the things OSHA is finding. Would they find these at my workplace?’ It’s a good place to start.”


As for OSHA’s Top 10 list, it starts with Fall Protection (1926.501) as the most cited violation for the sixth straight year. Hazard Communication (1910.1200) and Scaffolding (1926.451) complete the top three most-cited categories, all unchanged from FY 2015. Rounding out the top five most cited violations are Respiratory Protection (1910.134) and Lockout/Tagout (1910.147). OSHA issued a total of more than 35,000 citations in its Top 10 categories during fiscal 2016, which ended Sept. 30.


What You Don't Know about OSHA's New Recordkeeping Rule

December 1, 2016 - Carri Tucker, SR. EHS Specialist with O'Brien's Safety Services, L.L.C.

OSHA’s new electronic injury recordkeeping rule includes anti-retaliation provisions that create new employer obligations and prohibitions related to internal employee injury reporting procedures, and expands OSHA’s enforcement authority by introducing a vague new set of anti-retaliation provisions.  Particularly controversial is the impact of OSHA’s new rule on employers’ policies for post-injury drug testing, safety incentive programs, and executive compensation and bonuses. Until very recently, employers have seen little guidance about what OSHA means by reasonable reporting procedures or what types of policies may violate the new anti-retaliation provisions.

On October 19, 2016, OSHA issued a Guidance Memorandum offering its interpretation of the vague, controversial anti-retaliation provisions of OSHA’s new electronic injury and illness recordkeeping rule.   The timing of OSHA’s issuance of the October Guidance is particularly noteworthy, given developments in the legal challenge filed by Industry plaintiffs in a federal district court in Texas (TEXO ABC/AGC, Inc., et al. v. Perez, Civil Action No. 3:16-cv-01998-D).


The Guidance was not unexpected.  Amidst growing frustration from Industry about the rule and its lack of clarity, OSHA promised last summer when it decided to first postpone the enforcement date from August 1, 2016 to November 1, 2016, to publish guidance explaining the new provisions. Just one week before issuing the Guidance Memo, OSHA deferred the enforcement effective date of the anti-retaliation provisions, for the second time, from November 1st to December 1st.  This second delay of the anti-retaliation rule was done at the specific request of the Texas judge overseeing the case, who until yesterday, was considering industry’s request for a Preliminary Injunction. Judge Sam A. Lindsay rejected the groups’ initial efforts to block the rule prior to December 1, clearing the way for immediate compliance. 


So now what? 


Employers would be well served to understand OSHA’s new Guidance Memorandum, and be prepared to comply with the new anti-retaliation provisions in the event they survive the current litigation (the lawsuit against the rule will continue, even though the employer groups lost round one of the fight and failed to block the rule from going into effect on December 1) and somehow remain below the radar of the new Trump Administration.


The Guidance still leaves a lot of questions unanswered about the new rule, but it does provide at least some idea of OSHA’s expectations about its new rule.  The new Guidance addresses, to some degree, what OSHA intends by “reasonable” reporting procedures, and specifically, what type of employee discipline, post-incident drug testing, and safety incentive programs would be considered retaliatory, and therefore violative of the new rule.


You should consider your corporate culture and your specific needs in determining whether and how to change your policies relating to: automatic post-accident drug testing; rules requiring “immediate” reporting of workplace injuries and illnesses; and incentive programs based upon worker injury data.


Automatic Post-Injury Drug Testing 

OSHA wants employers to make some sort of initial determination that unlawful drug use may have contributed to the accident before requiring a drug test.  However, OSHA’s guidance also states that the rule will not prohibit automatic post-injury testing where that testing is expressly required by state workers compensation laws.


Safety Incentive Programs

OSHA’s ire has been directed at those incentive programs that reward the absence of injury or withhold rewards from an individual or group for someone having reported a recordable injury, or for not achieving a certain injury rate.  The litmus test for employers here is whether the reward or benefit to the employee (a pizza party, a gift card, a monetary bonus.) is based on leading indicators (such as complying with a safety rule, completing training, etc.) v. lagging factors (injury rates). 


