Wednesday, July 02, 2003

NMMA Comments Re: OSHA Notice of Reopening of the Rulemaking Record for Walking and Working Surfaces; Personal Protective Equipment (Fall Protection Systems) (29 CFR 1910)
Published in the Federal Register May 2, 2003 (68 Fed. Reg. 23528)

July 31, 2003

OSHA Docket Office
Docket No. S-029
Room N-2625
US Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue NW
Washington DC 20210

Dear Sir / Madam:

The following comments are being offered by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) in response to the OSHA Notice of Reopening of the Rulemaking Record for Walking and Working Surfaces; Personal Protective Equipment (Fall Protection Systems). (29 CFR 1910) published in the Federal Register on Friday, May 2, 2003 (68 Fed. Reg. 23528). 

The NMMA with over 1400 members is the leading trade association of US recreational boat, marine engine and marine accessory manufacturers. NMMA members include small, medium and large businesses. Our boat builder members would be directly impacted by these proposed amendments. NMMA members consider safety to be their number one priority and offer the following comments so that OSHA can finalize a feasible and effective rule.

Subpart D: Hierarchy of Fall Protection Controls

NMMA has serious concerns with the technical feasibility of boat builders to provide guardrails when performing work on large boats.  This is especially true after the boat leaves the production line and enters the final assembly stage, which requires working on open decks. These boats are in a cradle, on dry land, at heights greater than four feet. The contour of the hull and the width of the beam make it impossible to work from a platform alongside the boat.

As an alternative to guardrails, boat builders have considered the feasibility of the use of static lifelines, with retractable lanyards and full body harnesses. These systems would require that the boat be located under a canopy or other roof structure, which is capable of supporting the lifelines. This is not always feasible. Lifeline systems would also be very expensive and very restrictive to the worker.

At some point in the assembly process, railing is installed for the protection of the boater while underway on the water. In addition, the majority of the assembly work is performed in the enclosed cabin area.   

NMMA strongly urges that OSHA either maintains the current hierarchy of fall protection controls or exempt recreational boat manufacturing from these new proposed requirements.

Elimination of the provision on hierarchy of fall protection would not impact boat builders, as they generally utilize either the proposed hierarchy or a similar hierarchy. The concern involves those situations commonly found in boat manufacturing where it is infeasible to install guardrails or utilize any other fall protection system.  Boat builders need the flexibility to utilize hazard training and restricting access to authorized employees as an equivalent method of employee protection compared to personal fall protection systems.

Subpart I: Personal Protective Equipment

NMMA has the same concerns with the proposed personal protective equipment requirements as we do with the hierarchy. NMMA has no objection to OSHA adding language to Subpart I reinforcing employer’s current obligation to provide fall protection whenever employees are exposed to any fall hazard of four feet or more. It is just infeasible, in some instances, for boat manufacturing facilities to install personal fall prevention systems.

In lieu of PPE, NMMA strongly urges OSHA to allow boat builders to utilize employee training and restriction of access to unauthorized employees.

When personal fall protection is feasible, it should meet the appropriate ANSI standards and be certified by the manufacturer. However the more complex and complicated the OSHA regulation, the more difficult it becomes for general industry to comply. This is not only because of the technical complexity, but also because of the variability in interpretation by OSHA enforcement inspectors. NMMA recommends that if OSHA decides to retain the personal fall protection requirements in the proposed Subpart I, it needs to be simplified. This will ultimately improve employee safety and reduce injuries and fatalities due to falls.      

1910.25: Stairs

NMMA strongly urges OSHA to add recreational boats to the list of exempt equipment, which currently includes “mobile equipment, articulated stairs that may be installed on floating roof tanks, waterfront dock facilities…”

On most boats we are referring to the stairs that lead from the deck to the bridge. Boatbuilders design these stairs to consider every condition a boater will experience while climbing stairs. This includes climbing while the boat rolls and pitches and maintaining balance under the severe gravitational forces and changes in angle when a boat is underway.

The prescriptive nature of this proposed requirement does not necessarily harmonize with the design of stairs on most boats. While boat stairs may not meet the OSHA proposed criteria, the Agency can be assured that these stairs are designed to consider the safety of the consumer in conditions far more hazardous than when a boat is being assembled on dry land.   

Body Belts vs. Body Harnesses

NMMA agrees with OSHA that employers might want to consider gradually phasing out of body belts and replacing them with body harnesses. NMMA agrees that body harnesses distribute the stress more evenly during a fall event. There may be some comfort issues and limits to a full range of motion, which could equate into minor productivity losses, but NMMA feels that these losses would be insignificant.

With that considered, NMMA has not seen any boat builder injury data that would support the need for eliminating body belts. Our paramount concern is that boat builders utilize personal fall protection, where feasible. NMMA would be very concerned if OSHA were to require boat builders to expend resources for safety equipment when there is no data to support the need to change.

Rather than regulating the elimination of body belts, NMMA recommends that OSHA publish guidance that details the benefits of a gradual phase out of body belts and replacing them with body harnesses. This will provide a benefit without implementing a costly, unsupported burden on businesses.

If OSHA disagrees with NMMA’s concerns and proceeds with setting an arbitrary date for a de facto ban on body belts, the Agency needs to consider the cost burden vs. the safety benefit.  OSHA would also have to consider the size of the businesses being regulated, various tasks performed, and necessary training. NMMA would want to participate in this process. 

NMMA appreciates the opportunity to provide comment on these proposed changes to the rule. We urge you to consider our concerns. Please contact me at 202-721-1604 or, if you need more information or would like to visit a boat builder that manufactures vessels that would be covered under this rule.


John McKnight
Director, Environmental and Safety Compliance

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