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OSHA looks to improve safety standards for steel-working industry

OSHA looks to improve safety standards for steel-working industry

WASHINGTON—Federal occupational safety regulators will seek input from the construction industry as it prepares to draft changes to its safety standards for certain high-risk steel-working activities.

The federal Office of Management and Budget last week approved a petition from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, granting the agency permission to retool its regulations on reinforcing steel—commonly known as “rebar”—and post-tensioning operations, a statement from the agency said.

Before drafting the rule revisions, OSHA said it planned to release a public request for information soliciting opinions from industry stakeholders.

“Current rules regarding reinforcing steel and post-tensioning activities do not adequately address worker hazards,” OSHA said in its petition. “OSHA currently has few rules which address the steel reinforcing and post-tensioning fields directly.”

“Post-tensioning” is a method of reinforcing concrete slabs and columns in which the concrete is poured around a rebar core. When the slab hardens, the rebar is pulled taught by hydraulic jacks and then released, forcing it to expand against the outer concrete, thus condensing the concrete and making it less susceptible to breakage.

Post-tensioning is a common practice in concrete slab forming, but can be dangerous given the high level of tension being applied to the rebar. According to OSHA statistics, more than 1,300 workers were injured by rebar in 2010, and 31 workers were killed while performing work on or near post-tensioning operations between 2000 and 2009.

OSHA said it expects the use of post-tensioned reinforcement operations to rise in 2012.

“Without adequate standards, the rate of accidents will likely rise as well,” the agency said.

According to a statement from the Washington-based International Assn. of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers, OSHA's push for stricter guidelines regarding post-tensioning and other operations involving rebar has garnered support from several industry groups, including the Iron Workers International Union, the Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust and the National Assn. of Reinforcing Steel Contractors.