Workplace Injury Reporting Procedures

There are two parts to the workplace injury reporting procedures.  Hold on to your hats here  folks. 


a. The guidance memo stated that these procedures must not deter reporting and must not be retaliatory in nature.  The easiest way to ensure compliance is to develop an effective procedure for reporting workplace injuries and illnesses. Ensure that the official OSHA poster is present and posted in a conspicuous location at your workplace and ensure that your rules do not use the word “immediately” when describing an employee's obligation to report a workplace injury. 


b. The Guidance Memo also clarifies that employee discipline for violating workplace safety rules is not prohibited, and further provides insight how OSHA will determine whether disciplinary policies or actions violate the new rule.  Specifically, to establish a violation of 1904.35(b)(1)(iv) in a case where an employer disciplines an employee who reports a work-related injury because the employee violated a workplace safety rule, OSHA will need to prove that the actual reason for the disciplinary action was that the employee reported an injury or illness, rather than the violation of the safety rule.  The central inquiry, according to OSHA’s new Guidance, is whether the employer enforces the same safety rule consistently; i.e. disciplines employees who violate the rule even where there is no related injury.

The solution to avoid such problems to better train your supervisors to discipline employees for unsafe behavior before an injury occurs, and not just wait until after an incident is reported to begin the process of handing down discipline.



New OSHA Recordkeeping Rule Effective January 1, 2017

December 1, 2016 - Carri Tucker, SR. EHS Specialist with O'Brien's Safety Services, L.L.C.

OSHA's new reporting rule, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2017, requires certain employers to electronically submit injury and illness data that they are already required to record on their onsite OSHA Injury and Illness forms. Analysis of this data will enable OSHA to use its enforcement and compliance assistance resources more efficiently. Some of the data will also be posted to the OSHA website. OSHA believes that public disclosure will encourage employers to improve workplace safety and provide valuable information to workers, job seekers, customers, researchers and the general public. The amount of data submitted will vary depending on the size of company and type of industry.


Establishments with 250 or more employees in industries covered by the recordkeeping regulation must submit information from their 2016 Form 300A by July 1, 2017. These same employers will be required to submit information from all 2017 forms (300A, 300, and 301) by July 1, 2018. Beginning in 2019 and every year thereafter, the information must be submitted by March 2.

Establishments with 20-249 employees in certain high-risk industries must submit information from their 2016 Form 300A by July 1, 2017, and their 2017 Form 300A by July 1, 2018. Beginning in 2019 and every year thereafter, the information must be submitted by March 2.


OSHA will provide a secure website that offers three options for data submission. First, users will be able to manually enter data into a webform. Second, users will be able to upload a CSV (excel) file to process single or multiple establishments at the same time. Last, users of automated recordkeeping systems will have the ability to transmit data electronically via an API (application programming interface). The site is scheduled to go live in February 2017.



Which Drugs Up Dehydration, Heat-Related Illness Risk?

July 7, 2016 - Carri Tucker, Sr. EHS Specialist with O'Brien's Safety Services, L.L.C.


Have you ever thought about which Drugs Up Dehydration, Heat-Related Illness Risk? With so many adults on prescription medications it’s really something we should address as part of our July-August safety meetings.  We commonly talk about risk factors like obesity or acclimation, but medications play a key role in our ability to regulate our body temperature and perspire. 

Researchers from Australia performed a retrospective analysis using prescription event symmetry analysis (PESA) of 6,700 veterans with incident hospital admission for dehydration or heat-related illness during January 1, 2001–June 30, 2013. The study's main outcome measure was first-ever hospital admission for dehydration or heat-related illness after initiating commonly used medicines. 

