Safety Requirement Goes Into Effect

By Aram Kalousdian, Editor | September 28, 2010

A federal regulation went into effect on November 24, 2008, requiring workers to wear high-visibility safety apparel when they are within the right-of-way of a federal-aid highway and are exposed either to traffic or to construction equipment within the work area.

"The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration has said that they want us to enforce this until their own rules catch up with this," Brian Zimmerman, work zone administrator for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), told attendees of the 2009 Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association (MITA) Annual Conference. The conference was held at Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mt. Pleasant, MI, in January.

"It will impact your contractor performance evaluation," Zimmerman added. Minimum requirements for high visibility safety apparel include:

  • Use of fluorescent background material
  • Fluorescent material may be yellow-green, orange-red or red
  • Retro-reflective material arranged for 360-degree visibility
  • Garments should be labeled as compliant with ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 or 2006 or ANSI/ISEA 207-2006

Zimmerman added that workers should make sure that their vests are in good condition.

The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) adopted a new five-year strategic plan covering 2009 through 2013. The 2009 year began in October 2008.

"We kept our same three overarching goals that we had in the previous plan. The first one is to improve work place safety and health by reducing hazards, injuries, illnesses, and exposures in work places. Within that we have focus areas, and construction continues to be one of our focus areas," Martha Yoder, deputy director of MIOSHA, said.

"Your industry has made significant progress. While fatalities are around 40 percent of our total workplace MIOSHA-related deaths in Michigan, there was a time when they were closer to 50 percent. That's going in the right direction. We want to continue our work focusing on the four leading causes of fatalities.

"Our second overarching goal is to promote employer and worker awareness and commitment to workplace safety and health programs. We know that companies that have strong safety and health systems that are tailored to the work they do have fewer worker injuries. They have greater worker retention, higher morale and higher productivity. It's definitely an enhancement on a businesses bottom line.

"We offer training. One of our biggest changes in the last year was implementing the MIOSHA Training Institute statewide. We have two certification programs that are up and running. One is a Level I certification in construction. We have had overwhelming response to that. So far, we have 2,000 students in the MIOSHA Training Institute around the state of Michigan." Eighty-eight people have achieved certification to date.

"Our third overarching goal is to be a good public agency, to run our program in a way that increases public confidence in the way we do business and how we do business. Part of that has been work to increase our transparency, to put more of our information in writing and focus on the Web. We like to measure that and see how well we're doing. In 2002 we did a customer survey and we asked 10 questions about how useful MIOSHA information was and how accessible it was. We repeated that survey in 2008. Five hundred eighty-eight of our customers responded to us. We made some significant improvements."

Yoder said that many respondents thought that accessibility to MIOSHA information was good, but she said that more work needs to be done in terms of getting things in writing and posting it on the MIOSHA website.

"The lowest area and our greatest opportunity continues to be the overall quality of MIOSHA programs and services. This is where folks felt that we need to improve. We'll be working on those areas. We want continuous feedback," Yoder said. She encouraged contractors to use customer comment cards that are left with every intervention. "I read every one of those cards, and we are using them in training our staff," she added.

Bob Pawlowski, director of the MIOSHA Construction Safety and Health Division, said that a group is addressing two issues under the new strategic plan, called goals 1.3A and 1.3B. "One deals with reducing fatalities by 20 percent over five years, and the other one deals with reducing injuries and illnesses in the construction industry by 20 percent over the next five years," Pawlowski said.

"We are still targeting the same areas — falls, electrocutions, struck bys, and caught between/caught by. In 2008, we had 15 fatalities statewide. In 2007 we had 11, which is the lowest we've ever had in the construction industry in Michigan. When you look at some of the trends, the overall trends are downward and that's a good thing. So, we're going to keep targeting those areas. Those are the areas that cause 80 percent of the fatalities in construction."

Pawlowski said that MIOSHA has changed the way that good faith has been applied to a citation with penalties.

"The Occupational Safety and Health Act of Michigan says that we must give credit to employers with respect to things they are doing related to safety and health. We call that good faith. From a base penalty, an employer can get up to a 30-percent reduction on that base penalty. In the past, we've used a four-level criteria where we looked to see if there was a safety and health program; if there was a safety and health program that was written and implemented; an implemented program that was not in writing; or a written program that is not implemented," Pawlowski said.

