The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has set an ambitious agenda for the next six months. Many of its top priorities, identified in the semi-annual agenda released on Dec. 20, involve the construction industry.

While some sources say that OSHA has been revitalized under Assistant Secretary David Michaels, they wonder if the agency might be taking on more than it can accommodate. “OSHA has a lot on its plate,” says Aaron Trippler, director of government affairs for the American Industrial Hygiene Association. “We’re concerned that they may not have the resources to fully address all the issues, such as silica.”

Among the agency’s primary goals are issuing a compliance directive on the cranes-and-derricks rule by June 2011 and issuing a final rule on confined spaces in construction by November 2011, Michaels told attendees during a Dec. 9 Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH) meeting. Another priority is moving forward with some programs that are still in the “pre-rule” stage, including an injury and illness prevention program that would require employers to seek employee input in developing safety programs. Michaels said the program would bring about “the most fundamental change in workplace culture since the signing of the OSHA Act” in 1970.

Although OSHA has not released specifics, observers say construction employers likely will be affected. Some construction groups worry the program could be overly prescriptive. Pete Chaney, director of safety at the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, says, “A lot of our contractors have had great success with programs that they’ve developed. If [the program] is really prescriptive, those contractors would have to change or trash already successful programs.”

Another new proposal in the pre-rule stage would regulate “backing operations” of construction vehicles and equipment. Walter Jones, associate director of occupational safety and health at the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America, who also sits on ACCSH, says a potential rule would be welcome, as workers being hit by vehicles and equipment “is the No. 1 cause of death among workers in highway and heavy construction.”

Brad Sant, vice president of safety and education at the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, says that, after many years of relative inactivity, a lot of new rules are being pushed forward. “We’re glad they’re taking worker safety and health seriously,” he says, “but we’re concerned that the pace of the agenda may not permit sufficient review and input from industry.”

On Dec. 17, Jim Maddux, a 20-year OSHA veteran, was named director of the agency’s construction directorate. He replaces Ben Bare.

Some Key Priorities from OSHA’s 2010 Fall Agenda
* Compliance directive on cranes-and-derricks rule (June 2011)
* Crystalline silica (notice of proposed rule-making April 2011)
* Confined spaces in construction (final action November 2011)
* Injury and illness prevention program (stakeholder meetings began in June
* Backing operations (pre-rule stage)
Source: Labor Dept.