Opposition Expected to OSHA Removing ‘Unexpected’ From Rule

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By Bruce Rolfsen

What a difference one word can make.

OSHA’s idea to remove one word from its lockout/tagout rule—“unexpected”—is drawing criticism from business representatives and equipment manufacturers as the proposal’s comment period draws to a close Jan. 4.

“The impact of the removal of the term ‘unexpected’ would put more of our industry at risk for injuries,” a group representing printing companies, The Graphic Arts Coalition, wrote to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Manufacturer Siemens AG told the agency, “The proposal is out of step with international/global standards and good manufacturing practices.”

OSHA proposed the change Oct. 4 and asked for public comments (81 Fed. Reg. 68,504). The revision is part of a large package of potential rule changes known as Standard Improvement Project-Phase IV (RIN:1218-AC67).

The lockout/tagout rule requires employers to have safety systems in place to prevent workers from being injured by machinery that starts operating without the workers’ anticipation. Often the process involves a worker using a keyed lock to secure a power switch in the off position and not removing the lock until the task is completed.

The rule (29 C.F.R. 1910.147) often applies to maintenance when workers may have their limbs or entire body inside a space where they could be crushed or otherwise injured if a machine starts moving.

Warning Workers

OSHA wants to remove “unexpected” from the phrase “unexpected energization” to clarify that warning a maintenance worker a machine is about to start is not the same as requiring the machine to be disconnected from a power source with only the maintenance worker able to restart the machine.

In its proposal, OSHA said the agency “intended the phrase ‘unexpected energization’ to mean any re-energization or startup that occurs before the servicing employee removes the lockout/tagout device from the energy isolation device or equivalent energy control mechanism.”

A change OSHA sees as a clarification, raises industry concerns for several reasons.

Opponents of the change point to a 1996 federal appeals court decision and a 1995 Occupational Safety and Review Commission final order concluding the rule only applies to equipment and machines where the energization or start up would be unexpected by employees ( Sec. of Labor v. Gen. Motors Corp., OSHRC, No. 91-2973, 4/26/95 ; Reich v. Gen. Motors Corp., 89 F.3d 313, 17 OSHC 1673 (6th Cir. 1996)).

If OSHA makes the change, employers would have to revise safety procedures now complying with court and commission decisions, industry groups said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said OSHA understated the business costs of complying with the revised rule and severity of the proposed change’s effect.

Removing the term unexpected “would add to the regulatory burden on employers by broadening the lockout requirement in 1910.147 to encompass cases not now covered,” the chamber said.

Although OSHA tries to give the impression that the change would merely outlaw reliance on “the exclusive use of warning devices,” the chamber said, the revision would also ban every device and method that may now be used to “negate the unexpectedness of a startup, including highly reliable modern control circuitry.”

Also, the change would put U.S. regulations even more out of sync with safety rules in Europe. Equipment makers using European machine designs told OSHA they would have to alter machines intended for the U.S.

Many comments said OSHA should look at overhauling the entire rule, not just a single word change, to bring the standard in line with international and U.S. consensus standards.

Engineer Ed Grund, chairman of the American National Standards Institute committee overseeing the voluntary U.S. lockout/tagout standard (ANSI/ASSE Z244 ASC), told OSHA, “it is now time for OSHA to begin the process of revising the entire 1910.147 standard where comprehensive improvements can be made.”

OSHA has said the agency intends to issue a request for information about wider changes to the lockout/tagout rule, however the agency missed its goal of releasing the request in December (RIN:1218-AD00).

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at BRolfsen@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

Comments and additional information are available at http://www.regulations.gov by referencing Docket No. OSHA-2012-0007-0031.The proposed rule is available at http://src.bna.com/i52

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