"We've changed this. We're trying to give folks more credit for things they are doing. So, for example, you will see taken into consideration for good faith whether or not an employer has serious violations and whether or not the employer has the correct posters posted. The areas that we are taking into consideration are compliance, cooperation during an inspection, correction or mitigation (the employer is willing to correct things that can be corrected fairly quickly while MIOSHA is at the site), postings and logs, personal protective equipment (employees wearing it and using it correctly), job site appearance, and the MIOSHA Training Institute. There is also a miscellaneous area. We recognize that the employer might be doing other things that they need to be given credit for.

"We also have a few people starting to look at safety and health management systems for employers and we're going to be looking more closely at five categories; management, commitment and planning; employee involvement; safety and health training; work site analysis; and hazard prevention control." Pawlowski said that MIOSHA wants to start talking to people in the construction industry about the benefits of having a good safety and health management system in place.

"We have a group that is going to be working on putting together some information to share with employers that shows how good safety and health programs can reduce injury and illness rates and reduce workers' compensation costs. These are things that you are going to be seeing pretty quickly, if you haven't seen them already," Pawlowski said.

Patty Meyer, safety manager for MIOSHA's Construction Safety and Health Division, said that the Michigan Voluntary Protection Program (MVPP), which has been in existence for some time for general industry, will include the construction industry.

"We're trying to come up with some type of instruction or program so that we can start recognizing some of the construction contractors for their safety and health programs. We started out with alliances, which have been going very well, and then we went to partnerships. Now we're getting to the point where it's time to do MVPP. It's going to be setup for the construction industry. Hopefully we will have the pilot MVPP this year and then we will continue with that this year and go forward," Meyer said.

The MVPP assists employers and employees by providing a mechanism and a set of criteria designed to evaluate and recognize outstanding safety and health management systems. The program is designed to establish a cooperative relationship between management, labor and MIOSHA. MVPP participants implement safety and health management systems that provide protections beyond what is required by MIOSHA standards.

Yoder explained that one of the main differences between the MVPP and partnerships is in the enforcement area.

"In a partnership, a company remains the same as every other company in terms of the possibility of having a scheduled inspection and the scope of those inspections. When we do an MVPP in general industry, we go through and we take a look at the work places. Do they have a safety and health program? We do interviews with employees. We make sure that the safety and health program is working and that it's not just on paper. We do a review of the work site. If everything meets the minimum requirements of the program, they can receive Star status or Rising Star status and the company will be exempt from routine inspections during a three-year period. At the end of the three-year period there will be a re-evaluation," Yoder said.

Yoder said that MIOSHA is currently working with a stakeholder group to see how this will work in the construction business, because the construction business is very different from a fixed-site general industry work place.

MITA Executive Vice President/Secretary Bob Patzer announced his upcoming retirement. Mike Nystrom, MITA vice president of Government and Public Relations, will become executive vice president/secretary.

"After 30-plus years of employment with AUC and MITA, I want you to know that I will be retiring, effective March 1, 2010. I consider myself blessed to have the opportunity to serve the honest and hard-working men and women in the heavy construction industry. I have long believed that success is a journey, not an end. You have been by my side during good, bad, prosperity, and recession. I have been truly grateful for your guidance, patience and counsel. I will never forget your loyalty," Patzer said.

"Fifteen years ago, the AUC Board was very specific and instructed me to hire an individual that was capable of continuing our mission of service to our members. I believe I did exactly that when I hired Mike Nystrom as my assistant executive director at AUC in 1994. The MITA Board validated this decision and unanimously approved Mike to assume my position on March 1, 2010.

"Mike is an intelligent, tireless worker, who, undoubtedly, will do some things differently than I have, but he will certainly carry forward our continued efforts to provide the membership with the services and the level of quality to which they have come to expect."

Glenn J. Bukoski, P.E., vice president of Engineering Services for MITA, represented the association in honoring MDOT Chief Operations Officer Larry E. Tibbits for his many years of service. Tibbits began his MDOT career in 1970. He will be retiring April 1. John S. Polasek, director of MDOT's Bureau of Highway Development, was also recognized by the association for his years of service to MDOT and the citizens of the state of Michigan.