>Over the past few months, and especially the past few weeks, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has become much more active and aggressive in its enforcement of safety and health related regulations. One of the more disturbing issues we see is the use of the “General Duty Clause”. The General Duty Clause is a part of the original OSHA empowering law that says employers have a “General Duty” to provide a workplace that is free from hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
The law has been around as long as there has been an OSHA but we’ve noticed a stepped up use of the clause, known as a 5(a)1 citation, in recent months. Traditionally it has been used when there is no regulation on the book for a specific hazard, but it seems (only opinion) that the use has been made to allow OSHA to craft new regulations were they think there should be but doesn’t want to wait for or go through the process of rule making. This is very dangerous.
As an example, if someone had a fatal injury in a cotton gin, we would expect to be cited under the agricultural standards. This is because OSHA and the Federal government has always considered us agriculture. OSHA has traditionally made very few rules specific to agriculture because the types of rules in the General Industry Standards just don’t fit the type of work done in ag. We’ve always worked, and OSHA has encouraged us to, as if this gave us the flexibility to do what needs to get done in a way that fits our industry. We’re now finding that, in their minds..or at least it seems this way…that the General Duty Clause means that all regulations apply regardless of the scope of any other regulation.
Hearing protection is an issue where this has come up specifically in our industry lately. The OSHA hearing protection rules and regulations were written with the full time factory worker in mind. It is not clear as to how prolonged exposure to a high noise environment affects people who work in seasonal industries. Some long term hearing loss is due to acute, short term, exposure and some is due to long term or chronic exposure. We fit somewhere in the middle. OSHA has specifically exempted agriculture in numerous opinion letters from the general industry hearing protection standards BUT recent activity has had a number of gins across the country written up for hearing protection violations under the general duty clause.
It is our opinion that we will continue to see this type of activity which it is more important than ever that we re-evaluate our safety program and make sure we’re doing all we can for the places employees can get hurt around a gin. Make sure you bring this up with any association staff when they come by or schedule Barry for a safety audit on his next visit.