LOUISVILLE, Ky.-OSHA recently marked its 25th birthday but, dare it be said, there probably aren't a lot of businesses celebrating that momentous occasion. ``If you think OSHA is a small town in Wisconsin, you're in trou-ble,'' remarked Armond Boyes, engineering manager for Goodyear's retread systems. It was one of the few lighthearted moments in an otherwise somber discussion of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration that took place during the recent ITRA conference in Louisville.
A panel of four retreaders and tread rubber and equipment manufacturers answered questions about methods of complying with OSHA, the importance of understanding its regulations, and how they can affect a business.
The participants were: David Kuhre, division manager, Oliver Rubber Co.; Bob Majewski, vice president, Sumerel Tire Service; David Nowling, manager safety administration, Bandag Inc.; Mark Whaley, vice president sales and marketing, Iowa Mold Tooling Co. Inc.; and Mr. Boyes, who moderated the workshop.
OSHA has always been a name that strikes fear.
Yet the overall message of the panel was: Believe it or not, OSHA is in the business of helping companies comply with myriad regulations ranging from the complex to the miniscule, to what some might even deem the ridiculous.
Firms needing resources to aid them in compliance, or to set up a safety program, should go directly to the source-OSHA, instructed Mr. Nowling. ``They're experts in their field, and they're free.''
One of the agency's components is a consulting service that, among other things, will perform on-site appraisals of workplace hazards. By law, any shortcomings the evaluation uncovers cannot be reported to OSHA for incrimination or fines-except in very extreme emergency situations when someone's life is jeopardized.
Other sources of safety information cited by Mr. Nowling include:
Insurance or product liability carriers;
Local educational institutions;
Chambers of commerce, which can put companies in touch with local safety experts; and
A state's Department of Labor/Worker's Compensation.
The following questions were among those answered during the seminar:
Does compliance with OSHA regulations help cut down on workers' compensation claims?
Mr. Majewski answered: ``Definitely-it gets everyone thinking safety and about proper workplace procedures.''
Ever since Goodyear instituted a safety program, Mr. Boyes reported, worker's comp claims have been reduced by 32 percent.
Where can OSHA's rules on servicing multi-piece rim assemblies be found?
Tire dealers and service personnel can either check the agency's regulation on that subject-Code 29, Section 1910, Point 777-or the National Wheel & Rim Association's manual.
What is ``ergonomics?'' Will OSHA have standards on it?
Calling it the ``buzz word of the year,'' Mr. Nowling said ergonomics means fitting a job to a person, not vice versa. ``If you haven't had a case yet with a data entry worker suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, you will,'' he warned.
In Europe there already are standards for ergonomics and other workplace concerns not yet covered in the U.S., he said, ``so you can expect them to eventually show up here, as well.''
Another area in which tire-related businesses probably will be affected in the future, according to Mr. Nowling, involves airborn particulates, especially miniscule specks of rubber the size of grains of sand. Researchers and immunologists have discovered potential links among allergies, respiratory problems, and the rubber material, which has been found in air samples and along roadways in a number of the nation's cities.
Also looming, he predicted, are regulations governing the number of times a worker lifts an object in a day, how it is lifted, and how much it weighs.
On-the-job posture is another area that needs to be looked at, he said, because ``if you're working at a tire builder and leaning over all the time, that's bad posture.''
Get a physical therapist to evaluate your job site, Mr. Nowling suggested, to observe work stations, including how a person does a job, then offer recommendations for improvements.
Studies show that businesses with high accident rates have correspondingly high on-job stress levels involving distractions such as noise, temperature, inappropriate tools, and repetitive motion.
``Worker comfort and well-being are essential,'' Mr. Majewski said.
What are some of the most common day-to-day job site violations cited by OSHA?
Mr. Majewski pointed out the lack of adherence to several rules, including: lockout/tagout for machinery; mounting/dismounting of tires; a rope or chain across any open loading dock more than 27 inches high to prevent a fall; every forklift must have a ``check sheet,'' a fire extinguisher on board and, if equipped with seatbelts, they must be used; propane tanks have to be stored with pin locks; all electrical control boxes must be marked; and worn hooks on equipment must be replaced.
``Do not have any electrical panels open,'' he cautioned. ``A few years ago the fine used to be $7,000-now it's $70,000.
``Telling (OSHA), `I didn't know that,' is no excuse-they don't want to hear it.''
Does OSHA publish lists of hazardous substances?
It categorizes hundreds of chemicals and substances, noted Mr. Kuhre, including toxics, irritants, corrosives, combustibles, flammables and compressed gases.
``As users of rubber products, we must be aware of the hazards of the materials we use,'' he said, ``and should request Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) information from our suppliers.''
It is the responsibility of manufacturers or suppliers to provide an MSDS, Mr. Nowling added.
What is a confined space violation, and how does it affect retreaders?
Mr. Nowling classified a ``confined space'' as one ``not defined for normal or continued occupancy and which does not have a number of means to get in or out''-possibly such as a curing chamber.
However, he said OSHA is not yet sure how it wants to apply that definition, and he recommended any questions be referred either to OSHA or a state agency for an interpretation of the rule.
What is OSHA doing about workplace violence?
Although there currently are no regulations governing violence on the job site, OSHA is in the process of issuing voluntary guidelines, Mr. Kuhre said, and it encourages companies to hold violence-prevention workshops.
He did offer several recommendations: health and safety committees should address the problem; instruct employees about what to do if or when violence occurs; do not punish employees for reporting incidents; have zero tolerance for workplace violence, and make sure employees understand that.
Other controls could also be put in place, including an in-shop ``panic button'' to alert outside authorities to a potentially violent incident if, for example, an employee is fired; metal detectors; on-site ``SWAT''-type teams to handle situations; and counseling/training programs offered to employees to help prevent violence.
As the forum drew to a close, a retreader complained about burdensome federal, state and local regulations, and wondered when businesses could expect some legislative relief from Washington.
In somewhat of a surprising reply, Mr. Nowling said: ``You have to look at why OSHA was established in the first place. We were killing a heck of a lot of (working) people in this country, and needed regulations to curb that.
``I'm not so sure I'm in favor of relaxing regulations-it might be a step backward.
``We're all, for the most part, management in this room, and one of the most important things we should be concerned about is the safety of our employees.''