Taking Stock of 2015
One of the year's most significant enforcement developments occurred late in the year, in November: President Obama signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.
Here are some of the notable workplace safety and health megatrends of 2015:
- The global PPE market continued to grow, with fall protection being one of the fastest-growing segments, estimated by MSA at $1.5 billion to $2 billion globally. This growth drove 3M’s $2.5 billion acquisition of Capital Safety and MSA's $191 million acquisition of Latchways plc in 2015.
- OSHA was very active on the enforcement front in 2015, adding several companies to its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, including an Illinois construction company fined nearly $2 million and an Ohio chicken processor fined $861,000. The agency cited several companies for not reporting injuries as required by its newly revised recordkeeping rule.
- Preliminary results released in September 2015 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries showed fatal work injuries increased by 2 percent in 2014 from the prior year, to 4,679 fatal injuries. The number of fatal falls, slips, and trips rose by 10 percent in 2014 from the previous year. The number of oil and gas workers who died on the job rose from 112 in 2013 to 143 in 2014 (a 28 percent increase) and construction deaths rose by 6 percent to 874 in 2014. Highlighting a major concern for OSHA and NIOSH leaders, the preliminary data showed 797 contract workers died in 2014, 6 percent more than the 749 fatally injured contract workers reported in 2013. Workers who were contracted at the time of their fatal injury accounted for 17 percent of all fatal work injury cases in 2014, according to BLS.
- U.S. single family housing starts rose in July 2015 to an annual rate of 1.21 million, the highest level since October 2007. Builder sentiment in September rose to 62, the highest reading since October 2005, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
- New OSHA standards, in particular the construction confined spaces standard, the revised Hazard Communication Standard aligned with GHS, and the revised 1910.269, the Electrical Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution standard, accelerated the sales of fall protection equipment, flame-resistant apparel, and GHS software and chemical management solutions.
- Health care employment nationwide climbed, with BLS reporting 18,605,000 filled positions in July 2015. More than 500,000 new hires per month were made in health care in April through June 2015. OSHA on June 25 revised its guidance for how compliance officers should inspect inpatient health care facilities, specifically directing them to look for ergonomic injuries caused by lifting or moving patients. BLS data for 2013 showed 44 percent of all injuries reported in U.S. health care were related to overexertion, with nurses, orderlies, and personal care assistants all having high rates of such injuries.
Enforcement Actions and Increased Civil Penalties
From regional emphasis programs involving poultry processors in Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia to a parade of companies added to its Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP), OSHA's compliance officers and regional directors stayed busy during 2015. The new injury reporting requirement and a focus on staffing firms and contract employees added to the enforcement scorecard.
A November 2015 case involved both. OSHA cited MooreCo Inc., a furniture manufacturer, for nine violations—six serious and three repeat—and placed the Temple, Texas, company in SVEP after two machine guarding incidents injured two temporary workers. The May 2015 inspection was done in response to an employee referral under the new reporting requirements, according to OSHA, which proposed $122,500 in fines against MooreCo and $38,500 against Manpower Group US Inc., the temporary staffing agency that placed the workers, according to the agency.
And one of the year's most significant enforcement developments occurred late in the year, in November: President Obama signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which contains a Section 701 that requires federal agencies to increase their civil monetary penalties to adjust them for inflation, with the first adjustment to take effect by Aug. 1, 2016, and annual adjustments required thereafter. The measure caps the first increase at no more than 150 percent.
2015's Top Stories
OSHA Finalized Construction Confined Spaces Final Rule
On May 1, 2015, OSHA published its long-awaited final rule on construction confined spaces. The agency had been working on it for more than two decades and ultimately decided, based on stakeholders' comments, to make it more like the general industry confined spaces standard than originally planned. Some provisions in it are for construction-specific hazards, including requirements to ensure that multiple employers share vital safety information and continuously monitor air contaminant and engulfment hazards—something the agency said is possible because of technology developed in the years since the general industry standard took effect.
The rule went into effect on Aug. 3, 2015; OSHA predicted it will reduce the average number of annual injuries and fatalities in confined spaces covered by the rule by 96 percent.
The rule established a new 29 CFR 1926 subpart that replaced OSHA's lone training requirement for construction confined space work, 29 CFR 1926.21(b)(6). OSHA stated in the rule that it is a comprehensive standard that includes a permit program designed to protect employees from exposure to many hazards associated with work in confined spaces, including atmospheric and physical hazards.
OSHA said it recognizes that the differences between the general industry standard, 1910.146, and the final rule "can make it more complicated for employers to comply with two different sets of procedures if they perform maintenance and construction work at the same time in the same confined space." So, in order to ease the compliance burden on these employers, OSHA said it considers compliance with the final rule as compliance with 1910.146.
BP Agreed to $18.7 Billion Deepwater Horizon Settlement
BP plc announced July 2, 2015, that it had reached agreements in principle to settle all federal and state claims arising from the Deepwater Horizon well blowout, fire, and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The energy giant announced that its U.S. upstream subsidiary, BP Exploration and Production Inc., executed the agreements with the U.S. federal government and five Gulf Coast states—Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, adding that they included settlement of claims made by more than 400 local government entities.
"Five years ago, we committed to restore the Gulf economy and environment, and we have worked ever since to deliver on that promise. We have made significant progress, and with this agreement we provide a path to closure for BP and the Gulf. It resolves the company's largest remaining legal exposures, provides clarity on costs, and creates certainty of payment for all parties involved," said Carl-Henric Svanberg, BP's chairman. "In deciding to follow this path, the board has balanced the risks, timing, and consequences associated with many years of litigation against its wish for the company to be able to set a clear course for the future. The board therefore believes that this agreement is in the best long-term interest of BP and its shareholders. The board set out its position on the dividend at the first quarter and this remains unchanged by the agreement."
Takata Fined $70 Million in Airbag Recall Case
The U.S. government fined Takata Corp. $70 million for the way it mishandled air bag recalls. This, the largest civil penalty ever issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, was issued for Takata’s violations of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and was the first time NHTSA had used its authority to accelerate recall repairs to millions of affected vehicles. One of the agency’s orders set deadlines for future recalls of other Takata inflators that use a suspect propellant unless they were proved to be safe.
"For years, Takata has built and sold defective products, refused to acknowledge the defect, and failed to provide full information to NHTSA, its customers, or the public," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Oct. 3, 2015. "The result of that delay and denial has harmed scores of consumers and caused the largest, most complex safety recall in history. Today’s actions represent aggressive use of NHTSA’s authority to clean up these problems and protect public safety."
A consent order issued to Takata imposed a record civil penalty of $200 million, with $70 million payable in cash, and required the company to phase out the manufacture and sale of inflators that use phase-stabilized ammonium nitrate propellant, which NHSTA said is believed to be a factor in explosive ruptures that caused seven deaths and nearly 100 injuries in the United States.
This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.