|OSHA's Cincinnati Technical Center is not just about repair and calibration anymore.
| Mention OSHA's Cincinnati Technical Center (CTC) and what comes to mind? The Cincinnati, Ohio-based center has long been thought of simply as a maintenance facility, but those days are gone.
Although its main focus is still on servicing OSHA's industrial hygiene and safety instruments, the center also provides a wide range of other services to customers both inside and outside the agency. CTC, reorganized in 2000, now consists of two main areas: engineering support and program support. The center also maintains an advanced information systems support area for its internal administrative functions.
Safety instruments and the industrial hygiene field have changed remarkably within the past 15 years. Today, safety and health instruments are more precise, have more complex electronic circuits, perform more functions, and are based on more sophisticated operating principles than ever before.
The personal sampling pump, for example, once had three simple components: a motor, pump mechanism, and battery pack. Now, it contains several circuit boards packed with miniaturized surfacemounted components that are controlled by a microprocessor. Servicing the pumps once involved only a simple cleaning and replacement of a few expendable components. Now, service technicians use a computerized system to test flow stability, battery voltage, and motor current, while varying the load on the pump.
CTC's engineering support crew services technical equipment sent in from the field offices, but also designs calibration systems and specialized test equipment, researches and solves equipment operation problems, and conducts technical studies.
The technicians have extensive backgrounds in operating, testing, calibrating, and repairing technical equipment. During the past 5 years, CTC has serviced an average of 9,600 pieces of equipment a year from both federal OSHA offices and state consultation offices. About one-third of the equipment needed some type of repair-something as simple as replacing the sensor or battery pack or as complex as rebuilding a pump stack or troubleshooting an electronic circuit control board.
CTC typically services this equipment at a fraction of the cost that manufacturers and other calibration facilities would charge. The center records a history of all service information to use when analyzing requirements for parts and supplies, determines the useful life of the equipment, and supports contested court cases regarding equipment monitoring.
Industrial hygiene instruments often have accuracies of 95 percent or better, so calibration requirements are more stringent than ever, demanding precisely controlled conditions. Variables such as temperature and pressure must remain stable to ensure accurate measurements, whether for a concentration of a substance, a noise level, or another parameter. The CTC staff designs and builds its own systems to calibrate OSHA's instruments.
CTC's engineers have broad knowledge in industrial hygiene and safety instruments and equipment. They develop calibration systems and procedures for servicing OSHA's field equipment. They also help OSHA's field staff solve equipment problems and conduct other technical studies on safety and health measurement instrumentation. CTC also evaluates new equipment being considered for OSHA use and develops protocols to test this new equipment to verify that it works properly and meets OSHA's inspection needs. This can include testing instruments in varying environmental conditions, such as extreme temperature and humidity, as well as checking for problems when the equipment is subjected to electromagnetic fields such as radiofrequency transmissions.
CTC has been a leader in the movement to get manufacturers to protect and shield their equipment from electromagnetic fields that could cause inaccurate readings and potentially put workers in danger.
The CTC staff identified interference from nonionizing radiation as the cause. More evaluation showed that the problem was common with many industrial hygiene and safety instruments but could be corrected relatively inexpensively. The industrial hygiene and safety instrument industry, however, was not convinced. Only after many demonstrations of the problem and solutions did instrument manufacturers acknowledge the problem and correct it by modifying their instrument designs. Frequently, the center staff uncovers defects in the instruments it evaluates, alerts manufacturers, and suggests how to eliminate them. The center continues to work with many of the equipment manufacturers to incorporate new features or modify existing equipment to better meet OSHA's needs.
CTC also advises OSHA's other directorates on equipment purchases. Its engineers serve as representatives on various national standards-setting committees, including one concerning nonionizing radiation and its effects on industrial hygiene instruments. Participation in this and other committees helps ensure that the agency's interests are considered during standards development.
CTC provides vital equipment operating information to the federal field offices, national offices, and OSHA state consultation program offices. The center also works with state plan offices concerning technical equipment needs and servicing systems.
The Program Support staff purchases supplies and equipment for use in compliance inspections, ships to area offices, and manages the property inventory databases through several programs. CTC has evolved over the past decades from an instrument repair facility to one of the nation's best engineering centers with expertise in industrial hygiene and safety instruments. The center's accomplishments in advancing this field continue to expand its reputation as a source of state-of-the-art engineering expertise. Along with its field support programs, the center offers unmatched service to its customers in support of OSHA's mission.
The Agency Expendable Supplies Program (AESP) provides OSHA field offices with a veritable "one stop" shopping service of more than 430 supply items available for performing field inspections. Offices place an order with the center for items they need, and the staff ships the order, sometimes by overnight delivery, if necessary. This program saves time and money for the entire agency, since field offices do not have to research supplies or locate sources. CTC also negotiates better pricing with the suppliers due to the large quantity of items it buys.
The Agency Loan Equipment Program (ALEP) allows field offices to borrow more than 250 pieces of equipment. This equipment is typically unique or expensive, and most offices within OSHA would use it enough to justify purchasing it for themselves. The loaned equipment also could be a replacement while the office's own equipment is being serviced. CTC purchases and maintains all loan program equipment for field offices to borrow as needed.
The Agency Technical Equipment Procurement Program (ATEPP) is another "one-stop" shop for technical equipment. Through ATEPP, the center coordinates and consolidates the once-a-year purchase of technical equipment for field offices. CTC researches equipment to find the best products and works with manufacturers to get the best quantity discounts. This saves the field offices time and effort and ensures that they use comparable equipment for compliance inspections. Each office chooses the equipment it needs and orders it from CTC during the ATEPP ordering period. CTC does all the rest, including making sure each item operates properly and recording it in the inventory database before shipping it to the customer.
The OSHA Property Management Inventory System (OPMIS) manages and maintains equipment information for all OSHA offices and provides a variety of reports for internal property management. CTC developed the OPMIS database, which tracks more than 46,500 property items worth more than $25 million.
OSHA offices use the OPMIS system to conduct annual physical property inventories for technical, automated data processing, and mission-sensitive equipment. CTC designed and developed additional software using barcode readers to save users time and resources during the process. Inventories that once took from 2 to 4 weeks can now be done in 1 week or less.
In addition, OPMIS provides the Technical Equipment Age Distribution Report, which supplies field offices with vital information concerning their technical equipment, including what they own, how many, and the equipment's age. This information helps field offices project equipment needs.
The Agency Excess Equipment Program (AEEP) enables field offices to turn in excess technical equipment so CTC can share it with other OSHA offices. If a field office requests a piece of equipment that has been turned in through the program, CTC checks it for proper operation and calibrates it before sending it to its new owner. As a result, the requesting field office gets the technical equipment it needs at no cost.
Current information for these support programs, including catalogs of expendable and loan items, excess equipment list, and a user's manual for OPMIS, is available on the CTC Limited Access Page under CTC. The site includes technical information and guidance, including summary notes from past Compliance Officers Forums on Equipment Evolution and field service memos.
|Williams is the director of the Cincinnati Technical Center.