Study authors found a significantly increased risk of hospital admission following initiation of anticoagulants, cardiovascular medicines, NSAIDs, antipsychotics, antidepressants, and anticholinergics. This is not an exhaustive list, but in general, these classes include:

common heart disease medications:
Rivaroxaban (Xarelto)
Dabigatran (Pradaxa)
Apixaban (Eliquis)
Heparin (various)
Warfarin (Coumadin)

NSAIDs:
aspirin
ibuprofen
naproxen

antipsychotics:
risperidone (Risperdal)
aripiprazole (Abilify) 
olanzapine (Zyprexa)
quetiapine (Seroquel)
ziprasidone (Geodon)

antidepressants:
Paxil
Prozac
Zoloft
Celexa
Luvox
Wellbutrin
Cymbalta
Effexor
Lexapro
Elavil
Remeron
Strattera
Sarafem

anticholinergics:
Ditropan
Oxytrol
Detrol
Toviaz
VESIcare
Enablex
Cogentin

There was no significant association seen with hospital admission and initiation of anticonvulsants, anti-Parkinson's agents, hypnotics, anxiolytics or antihistamines. Some illegal drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines, can increase your core temperature and lead to increased risk.

The risk of hospital admission for dehydration or heat-related illness ranged from 1.17 for SSRIs to 2.79 for ACE inhibitors + diuretic product. That means, if you are taking an ACE inhibitor, a beta-blocker, or calcium channel blocker you have an increased risk.  If you are taking an ACE inhibitor in addition to something like Thiazide or Lasix your risk is more than doubled. These diuretics, just like coffee or alcohol, can lend themselves to dehydration by making you urinate more frequently.   

Overall, many medicines were associated with a higher risk of hospitalization for dehydration or heat-related illness. Employers and employees should be aware of the potential for certain medicines to increase the risk of dehydration and heat-related illness, but it’s ultimately the employee’s responsibility to understand what medications increase their risk of heat related illness and the signs and symptoms of heat illness to prevent an injury or illness.

Warning signs of Heat Exhaustion vary but may include the following:

  • Heavy sweating

  • Paleness

  • Muscle Cramps

  • Tiredness

  • Weakness

  • Dizziness

  • Headache

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Fainting

  • Skin: may be cool and moist

  • Pulse rate: fast and weak

  • Breathing: fast and shallow


You can follow these prevention tips to protect yourself from heat-related stress:

  • Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages. (If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask him how much you should drink when the weather is hot. Also, avoid extremely cold liquids because they can cause cramps.)

  • Rest.

  • Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.

  • If possible, seek an air-conditioned environment. (If you don't have air conditioning, consider visiting an air-conditioned shopping mall or public library to cool off.)

  • Wear lightweight clothing.

  • If possible, remain indoors in the heat of the day.

  • Do not engage in strenuous activities.


If you or a loved one is taking one of these medications you should pay extra attention during hot weather or high heat index days. Consult your prescribing physician if you are unsure if the medications you are taking may increase the risk of dehydration.




OSHA Fines Set to Rise in 2016

Chris Pollock

It has long been lamented by  those trying to rein in employers with poor safety performance,  that OSHA has not had the teethto enforce regulations the way  they need to be enforced.   From under-staffing to penaltiesthat are  minuscule compared to  penalties imposed by other  government agencies,fear of  OSHA enforcement has taken a  backseat to fear of insurance premium hikes, loss of insurance coverage, and lawsuits.  For some time now, it seems to be those repercussions that have driven companies to compliance (obviously, there are companies that do it simply because they care about the well-being of their employees and do not need the threat of financial repercussions, but those companies also probably have little concern for penalty increases).  Whether the driver behind compliance will change or not remains to be seen, but in 2016, OSHA will take steps toward making their penalties more of a force to be reckoned with. 

