New Underground Construction Standards Imminent From OSHA; Pipeline Bill In Congress; Wetland Gas Repairs

June 2011 Vol. 66 No. 6

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) appears ready to propose a new standard on silica exposure which would have a major impact on underground construction companies.

David Michaels, the assistant secretary for labor, provided that tidbit when he testified before a House Appropriations subcommittee recently. OSHA has been considering a new standard for many years, but has never come close to pulling the trigger. Michaels says, "Later this year, we plan to propose an updated standard that will protect workers from the deadly hazards of crystalline silica." Silica exposure is linked to severe lung disease.

Of equal significance, Michaels also says the agency is currently finalizing a confined spaces standard for construction workers. A proposed rule was issued in November 2007. Art Daniel, owner of an underground construction company, testified on the proposed standard on behalf of the Associated General Contractors of America. His company does underground utilities work. Daniel says the proposed standard would place contractors in a "confusing, burdensome, complicated position."

Michaels did not tell the House subcommittee what changes in the proposed rule his agency was likely to make. The proposal set up four classifications of confined space worksites with varying requirements for work practices, training and recordkeeping in each of the four.

Pipeline Safety Bill Starts to Move Through Congress
A new pipeline safety bill started its trek through Congress on May 5 when the Senate Commerce Committee passed The Pipeline Transportation Safety Improvement Act (S. 275). The mild bill is largely unobjectionable to the gas and liquid pipeline industries, but neither does it grant INGAA's long-standing top priority: adopting a risk-based approach to retesting of pipelines in high consequence areas (HCAs). But the bill does not endorse an expansion of HCAs, either, though it does authorize the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to undertake a year-long study which could lead to the agency proposing an expansion of HCAs.