Occupational Health & Safety

Michaels Offers Reassurance on VPP, State Plans

In a speech last week, the OSHA administrator said none of the problems identified in audits of state plans "is catastrophic or threatens continued plan approval," except in one or two cases where the budgetary commitment to the program is in jeopardy.

In remarks broadcast to last week's Washington L&I State Plan Safety and Health Symposium, OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels said none of the problems identified in his agency's recent audits of state plans "is catastrophic or threatens continued plan approval," except in one or two cases where the budgetary commitment to the program is in jeopardy. He also offer reassurance about VPP, once again discussed OSHA's stance on incentive programs, and said OSHA has created a draft list of 16 chemicals it may address, after inviting the public to nominate chemicals considered to present the greatest risk to workers.

"Using those nominations, input from the OSHA field offices and other preliminary information, we have developed a draft list of 16 chemicals -- including isocyanates, manganese, styrene, n-propyl bromide, and perchloroethylene," Michaels said, according to OSHA's posted text of his remarks. "To refine this list, we are working closely with NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, to refine our target list of chemicals that pose the greatest danger to America's workforce -- and this list of chemicals is where we will next concentrate our attention."

Michaels said "OSHA recognizes and values our Alliances, Strategic Partnerships, SHARP and Voluntary Protection Programs when they work; that is, when they include a worker participation component and demonstrate effective results that truly create a culture of safety and health in workplaces. VPP participants especially offer examples of workplaces where management and labor work together with superior results. We wish all workplaces would live up to the VPP model, which is why OSHA would like to preserve these programs. They have a place in our toolkit. A year and a half ago, OSHA began a review of VPP and recommendations from the Governmental Accountability Office to improve the administration of VPP. We took a number of actions to improve OSHA's internal controls for a more consistent administration of the VPP and to preserve the integrity of the programs. With our review now completed, OSHA will be moving ahead on processing applications for renewals of VPP sites."

He said OSHA is currently reviewing comments received about its proposed changes to the On-site Consultation Program and wrapped up his talk with a reference to four major safety incidents this year -- the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion, the Tesoro refinery fire, and the Kleen Energy explosion -- saying they must not be seen as isolated incidents or random events. "Collectively," he said, they "point to a disturbing pattern of deadly neglect that our nation has tolerated for too long as simply "the cost of doing business. We cannot allow this to continue. Lives are at stake and our nation's economy suffers when rogue employers seek an unfair advantage over responsible business owners by cutting corners on worker safety and health. It's up to us -- federal OSHA and the state plans -- to work together to level the playing field by enforcing rules that everyone must follow to ensure fair competition in the marketplace. Good employers and workers everywhere are depending on us to deliver a consistent, coherent and compelling message, coast to coast: Competition, limited resources or just "being too busy to bother" can never be an excuse to gamble with human lives."

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