Safety and Health Article Archive

Misconceptions About OSHA

By David F. Coble, CSP

After 23 years in the OSHA standards business, I've learned that there are a number of misunderstandings and wrong perceptions about OSHA's policies and standards, and the consensus standards. For example, don't all top rails in guardrails have to be 42 inches high; doesn't OSHA have the authority to shut down a plant or machine; isn't the general duty clause dead; and aren't scissors lifts covered by 29 CFR 1910 Subpart F? Let's find out the truth!

Misunderstanding: The height of the top rail in a guardrail must be 42 inches.

Truth: OSHA standard 1910.23 (e)(1) requires a height of 42 inches. However, OSHA states in Interpretation STD 1-1.10 that a height of 36 to 44 inches is acceptable. This helps grandfather in pre-OSHA built rails that many times were installed at 36 to 38 inches.

Misunderstanding: Federal OSHA has the authority to shut down a piece of equipment, process, or the entire workplace.

Truth: Federal OSHA does not have this authority. At Section 13(a) of the Federal OSHAct, a district court judge must issue an order for an employer to stop an operation. This rarely occurs.

Misunderstanding: The use of the General Duty clause is dead.

Truth: After reviewing the BNA "Occupational Safety and Health Reporter," safety magazines, actual citations, and law office newsletters, the use of Section 5 (a)(1) of the Federal OSHAct for citations appears to be quite common.

Misunderstanding: Subpart F of 1910 covers motorized scissors lifts.

Truth: Subpart F covers powered platforms, manlifts, and vehicle mounted work platforms. None of these include scissors lifts. OSHA covers the safety of scissors lifts by General Duty referencing ANSI A 92.6.

Misunderstanding: OSHA still requires the use of split toilet seats.

Truth: OSHA removed that requirement back in the 1970's. Your toilet seats can be solid front or split front. As long as they're clean, OSHA doesn't care about toilet seats.

Misunderstanding: OSHA specifies which vehicles are powered industrial trucks and which are not.

Truth: OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.178 (a)(1) provides a scope for this standard. However, the manufacturer of the vehicle determines if the vehicle is a powered industrial truck and consequently if 1910.178, ANSI B 56.1, and NFPA 505 apply.

Misunderstanding: All belt drives must be guarded.

Truth: In fact, 29 CFR 1910.219 (a)(1) excluded from guarding belt drives of certain widths traveling at 250 feet per minute or less. This was adopted from the 1953 ANSI B 15.1 code. However, the latest ANSI B 15.1 standards have removed that exemption, but OSHA has retained it. The best practice is to guard all belt drives unless there's no chance they will hurt you.

Misunderstanding: Controls must be on the platform mounted to the forks of the lift truck when lifting personnel.

Truth: Actually, the appropriate standard (1910.178 (m)(12)) states that "whenever the controls are elevatable with the lifting carriage . . ." certain other precautions must be taken. Controls do not have to be on the platform. The General Duty clause would require an attendant at the controls on the forktruck or other equally effective safety measures.

Misunderstanding: OSHA requires all compressed gas cylinders to be secured from falling over.

Truth: Two OSHA 1910 standards apply and one 1926 standard applies. In construction, 1926.350 (a)(9) requires oxygen and fuel gas cylinders to be secured in an upright position. In general industry, 1910.253 (b)(2)(ii) requires oxygen and fuel gas cylinders used in welding and cutting to have "assigned storage spaces . . . where cylinders will not be knocked over or damaged by passing or falling objects." The word "secured" is not used. The reasonable approach to assure cylinders will not be knocked over is to secure them. All other compressed gas cylinders such as argon, nitrogen, hydrogen, etc. not associated with welding and cutting operations are regulated by 1910.101 (b) which incorporates by reference Compressed Gas Association Pamphlet P-1. Paragraph 3.5.8 of P-1 (1984) states "compressed gas cylinders in service or in storage shall be stored standing upright where they are not likely to be knocked over, or the containers shall be secured." The best thing to do is positively secure all cylinders.

I welcome your response about any misperceptions that you have found. E-mail your experiences to me.

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