Part of the reason OSHA’s penalties seem so small, aside from companies negotiating them down, is that they have not been adjusted for inflation in decades.  While a $7,000 maximum penalty per exposed employee is nothing to be scoffed at, it doesn’t bear the same weight it did in the early 90s.  So, on November 2nd of this year, President Obama signed the “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015” which included provisions for the increase of OSHA penalties which basically allow them to “catch up” with the times.  According to the act, the penalties could increase up to as much as 150% of their current levels.  More than likely, though, since the increase can’t exceed the rate of inflation from the time the penalties were last adjusted in 1990, what we’re looking at is approximately an 80% increase.  What this means is that the most serious penalties, like willful violations, could see an increase from a maximum of $70,000 per person exposed to $125,000.  Your less serious violations would see an increase from a maximum of $7000 per person exposed to $12,500.    

This, as always, depends on final rulemaking slated to take place in 2016.  While that rulemaking could set a different cap for those penalties (and there are already organizations fighting this on such grounds as the burden it will place on small businesses), the 80% increase seems the most likely situation.  The timetable has the final rule being issued July 1, 2016 with the fines going into effect no later than August 31 (though August 16 appears to be the target date).  If you’re concerned, keep an eye on industry news and understand that if you are going to violate the law, it is soon to come with a heftier price tag.




FIVE WAYS TO HURT YOURSELF IN A HARNESS
Chris Pollock

There are some things you can hand to somebody with no instructions and they’ll know how to use them: a pair of boots, a pair of gloves, safety glasses.  A fall protection harness is not one of these things.  To the untrained eye, a harness is just a jumble of straps and buckles with no semblance of reason.  Wearing a harness improperly could render it ineffective, leaving the user hurt…or worse.  So, how could wearing a harness get you hurt?

1. Your D-ring is in the wrong position.

Harnesses weren’t thrown together haphazardly with some straps that were laying around on a manufacturing floor.  They were designed by engineers to take the forces exerted on your body in a fall and distribute them so that your fall can be safely arrested.  Wearing the harness wrong will ensure that those forces do not get equally distributed and can almost guarantee that you will get hurt.  When your back D-ring is in the wrong position, it is a sure sign that you are wearing the harness wrong.  When you don your harness, have a partner check to see that the D-ring is situated exactly halfway between your shoulder blades.  That does not mean it can just be in the center of your back – it must be in the center of your back at shoulder blade height.  If you find it pulling to one side or another, you’ve overtightened one side of your harness.  If you find it too high or too low, the harness may not be the correct size for you.

2. You’ve clipped your lanyard to the wrong D-ring.

Speaking of D-rings, many harness models have multiple D-rings.  You may be tempted, for the sake of convenience, to attach your fall-arrest lanyard to a front or side D-ring.  Don’t.  Of course, those D-rings exist for a reason: positioning.  Some workers need to work at heights in areas where a platform doesn’t exist (think of a utility worker up on a pole or an ironworker having to tie rebar on a pour-in-place wall).  The front or side D-rings allow for the connection of a positioning lanyard, so that the worker may attach, lean back comfortably, and use both hands for their work.  If you were to attach your fall arrest harness to a side or front D-ring and fall, the forces encountered in the fall would not be properly distributed, causing your body to “snap” to a stop.  If that sounds painful, there’s a reason.

3. Your harness is too loose (or too tight).

A properly sized harness is not just a matter of comfort, it is a matter of life or death.  Again, harnesses are designed to be used a certain way.  Yes, all models are adjustable, but even those adjustments have limits.  It is not okay to reach the last grommet, or pull a strap as tight or loose as it goes, and just say, “Oh, well, I guess that’s got to be good enough.”  If you can’t adjust your harness to fit you, it is not the right size.  Let’s look at the leg straps as a perfect example.  If the leg straps are too loose, in a fall you would continue downward into them at a great force instead of you and the harness having your descent arrested together.  This could cause rupturing in the place those leg straps would finally end up – right between your legs.  If the straps are too tight, they could cut off circulation, causing a whole host of other problems.  The rule of thumb for leg straps is that you should be able to fit a flat hand between the strap and your leg, but not a fist.  Adjust your harness to the proper fit and if you can’t, get a new one.

