Since 1970, when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was established, it seems as though there has been no end to the addition or changing of regulations. Fortunately, time has provided advances in technology to cope with the growing number of requirements.

OSHA’s Web site and the National Electrical Contractors Association’s (NECA) Safety Expert System software are two resources and applications that can identify and efficiently manage an employer’s obligations. The trick is knowing what is available, identifying what is needed and learning how to navigate to it.

The OSHA site (www.osha.gov) is extremely comprehensive, therefore browsing the site will be counterproductive to most contractors. The following site overview includes this author’s perspective on the value of the various sections or areas to narrow navigation.

Upon accessing the site, a quick look down the center of the page reveals the flavor of OSHA’s current concerns or highlights. The “In Focus” heading identifies deadlines, report results, hazards of current concern, etc.

The “OSHA News” section places news releases OSHA feels are important front and center. The same notices can be found in the “What’s New” link on the side of the page, but are mingled with news releases from OSHA regions across the country.

Contractors, however, may find the regional news informative. The releases may identify programs affecting operations in your area or major contractor citations. These may give an indication of a regional enforcement focus.

The “What’s New” is worth a quick look. The last category down the center is the “Items Open For Comment.” If your company is interested in influencing the development of new OSHA standards, this may be an area to watch.

Along the right side of the home page are a series of links grouped into categories. The first of these is “Compliance Assistance.” It includes “eTools,” “Grants,” “Hispanic Employer/Worker,” “Posters,” QuickCards,” “Quick Start,” “Recordkeeping,” “Small Business” and “Training.”

The “eTools” section links to more than it indicates. Following this link, you can access the “Expert Advisors” section as well as the eTools. The “Expert Advisors” are applications that interview you about buildings and worksites, and tasks performed yielding general guidance.

Although the applicable topics to electrical construction are limited, this area is well worth your time. Another valuable link under “Compliance Assistance” is “Quick Start.” It is not comprehensive, but the construction section offers a quick seven-step guide to the basics of OSHA compliance.

Questions regarding the OSHA standards can be addressed under the links associated with “Laws & Regulations.” The following links are listed: “Standards,” “Interpretations,” “Federal Registers,” “Directives,” and “Dockets and E-comments.” Under the “Interpretations” section, you can view questions posted by others seeking clarification. The “Directives” page provides enforcement guidance for compliance officers. The other links, “Federal Register” and “Dockets and E-comments,” are useful for getting the background on the development of a standard and its intent.

The “Enforcement” links include “Federal Agency Programs,” “Local Emphasis Programs” (LEPs), and the “Whistleblower Program.” The link of most importance for electrical contractors is the LEPs. Each region can establish an enforcement strategy that focuses on a particular industry. Electrical contractors may want to view the LEPs to determine if they may be affected by a particular emphasis. If so, the program may include assistance through outreach programs as well as enhanced enforcement activities.

“Cooperative Programs” direct you to the various programs OSHA has established to gain voluntary compliance and draw attention to companies with good safety records. These programs include the Alliance Program, Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP), Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) and strategic partnerships.

NECA is involved in the National Partnership for Electrical Transmission and Distribution Construction Contractors and Trade Associations. Other regional partnerships or partnerships with host employers or general contractors may also affect electrical contractors. You may want to search the site for partnerships affecting your area or general contractors you plan to work with. The consultation services are often a part of many of these programs and are also available to the average employer. You may want to consider these services.

The “State Programs” link identifies states with their own OSHA programs and explains how they operate. There are 26 state programs overall, with four (New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and the Virgin Islands) governing only public employees. Electrical contractors may find this page very useful regardless of their home state. Links to the individual state programs reveal a wealth of additional resources applicable to any safety program.

The “Newsroom” contains “News Releases,” “Publications,” “Speeches” and “Testimonies.” A very important resource for electrical contractors is the “Publications” link. There are numerous booklets, posters, reference cards and other handouts available free of charge. They can be downloaded or ordered from the OSHA’s publications office.

