Magazine article Occupational Hazards

OSHA Plans Update of PPE Rules

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

OSHA Plans Update of PPE Rules

Article excerpt

A recent survey sponsored by OSHA substantiates what many safety and health professionals have long believed - personal protective equipment (PPE) works. In fact, according to the survey analysis conducted by Eastern Research Group Inc. (ERG), Arlington, Mass., appropriate use of PPE could have prevented as many as 37.6 percent of the occupational injuries and illnesses included in the survey.

The survey, which was based on a review of 139,000 OSHA 200 forms filed by 5,361 establishments in 1986,1987, and early 1988, is part of the record on OSHA's proposal to revise regulations covering 22 million workers who wear eye, head, face, and foot protection. Although not currently proposed in this rulemaking, specific requirements for worker training, additional regulation of protective clothing, and a program for mandatory third-party equipment certification have also been discussed.

According to OSHA, one of the problems with existing PPE standards (29 CFR Part 1910 Subpart I) is that they are too design-specific. The agency wants to replace design-restrictive standards with more performance-oriented provisions.

At public hearings on the proposal held in April, Chappell D. Pierce, director of OSHA's Office of Fire Protection Engineering and Systems Safety Standards, said, "OSHA is concerned that restraints on innovation make it more difficult for employers to either increase acceptance of PPE or to provide more protective PPE." Furthermore, Pierce contended, unless the PPE standards become more performance-oriented, product manufacturers will be discouraged from improving their equipment.

Another problem cited by OSHA and critics of the current regulations is that they are outdated and don't reflect the state-of-the-art. OSHA adopted by reference American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards for various protective clothing and equipment in 1971. However, while ANSI has continued to develop new standards, OSHA's regulations continue to reference the older standards. Therefore, the agency wants to update its regulations to reference the current ANSI standards.

For eye and face protection, for example, OSHA's revisions would reference the new ANSI Z87.1-1989 standard as an acceptable level of protection instead of ANSI Z87.1-1968. The 1989 edition of Z87.1, for example, more clearly defines when eye and face protection should be used and explains how to achieve a proper fit.

Keeping the regulations up-to-date with ANSI standards won't be easy, however. ANSI expects to finalize a new foot protection standard later this year, and a new head protection standard sometime next year. But OSHA presently has no plans to provide a mechanism in the regulations that would allow for automatic updates when new ANSI standards are developed.

It's not acceptable to give over that entire rulemaking to a voluntary standards-setting organization," OSHA's Pierce said. There's always a chance that an ANSI standard could become less stringent, and we would lose some protection. On the other hand, it may become a bit more restrictive, then the cost-benefit analysis would not have gone through a public hearing."

As in the past, Pierce said, the agency will review new ANSI standards individually and announce through an administrative directive if it accepts them, or OSHA can revise its regulations to reflect the new ANSI standards, as it is now trying to do.

OSHA Requirements

In its rulemaking, OSHA is proposing a number of requirements for specific types of PPE, in some cases, going beyond current consensus standards. For example, OSHA is considering requiring that all safety eyewear provide both front and side protection. OSHA is also looking at limiting the use of tinted or variable tinted lenses among workers who pass from well lit to dimly lit areas.

For head protection, OSHA is proposing that employees be required to wear protective helmets when working around falling or moving objects, and that special nonconductive helmets be provided for employees working near exposed electrical conductors. …

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