4. Your chest strap is too high (or low).

This may sound like I’m repeating myself, but the truth is, you can be wearing a proper size harness and not adjust things correctly.  The chest strap is a good example.  You could adjust it to what feels like the proper width and still have it on wrong (hence, the need for training).  A chest strap worn too high could choke you or injure your throat/jaw/etc. in a fall, while a chest strap worn too low could allow you to slip out of the harness if your fall were to turn into a head-first one.

5. Your straps are twisted.

Twisted straps could reduce the strength of your harness significantly.  Any time you don a harness, have a second person check it to make sure they don’t see anything wrong with it and that no straps are twisted because there are places you cannot check once the harness is on.  Harnesses are intended to save your life, so check, check, and re-check.


In the end, harnesses are not just some silly tool or piece of equipment that can be used without care.  They are life saving devices, and it’s your life that depends on them working properly.  Coincidentally, you are the only one that can ensure they work properly by using them as they are intended to be used, and by wearing them as they are designed to be worn. 

In addition to proper adjustment, make sure your harness is in the right condition. Learn more about checking the condition of your safety equipment.



10/5/2015

What’s the Real Effect of OSHA’s Revamped Inspection Process, the “Enforcement Weighing System?”

by Howard Mavity  | Fisher & Phillips LLP

On October 1, OSHA started its “Enforcement Weighing System,” which means that OSHA Compliance Officers and Area Offices will be under less pressure to complete a number of inspections and will receive credit for separate “enforcement units” within an individual inspection. This means that potentially OSHA will conduct fewer inspections and/or routine/straightforward inspections will receive less time and scrutiny. Dr. Michaels explained that Industrial Hygienists can conduct much thorough investigations and OSHA can focus on OSHA’s evolving priorities. To me, the main message from this change is that OSHA is serious about emphasizing general duty areas with no vertical standard, especially ergonomics and workplace violence. OSHA has already publicized its enforcement emphasis on acute care hospitals and ergonomic and workplace violence challenges. This follows a serious and escalating ergonomic emphasis on distribution and especially the beverage distribution setting. Likewise, OSHA has publically expressed its intent to increase Industrial Hygiene inspections, along with increased Process Safety Management (PSM) inspections, which it has done.

From Dr. Michael’s Press Release:
Routine inspections count as one unit, while those requiring greater resources — such as those involving musculoskeletal disorders, chemical exposures, workplace violence, and process safety management violations — count as up to nine units. The values are based on historical data and will be monitored and adjusted as necessary.

As I have regularly explained, this OSHA leadership has been methodical, adopted a longer term strategy, and coordinated and built on outwardly separate initiatives. Consider the interrelationship of the following initiatives:


  • The new January 2015 requirement that employers report individual amputations and employee hospitalizations and the triaged inspection response efforts which has exposed OSHA to thousands of worksites it has not previously visited.
  • Updated the “Amputation” National Emphasis Program (NEP) requiring intense investigation of guarding, lockout, training, and electrical issues which has led to many of the most complex inspections and the highest penalties. These inspections can be triggered by the new amputation reporting requirements.
  • OSHA’s Temporary Employee Initiative and now its cooperation with the NLRB in the NLRB’s “joint employer” enforcement effort.
  • OSHA’s ongoing efforts to publicize OSHA violations and make available individual employer information.
  • OSHA’s six year effort to shift OSHA’s assets to Whistleblower Enforcement and promoting and encouraging complaints.
  • OSHA’s 2015 Hospital Ergonomic and Workplace Violence campaign.
  • OSHA’s various Ergonomic efforts by which the Agency is building certain Industries’ “recognition” of ergonomic hazards and abatement methods developed by NIOSH, OSHA and unions and third parties;
  • The new so called “Blacklist Executive Order” that requires an evaluation of government contractors’ OSHA citations, NLRB unfair labor practices, wage-hour and EEO claims.
  • A new education effort in which OSHA is educating US Attorneys, State Attorney Generals, and even DAs about how to use federal AND state criminal actions against CEOs and executives.


