The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have renewed their formal safety alliance and decided to shift gears somewhat, by emphasizing hazard communications and focusing less on ergonomic-related injuries.
The partnership, launched in 2002, was one of OSHA's first. The groups will continue to target machine guarding and lockout/tagout problems that can lead to amputations and other serious injuries, but the new agreement, signed Nov. 3, also concentrates on communicating workplace hazards, a priority for both OSHA and SPI.
Ergonomics, however, was not something SPI wanted to target and no longer is part of the alliance's agenda, said Lee Anne Jillings, director of OSHA's Office of Outreach Services and Alliances.
``We are no longer having ergonomics as an area of identified focus,'' she said.
Ergonomic-related concerns were a top priority of former OSHA chief John Henshaw and that priority was spelled out in the SPI-OSHA agreements in 2002 and again in 2004, including encouraging the development of ergonomic guidelines for plastics. The issue also figured prominently in a speech Henshaw delivered to SPI leaders in 2002.
Susan Howe, SPI's senior technical director for worker and product safety, said the group decided not to focus on ergonomics because of limited resources. Ergonomics is a broad area that OSHA does not formally define, she noted. That makes it harder to work with the agency on the topic, she said.
Since the three most-violated OSHA standards in plastics processing are lockout, machine guarding and hazard communications, it makes sense to focus the alliance's efforts on those areas, Howe said.
In place of ergonomics, the focus on hazard communications is in line with OSHA's push to improve standards for alerting workers to hazards associated with chemicals use.
The agency said it wants to develop global standards, partly so U.S. workers have more-consistent information about imported chemicals.
Both OSHA and SPI said they cannot quantify safety improvements resulting from the alliance, but both said it has worked well. The partnership has developed training programs for lockout and guarding for injection molding, extrusion and thermoforming, and plans one for blow molding as well, Howe said.
The effort also has helped OSHA communicate better with small businesses, according to Jillings.
The SPI-OSHA alliance has conducted training programs and plans to hold several on machine guarding at NPE 2006, the international plastics trade show in Chicago.
Both groups have developed Web sites to spread the information. SPI's is www.plasticsindustry.org/public/worksafe/alliance.htm; OSHA's is www.osha.gov/sltc/plastics/index.html.