OSHA Standards Extended To Maritime Industry

By Domenic A. Sammarco, R.Ph., EMT

The US Supreme Court has ruled the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has the authority to enforce workplace safety standards on uninspected vessels. This category includes oil rigs, barges, tugboats, fishing boats and small passenger vessels, more than 68,000 in all. OSHA standards have been imposed upon specific maritime industries stemming from a 1997 explosion aboard an oil-drilling barge that killed four workers in the inland waters of Louisiana. The justices rejected arguments that the Coast Guard has exclusive jurisdiction over marine work sites, such as oil rigs, ruling that they are subjects to rules and regulations similar to those governing other workplaces. The OSH Act of 1970 states that the agency's regulations apply to any workplace not already regulated by another federal agency. Many maritime organizations believe OSHA involvement will lead to stricter safety regulations aboard such vessels, but it is unclear how the regulations would be implemented or enforced by OSHA. Additional concerns are focused on OSHA's inexperience in understanding the maritime industry and the maritime industry and the maritime vessel owners not following the newly developed guidelines.

Coast Guard and OSHA officials emphasized that the ruling was merely a confirmation of current regulatory practice. OSHA has offered little indication that the ruling would change any regulatory practices. It stated only that the ruling "allows OSHA to resume a uniform enforcement policy".

As the practice with government regulation progress is slow and change will take some time hopefully maritime safety and employee health will take top priority and reduce workplace death and injuries.