• New Publications Provide Guidance for OSHA Compliance
  • May 15, 2009
  • Law Firm: Ford & Harrison LLP - Atlanta Office
  • The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently issued two publications that will help employers understand and comply with procedures used by the agency to ensure workplace safety. The first, the Field Operations Manual (FOM), replaces the 15-year-old Field Inspection Reference Manual (FIRM), and provides OHSA compliance officers and employers with a single comprehensive resource of updated guidance in implementing and complying with the agency's health and safety regulations. The second, the Assigned Protection Factors (APF), is a new guidance document published on April 1 to provide employers with vital information for selecting respirators for employees exposed to contaminants in the air such as dust, gases, mists, or vapors in accordance with the Respiratory Protection standard that was revised in 2006. These publications are valuable tools that covered employers can use to learn about OHSA procedures and stay in compliance with agency regulations.

    The Field Operations Manual replaces the Field Inspection Reference Manual, which was issued on September 26, 1994, and constitutes OSHA's general enforcement policy and procedures for use by the agency's field offices when conducting inspections, issuing citations and proposing penalties. The manual is the guiding document for OSHA's compliance officers in scheduling and conducting inspections, enforcing regulations, determining violations, and calculating penalties.

    Employers can benefit from this manual by learning about agency inspection procedures, the process the agency uses when issuing citations, the method used when calculating penalties and settlements, and how to contest citations. The manual also outlines OSHA resources available to employers to assist them in keeping in compliance with OSHA regulations. The 329 page manual is available online at: http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/Directive_pdf/CPL_02-00-148.pdf.

    Assigned Protection Factors (APF), a new guidance document issued by OSHA on April 1, 2009, provides employers with vital information for selecting respirators for employees exposed to contaminants in the air such as dust, gases, mists, or vapors. OSHA revised its existing Respiratory Protection standard in 2006 to add Assigned Protection Factors (APFs) and Maximum Use Concentration (MUC) provisions. The final Respiratory Protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134 and 29 CFR 1926.103) applies to general industry, construction, longshoring, shipyard, and marine terminal workplaces. APF and MUC are mandatory respirator selection requirements that can only be used after respirators are properly selected and are used in compliance with the entire Respiratory Protection standard. This standard requires fit testing, medical evaluations, and specific training in proper respirator use.

    Assigned Protection Factor means the workplace level of respiratory protection that a respirator or class of respirators is expected to provide to employees when the employer implements a continuing, effective respiratory protection program as specified by OSHA regulations. The higher APF number (5 to 10,000), the greater the level of protection provided to the user. APFs are used to select the appropriate class of respirators that will provide the necessary level of protection against airborne contaminants.

    Maximum Use Concentration (MUC) means the maximum atmospheric concentration of a hazardous substance from which an employee can be expected to be protected when wearing a respirator, and is determined by the APF of the respirator and the exposure limit of the hazardous substance. The MUC usually can be determined mathematically by multiplying the assigned protection factor specified for a respirator by the permissible exposure limit (PEL), short-term exposure limit, ceiling limit, peak limit, or any other exposure limit used for the hazardous substance. MUC is the upper limit at which the class of respirator is expected to provide protection. Whenever the exposures approach the MUC, the employer should select the next higher class of respirators for the employees. When the calculated MUC exceeds the Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) level for a hazardous substance, or the performance limits of the cartridge or canister, then employers must set the maximum MUC at that lower limit. Therefore, care must be taken when selecting a respirator so as not to run afoul of this selection process.

    Together these documents should help covered employers to understand and comply with OSHA regulations and procedures. It should be noted that there is now a 2009 appropriations bill before Congress, endorsed by President Obama, that seeks to increase spending for OSHA by $27 million, which would bring the department's total budget to over $513 million. The bill requires that the increase not only be used to rebuild OSHA's enforcement capacity, but also to increase the pace at which the agency creates new safety standards. If passed, employers can expect not only an increase in inspections, but additional regulations aimed at improving workplace safety.