About OSHA, some things you can and cannot do

Most OSHA standards are performance oriented. This is a method that allows OSHA to speak in broad generalities when drawing up requirements for employers (ie: funeral homes). The employer has the duty to develop a program that adheres to those guidelines and the freedom to ensure that it fits their specific workplace.

Every year, OSHA releases new interpretations that remind consultants just how much authority and freedom the employer has in operating a safety program. These are summaries of questions that were sent to OSHA by employers, followed by the official OSHA response.

An employer purchases an existing business (ie: funeral home). The staff remains intact. The job assignments are unchanged. Does the new employer have to retrain the employees since they were already trained by their previous employer?

OSHA answers: The performance nature of the standard allows employers to forego retraining employees who have been previously trained by another employer, union or other entity, if the current employer ascertains that the previous training is sufficient to meet the standard's training requirements for the current work being performed.

Gary Finch comments: The formaldehyde, respirator, and bloodborne pathogen standard are performance oriented. We do not view this interpretation as an exemption for from offering free hepatitis B vaccination offers to exposed employees or from conducting new TWA and STEL formaldehyde monitoring samples.

I have written frequently about the importance of answering inspection questions correctly. Assume an inspector questioned a new owner on whether or not they trained employees. The new owner replies; “No, but I certainly intended to and will do it.” That answer is a confession and will probably result in a citation. If the owner had replied; “No, but I looked at their previous training and found it sufficient since we do the exact same thing.” This is allowed and would not result in a citation. In both cases, the new owner did not do the training, but in the second, the question was answered in the correct manner.

Question on the need to label waste that has been decontaminated: OSHA answers: This does not require a label.

Gary Finch comments: It is impossible to distinguish between treated waste and waste that has not been treated because they look the same. It is best to make a label or notation that the waste has been treated and is no longer infectious.

Question on the employer's (ie: funeral home) requirement to enter the employee's social security number on a medical record: By OSHA law, the social security number is required on any medical record, on the sharps injury log, and on the formaldehyde exposure log.

Gary Finch comments: Even though the Social Security number is issued as a means to identify employees, many employees resent having their number appear on various forms. In a number of cases, we have entered (on file) in the space where the social security number would normally be entered. To date, inspectors have not fined anyone but there is always that possibility.

Question on the use of non-required dust masks? Are employees who use filtering facepiece respirators (dust masks) voluntarily (e.g. for employee comfort) also required to have medical evaluations? No. If the employer (ie: funeral home/crematorium) has determined that there is no hazard and dust mask use is voluntary, then no medical evaluation is required. If employers allow voluntary use of this type of respirator, then they must provide the employee the information contained in Appendix D of the standard, and ensure that such respirator will not itself create a hazard.

Gary Finch comments: You can wear the face piece as an odor control device without being subjected to all the red tape in the respirator standard. This does not apply to canister type respirators.

Question: Can MSDS's be stored on a computer to meet the accessibility requirements of HAZCOM? If the employee's work area includes the area where the MSDS's can be obtained, then maintaining MSDS's on a computer would be in compliance. If the MSDS's can be accessed only out of the employee's work area(s), then the employer (ie: funeral home) would be out of compliance with paragraphs (g)(8) or (g)(9) [of the Hazard Communication Standard].

Gary Finch comments: The employee must have the technical skills to access the MSDS off of the computer.

Are funeral homes exempt from the requirement to maintain injury and illness records? In most cases they do have an exemption. If your business establishment is classified in a specific low hazard retail, service, finance, insurance or real estate industry listed in Appendix A to this Subpart B, you do not need to keep OSHA injury and illness records unless the government asks you to keep the records under § 1904.41 or § 1904.42. However, all employers must report to OSHA any workplace incident that results in a fatality or the hospitalization of three or more employees (see § 1904.39).

Gary Finch Comments: Cemetery operations do not have this exemption. If you operate a cemetery under the same entity, you would lose this exemption. If the cemetery operates as a separate entity, then it might have an exemption if it employs less than eleven (full and part time) employees.

Assume you have a corporate company that operates a funeral home, a cemetery and monument shop, and an insurance company. The funeral home and insurance company would be exempt. The cemetery and monument shop would not receive the exemption.