When accessing the various “Safety/Health Topics,” you will find a broad range of resource information. Whether the topic selected is the biological agents, construction, emergency preparedness or other hazard, the standards that apply, tools available for compliance, and additional sources of information are provided. This offers great in-depth material, but can be overwhelming. Be prepared to take time to filter though the content and extract what is needed.

The “Statistics” page allows you to search inspection data and accident investigations. The inspections results can show the standards most frequently cited for the industry. The accident investigations can be used to review previous problems to determine how to avoid future occurrences.

An “Audiences” section could prove useful to certain contractors depending on their work force and level of program assistance needed. Hispanic workers can check out the “En Español” section and a “Hispanic Employers and Workers” page for compliance assistance information.

The “Small Business” section offers a perspective on safety for this type of employer and describes consultation services available. The “Workers” page identifies their rights and responsibilities as well as an employer’s responsibilities to the worker. The “Teen Workers” page is important if you hire young employees. Did you know it’s illegal to allow teenagers 17 or younger to work in an excavation job?

If you plan to visit the site often and find the large number of options distracting, you can customize the site through the “MyOSHA” link. Here, you can select sections and content or links you want to appear. Although it may take time initially to set up, it can be useful if you visit the site often with the same purpose.

If reviewing the various sections or building your own site seem time consuming, there is an alternative. Like most Web sites, OSHA has a “Search” option. Located at the top of the page, this feature scans the entire site for the words you enter. It will include any entries found in documents within the various sections. The documents listed may be regulations, compliance assistance documents, speeches, etc.

If you know that your inquiry is for a particular type of information, the site offers an “Advanced Search.” For example, to find an OSHA standard, you may check the box for regulations. Only those links associated with the words entered will be displayed. This is extremely helpful as it limits the number of documents you will need to review. For general information, an “A-Z Index” is offered. This provides a list of safety topics and Web site sections by a major heading.

As described, the OSHA site has a wealth of information. It includes many documents or references to build your safety program.

NECA’s software

To target program needs of an electrical contractor, NECA’s Safety Expert System software offers the delivery system and required tracking. It also includes industry-specific information, such as the new National Fire Protection Association NFPA 70E Module.

Information in the software is organized into working documents. This means that they are in a form that can be used by a company to fulfill paperwork requirements with minimal changes. They are also in Microsoft Word format. A compliance and training guide describe how to use the documents and applications in the system to comply with required OSHA standards.

A checklist summarizes the requirements in list format. The “Model Documents” are templates of mandated forms and written programs. Typically, these cannot be found on OSHA’s site in a working format. The sections entitled “References and Access Web Site” link to documents in the software and on OSHA’s Web site. This will enable you to extract content as needed and add it to the working templates in the software.

OSHA training requirements can be met with the documents found in the “Safety Talks,” “Learning Activities” and “Tests/Quizzes” sections. The “Safety Talks” are designed for use as common toolbox talks, and they can be easily administered by supervisors in the field. The “Learning Activities” are designed to enhance toolbox talks by having employees apply concepts to practical situations. The “Tests/Quizzes” can be given orally or in written format.

A series of record-keeping applications in the software help you track safety activities and comply with OSHA mandates. This includes an incident/accident database, which generates the OSHA 301, 300 and 300A reports. A training database enables you to log topics covered and employees in attendance. Other databases range from equipment tracking to disciplinary reports. For more information on the NECA Safety Expert System, call the NECA Order Desk at 301.215.4504, fax 301.215.4500, or e-mail orderdesk@necanet.org.

Clearly, compliance is easier with this technology. The OSHA Web site offers a wealth of text and training materials for an employer and a few materials that may work in the field. The NECA Safety Expert System provides content in a format designed for its ease of use in the field. Together they enable an employer to stay on top of requirements and generate the necessary proof of compliance.     EC

O’CONNOR is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or joconnor@intecweb.com.