New OSHA Regs for Shipyards: 29 C.F.R. § 1915, Subpart F

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are statutorily responsible for providing safe workplaces for their employees.  The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA), stated role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance to employers and employees.

On May 2, 2011 OSHA released a new standard addressing the general working conditions in shipyard employment.  The standard revised and consolidates, into a single subpart, existing requirements to reflect advances in industry practices and technology.  In addition, this standard provides protection from hazards not addressed by existing shipyard standards, such as motor vehicle safety and the control of hazardous energy.

In 1988, the Shipyards Employment Standard Advisory Committee (SESAC) was established to provide OSHA technical expertise and guidance to OSHA about revising shipyard employment standards.  SESAC finalized its recommendations for revisions to 29 CFR 1915, subpart F, in 1993.  Those revisions were submitted and approved by the Maritime Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, in 1995.  OSHA  published the proposed rule in December 2007, and held public hearings in September and October, 2008 with the public comment period closing February, 2009.  According to Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, “this final rule is the result of collaboration between OSHA and the maritime industry.  Shipyard work is dangerous and we believe we have crafted a rule that protects workers while balancing employer’s concerns regarding implementation.”  The new rule is expected to prevent about 350 serious injuries each year.

Fourteen workplace safety and health categories are addressed in the final rule which updates the shipyard employment standards that had largely gone unchanged since OSHA adopted them in 1972.  Such updates included establishing minimal lighting for certain work areas, accounting for employees at the end of job tasks or work shifts and working alone, and adding uniform criteria to ensure shipyard standards have an adequate number of appropriately trained first aid providers.  The rule also updates sanitation requirements and provides comprehensive lockout/tags-plus rules.  According to data from the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, transportation incidents account for nearly twenty percent of all shipyard fatalities.  The new rule provision is intended to significantly reduce such incidents in part by requiring the use of seat belts when operating motor vehicles in a shipyard.  Other options include dedicated travel lanes, speed limits, corsswalks, street signs, and no-drive times.

The rule becomes effective and enforceable on August 1, 2011.  It will be applicable to all shipyard employment at landside facilities.  The new standard comprehensibly addresses those key hazards relating to general working conditions in shipyards, including the following causes of worker death and injury:  slips, trips, and falls; electrocution, and motor vehicle safety.  The standard also includes guidance on training and maintenance for those employers currently using automatic external defibrillators in shipyard employment, even though the standard does not require employers to provide AED’s.  Several provisions were modified from the proposed rule based on comments and testimony provided by shipyards employers, unions and other stake holders.

For example, employees are permitted to use portable lights in dark spaces, not just hand held portable lights.  Employers may rely on offsite emergency medical services in lieu of onsite first aid responders when the offsite service is able to reach to work site within five minutes.  Lockout/tags – plus will be applied across all servicing operations in shipyard employment including fish processing plants onboard fishing vessels.  The rule also includes provisions for incident investigations, including a requirement that an investigation be initiated within twenty-four hours of each incident that resulted, or could have resulted, in the energization (startup) or release of hazard energy during servicing operations.  Hazardous energy was defined to ensure that employers understand that control of hazardous energy applies to any source or type of energy, including mechanical (for example, power transmission apparatus, counterbalances, springs, pressure and gravity), pneumatic, hydraulic, electrical, chemical and thermal that could cause injury to an employee.  Hazardous substances were defined as substances that may cause injury, illness, or disease or otherwise harm the employee by reason of being flammable, poisonous, corrosive, oxidizing, irritating or otherwise harmful.

Dr. Michaels, stating that these are new areas of coverage for shipyard workers, noted that OSHA received input from the American Shipbuilding Association, the Shipbuilders Council of America, the United Steel Workers and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.  As he said, “we listened to what they told us.  And in the end, we have a better, stronger and more practical standard as a result.”  He also emphasized that it is a performance base standard, one that allows employers options and flexibility to meet the goals.