Give the US DOL credit; they are bit by bit leveraging these various efforts to create new employer requirements and increase employers’ civil and criminal exposure. Secretary Perez has been the most energetic land forceful Secretary of Labor that I’ve encountered in my 31 years of practice. And while the cumulative effects have been gradual, we are beginning to see success.

The immediate relevance of this ongoing effort is that you are more at risk for hard OSHA inspections if you are in healthcare, oil and chemicals, manufacturing, and distribution and logistics. If you are unionized or involved in a union organizing campaign, you are at risk of the union triggering these new more complex inspections. Disgruntled employees now pose more risk of claims and inspections and before multiple agencies. Please don’t treat these developments as just a PR effort. Evaluate your processes for managing governmental complaints and inspections. Recognize that maintaining employee safety does not guarantee compliance with OSHA regulations. Get serious about developing an effective safety culture. And review your handbooks based on the NLRB’s new attacks, and your exemptions based on the proposed new Wage-Hour exemption salary test.



Monday, June 1, 2015
New OSHA Guide to Restroom Access for Transgender Employees

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced new guidelines today to ensure that all employees have access to restrooms that correspond to their gender identity.

OSHA's “Guide to Restroom Access for Transgender Workers” follows the establishment of an alliance formed between OSHA and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) in early May of this year. The guidelines cover the basics of gender identity and clarify the importance of equal restroom access as a means to preserve health and safety for all employees. NCTE will be working with OSHA to promote these guidelines and educate workers and employers about their rights and responsibilities surrounding restroom access over the next two years.

“OSHA is making clear that denying something basic as restroom access to transgender workers is not only an assault on dignity and their rights, but a threat to their health as well,” said NCTE policy director Harper Jean Tobin. "All employers should take note, and workers should use this document as another tool to assert their rights."

Federal OSHA rules requires that all employers provide employees with sanitary and available toilet facilities, so that employees will not suffer the adverse health effects that can result if toilets are not available when employees need them. The new guidelines stress that segregating or excluding trans workers from facilities consistent with their gender identity can effectively prevent them from using the restroom at all, at risk to their health. Because they may constitute an unreasonable restriction on this basic guarantee, denial of reasonable access to restrooms consistent with an employee's gender identity may constitute a violation of the OSHA rules, as well as non-discrimination laws. Violations of OSHA rules and non-discrimination laws may provide workers with grounds to file a complaint with OSHA or equivalent state OSHA agencies, and/or a complaint with the EEOC.

The guidelines issued today specifically note that “[t]he employee should determine the most appropriate and safest option for him- or herself.” It is NCTE's position that this guideline extends important protection to non-binary trans people, as people of all gender identities must be allowed to decide which restroom best suits their needs.

“A Guide to Restroom Access for Transgender Workers” follows a historic ruling from the EEOC, holding that denying transgender employees access to the correct restroom is discrimination, as well as from the DOL, clarifying that managers shouldn’t second guess employees about what restrooms are right for them to use. This is also consistent with recently updated guidance from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for all federal agencies, similar guidance​ from the Department of Labor for its own employees.

O'Brien's Sr. HR Specialist, Carri Coleman Tucker, recommends employers do the following now:

1. Conduct and document workplace discrimination and harassment training annually.

2. Ensure you are including transgender employee issues in  your workplace discrimination and harassment polices.

3. Consider adopting a Transgender Employment Policy that includes restroom and locker room access as well as transgender employee transition guidance for your workplace. 


For a sample Transgender Employment Policy, please visit our Home page or Online Store.



The EPA is cracking down on methane leaks from (some) oil and gas drilling

August 19, 2015

The Environmental Protection Agency just proposed its first-ever rules to cut down on methane leaks from oil and gas production. The standards will apply to certain new equipment and wells.


