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Safety Checklist Program for Schools

October 2003
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication Number 2004-101
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Chapter 1: Making Sense of Regulations

Understanding Regulations

In dealing with regulations, it is important to know the levels of government, the enforcement agencies, their vocabulary, who or what they protect, and what they regulate before you can understand the regulations.

Regulations are created by Federal, State, county and municipal governments. States, counties and municipalities must comply with all Federal regulations. Counties and municipalities must comply with all State regulations and so on. In most cases, States, counties, and municipalities may add to existing higher level regulations or may issue new regulations in areas where no higher level regulations exist. You may find, therefore, differing regulations as you move from one area to another.

Federal, State, county, and municipal agencies or governing bodies have the power to issue and enforce regulations. These groups include the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), State agencies, county boards of health, municipal boards of health, or town councils. It is beyond the scope of the Safety Checklist Program to address State, county, or municipal regulations.

Federal statutes or acts are passed by Congress and become part of the U.S. Code. Regulations may then be issued and enforced by a designated agency charged with that responsibility. Federal regulations are first issued in the Federal Register. After a public comment period, final Federal regulations are compiled in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and can be cited by title, part, and section. Thus, 29 CFR 1910.120 refers to Title 29, Part 1910, section 120.

The laws are designed to protect private sector employees, public employees (Federal, State, county, and municipal employees, including public school teachers), private and public school students, the general public, and the environment. Each agency has jurisdictional responsibilities for promulgating and enforcing regulations to protect these groups. In addition, each agency has defined areas of hazards that it regulates.

This arrangement of regulations can cause confusion about what to do and whom to call about complying with the multitude of regulations. The next section, Overview of Regulatory Agencies, outlines what hazards each organization regulates in career-technical educational programs in public schools.

U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Employment Standards Administration/Wage and Hour Division

The Employment Standards Administration (ESA) defines and addresses fair labor standards, minimum hourly wages for agriculture and non-agriculture workers, prohibitions to hazardous work for minors, maximum hours of employment for students during the school year and off school. Child Labor rules and regulations for young workers under age 18 are issued and and governed by the Wage and Hour Division which is under ESA and U.S. DOL. Student-workers depending on their age are limited to the number of working hours, and are prohibited from working at certain types of hazardous jobs (Hazardous Orders). Additional restrictions to working hours and type of jobs may be imposed by individual States. Students enrolled in a career school, apprenticeship, or other student-learner programs may be exempt from some Hazardous Orders.

DOL Regulations for Young Workers:

Overview of Regulatory Agencies

Level Agency Hazards addressed Jurisdiction
Federal U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) — Employment Standards Administration — Wage and Hour Division Young workers prohibited to work in certain types of hazardous jobs Limits to number of working hours All workers especially young workers under age 18
Federal U.S. Department of Labor — Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Safety and health hazards in the workplace Private and Federal employees
Federal U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Environmental, safety, and health hazards General public and the environment
State State Department of Labor (DOL) Safety and/or health hazards in the workplace State, county, and municipal employees (sometimes States assume responsibility for private employees as well)
State State Department of Health (DOH) Health hazards in the workplace and selected health-related services to the general public State, county, and municipal employees and the general public
State State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Environmental, safety, and health hazards The general public and the environment
State State Department of Education (DOE) Environmental, safety, and health hazards Students and teachers in private and public schools
State State Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Fire and building construction safety The general public
Municipal Municipal boards, departments, etc. Depends on the code or ordinance Residents and workers in the municipality

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

OSHA is a Federal Agency that promulgates and enforces standards dealing with occupational safety and health as they apply to private and Federal employees in the workplace. The legislative mandate for OSHA comes from the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Under the Act, OSHA does not have jurisdiction over State and local government employees, including those in public schools.

Section 18 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act allows States to develop OSHA-approved State plans giving the State regulatory and enforcement responsibilities for occupational safety and health within its borders (refer to the section “Federal Government Agencies, OSHA State-Plan States” in Appendix A: Resource Agencies and Organizations. Section 18 requires these “State-plan” States to have standards and enforcement that are identical to (or at least as protective as) Federal OSHA standards. These State plans are also required to extend their coverage to all State and local government workers, including those in public schools. Twenty-six States have OSHA-approved State plans. These States, in addition to enforcement programs, have extensive voluntary compliance programs, including on-site consultation services available to public sector employees.

In States under Federal OSHA without State plans, OSHA has no authority to inspect or enforce standards in public schools. However, the local Federal OSHA office may be able to provide hazard recognition assistance and technical support. Extensive compliance assistance information is also available on OSHA’s Web site and in Federal and State publications. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may enforce certain OSHA standards, such as Hazardous Waste Operations (29 CFR 1910.120) or relevant EPA standards in public schools.

When students are compensated for work done outside the school, as they are in cooperative educational programs, they are defined as workers under the Occupational Safety and Health Act or an OSHA-approved State plan. In such cases, the students will be covered by the standards.

OSHA issues standards in the Federal Register that are compiled in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), described below. The OSHA-approved State plan states issue-comparable standards that are identical to or “at least as effective as” Federal OSHA’s standards:

  • 29 CFR 1910 for General Industry Standards
  • 29 CFR 1915 for Shipyard Employment
  • 29 CFR 1917 for Marine Terminals
  • 29 CFR 1918 for Longshore Safety
  • 29 CFR 1926 for Construction Standards
  • 29 CFR 1928 for Agricultural Standards

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The EPA is a Federal agency that promulgates and enforces regulations dealing with protection of the environment and the general public. It covers areas such as collection and disposal of hazardous waste (including regulated medical waste), air pollution, water pollution, drinking water quality, pesticides, solid waste, hazardous waste sites, hazardous material releases that threaten the environment, asbestos in public schools, noise pollution, and many other areas. EPA receives legislative direction from numerous acts or statutes. The most notable of these include:

  • Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)
  • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)
  • Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 (CAAA)
  • Clean Water Act (CWA)
  • Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund)
  • Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)
  • Emergency Planning and Community Right To Know Act as part of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA)
  • Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)

All regulations issued by EPA are compiled in Title 40 of the CFR. EPA does not routinely inspect and enforce these regulations in schools. Most State environmental agencies have assumed responsibility for adopting their own regulations and enforcing Federal EPA regulations. The only laws potentially involving direct EPA enforcement in schools are the RCRA (which regulates hazardous waste), the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), and Title VI of the Clean Air Act dealing with stratospheric ozone protection.