Methane is a potent contributor to global warming, accounting for 10 percent of US greenhouse gases, and there's been rising concern about these leaks as fracking expands and thousands of new oil and gas wells get drilled each year.


Indeed, the US likely can't meet its broader climate goals without getting those leaks under control. Back in January, the White House set a goal of cutting methane emissions from oil and gas operations 40 to 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025.


This newest rule is part of that effort — but only a part. It requires companies to monitor and plug leaks from new production activities. But the standards are purely voluntary for the many thousands of existing wells that have already been drilled (and are responsible for the vast majority of methane). It's unclear if the EPA will try to those regulate existing wells later. For now, this is a big hole in the rules.



OSHA issues final confined space construction rule

May 1, 2015
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a final confined spaces rule Friday to increase protections for construction workers.

The rule, which is effective Aug. 3, 2015 affords construction workers laboring in confined spaces similar enhanced protections as manufacturing and general industry workers whose jobs take them into manholes, crawl spaces and several types of tanks. The rules are intended to protect construction workers against hazards that include exposure to toxic substances, electrocutions, explosions and asphyxiation.

According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction workers die at rate of 9.7 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, compared with a rate of 3.3 workers across all industries.

“This new rule will significantly improve the safety of construction workers who enter confined spaces,” Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez said in a statement. “In fact, we estimate that it will prevent about 780 serious injuries every year.”

In addition to specifying the general conditions employers must maintain at a worksite, the regulations require that employers share vital safety information and continuously monitor hazards.

Moreover, OSHA has clarified five other requirements for companies in the construction industry including:
1. More detailed provisions regarding coordinated activities when there are multiple employers at the worksite
2. Requiring a competent person to evaluate the work site and identify confined spaces, including permit spaces.
3. Requiring continuous atmospheric monitoring whenever possible
4. Requiring continuous monitoring of engulfment hazards
5. Allowing for the suspension of a permit, instead of cancellation, in the event of changes from the entry conditions list on the permit or an unexpected event requiring evacuation of the space.

“Unlike most general industry worksites, construction sites are continually evolving, with the number and characteristics of confined spaces changing as work progresses,” David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor occupational safety and health, said in the statement.

“This rule emphasizes training, continuous worksite evaluation and communication requirements to further protect workers' safety and health.”

The maximum penalty OSHA can assess for failure to comply with the new rules is $7,000 for each serious violation and $70,000 for a repeated or willful violation.



Ohio House's approval of an oil and gas severance tax overhaul
Posted By: Jeremy Pelzer, Northeast Ohio Media Group 

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a sweeping overhaul of the state’s severance tax on oil and gas fracking after bumping up local governments’ cut of the proceeds.

Under the bill, which passed 55-35, Ohio would impose a 2.5 percent severance tax on horizontal oil and gas drilling, which has ramped up in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations that run deep underneath the eastern part of the state.

Currently, Ohio charges 20 cents per barrel of oil, which has a current market value of about $100. The tax on natural gas is 3 cents per thousand cubic feet, which sells for roughly $4.80.

Traditional vertical drillers would see their severance taxes cut in half under the legislation, which now heads to the Ohio Senate.


Two natural gas power plants are planned for the Ohio Valley 

The companies behind two natural gas power plants planned for Ohio credit the vast amounts of Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas in the area as the main reason behind their location choices. Massachusetts-based Clean Energy Future LLC wants to build an $800 million, 800-megawatt plant on a 57-acre plot in Lordstown, Trumbull County, The Business Journal reports. West Virginia-based Moundsville Power LLC wants to build a $615 million, 549-megawatt plant on a 37.4-acre plot in Marshall County, West Virginia, according to The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register. The Ohio project is anticipated to "employ about 550 over the two-year construction period and result in 25-30 full-time positions once the plant begins operations," while the West Virginia project's construction phase would create "400 to 500 jobs" and about 30 full-time positions once the plant is operational. Posted by M. Warnock in  Ohio  Pennsylvania   |  Permalink


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