State Department of Labor

A State normally has an agency that can promulgate and enforce safety regulations as they apply to State, county, and municipal employees in the workplace. Students are not covered. However, a State legislative mandate is necessary for these regulations to be developed. Some States have “adopted by reference” the OSHA general industry standards, construction standards, and agricultural standards for public employees. “Adoption by reference” means that a regulatory agency requires compliance with regulations already issued by another agency. Some States have also become a State OSHA program, taking on responsibility for enforcing Federal OSHA regulations in their State through the Department of Labor.

State Department of Health

A State also has a department of health that promulgates and enforces health regulations. Its activities must also be directed by legislative mandate. Some State departments of health assist their department of labor in developing and enforcing occupational health regulations in the workplace as they relate to employees.

The Department of Health also typically issues regulations dealing with retail food establishments. Inspectors enforcing retail food laws are typically employed by county or municipal health departments. Information about food regulations should be directed to the county or municipal health department serving your school area.

State Department of Environmental Protection

States typically have a department of environmental protection that promulgates and enforces regulations dealing with the protection of the environment and the general public. It often covers the same areas addressed by EPA—such as collection and disposal of hazardous waste (including regulated medical waste), air pollution, water pollution, drinking water quality, pesticides, solid waste, hazardous waste sites, hazardous material releases that threaten the environment, environmental noise pollution, radiation, and many other areas. Most States are authorized by the EPA to enforce almost all EPA regulations. States normally issue their own regulations incorporating the Federal regulations.

State Department of Education

The State Department of Education issues regulations covering all private and public elementary and secondary schools. Some State departments of education have issued regulations dealing with environmental and occupational safety and health for students. State departments of education may also issue regulations related to school construction.

Note: Schools and students may be subject to other restrictions besides regulations. School districts and the State Department of Education may have policies or guidelines that control environmental, safety, and health programs. Although they do not have the force of law, they have the same effect. It is important to understand what is required by law and what is required by policy. By knowing the source of the requirement, it is easier to find the party best able to answer any questions about the requirements.

Department of Community Affairs

Typically, an agency such as the Department of Community Affairs in a State promulgates and enforces building and fire safety regulations. Most States have adopted the Building Officials and Code Administrators (BOCA) codes for buildings and the National Fire Protection Association Codes for fire safety.

Putting Regulations into Practice

Regulations are written to prevent certain hazards in specific situations or to establish procedures to ensure safe and healthful conditions. However, not every hazard or situation has a corresponding regulation. The inspector enforcing regulations is primarily interested in preventing the hazard and uses regulations as a tool to achieve this goal. The inspector’s job is to ensure that everyone is made aware of potential problems and that these problems are corrected. The inspector looks at the seriousness of the hazard before citing violations or issuing fines.

It is important to have some understanding of the inspector’s purpose and method of operation. Refer to Appendix C: Suggestions for Facilitating Inspections of this manual for more information.

To establish that a violation exists, the inspector refers to a particular regulation or statute. The regulation must be applicable to the situation encountered during the inspection. The inspector can only enforce regulations from an agency he or she officially represents. Observed violations of regulations from other agencies may be referred to the appropriate enforcement official or the inspector may simply make a recommendation that the violation be corrected.

In some cases, the inspector may observe a hazard needing correction for which there is more than one applicable regulation. An experienced inspector will cite the regulation which most closely indicates the violation and the hazard.

In some cases, the inspector may observe a hazard needing correction for which there is no regulation. The inspector may cite a very general regulation, if it exists, or may use a specific statutory provision for this situation such as the “General Duty Clause” that exists in the OSHA Act. All violations of general regulations and statutes should be supported by additional detailed information about the nature of the violation. Often standards issued by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), and other organizations are cited in support of general violations.

In some cases, regulations may be quite specific and clear. In other cases, they may be very broad in scope. Sometimes an inspector must use professional judgment in making a decision as to what the regulation means and whether a particular situation is a violation of that regulation. In some cases, the enforcing agency has taken an official position about what a particular regulation says. A cited party who disagrees with an agency enforcement action can take the enforcement agency to court. If this happens, the court interprets the regulation.

After an inspector has established a violation, the violation must be corrected (or abated) in a defined time period. The abatement time period is usually agreed upon by both the enforcing agency and the affected party. There may or may not be an associated fine, depending on the regulations of the enforcing agency and the seriousness of the hazard. Defined procedures exist for contesting the violation and/or the fine. Fines and procedures for contesting the violation are often controlled by the underlying statute or act and the enforcement agency.

The number and changing nature of regulations makes them difficult to track. The bottom line, however, should be the intent of the law rather than the letter of the law. If a good effort is made to carry out the intent or purpose of the law, the occasional unintentional violation may not be significant.

Addresses and telephone numbers are provided in Appendix A: Resource Agencies and Organizations for Federal agencies with environmental, safety, and health regulations applicable to career-technical educational programs. Contact the appropriate Federal and State agencies for copies of regulations, training materials, and help with interpreting the regulations. In some cases, these agencies may conduct training at your school.