Eight Days to Shake the Safety World

We all know OSHA is unpopular, even among U.S. safety professionals. So what will the profession say when OSHA, apparently poised to strike out in new directions under the leadership of David Michaels, listens on Feb. 10? The American Industrial Hygiene Association conducted a town hall meeting Feb. 2 to hear its members' views, and the American Society of Safety Engineers asked its members to submit suggestions to its government affairs director, Dave Heidorn.

I'd love to hear substantive, imaginative, realistic comments and recommendations from the membership during the town hall and also during the "OSHA Listens" all-day event starting at 9 a.m. EST Feb. 10 at DOL headquarters, 200 Constitution Ave. NW in the nation's capital. Anyone wanting to attend "OSHA Listens" in person must register by e-mailing [email protected] by close of business on Feb. 3.

"AIHA is very excited to be able to appear and present our thoughts to OSHA. I am hoping folks will take a few minutes to review the following questions, participate in our town hall meeting, and present comments so we will have a broad view of what to say at this meeting and make sure we are representing our members accurately," AIHA President Cathy L. Cole, CIH, CSP, said in AIHA's announcement of the town hall.

I realize some safety professionals won't believe OSHA is acting in good faith, but I'll take Michaels at his word until proven wrong. OSHA has asked these questions, and my suggestions to OSHA follow some of them in parentheses. You're welcome to submit your own in comments below.

  • What can the agency do to enhance and encourage the efforts of employers, workers, and unions to identify and address workplace hazards? (Try "VPP Lite," some sort of recognition program open to workplaces of every size and industry that can demonstrate improved year-over-year safety results, requiring that top management and worker representatives sign the submitted paperwork, which should include a Job Safety Analysis form. Offer cash prizes, lots of publicity, annual dinners in each region, and a firm guarantee that the submissions cannot be used in your enforcement.)
  • What are the most important emerging or unaddressed health and safety issues in the workplace, and what can OSHA do to address these? (Start with the premise that regulatory action is not needed for all of these. Use NIOSH's latest NORA document and its process for assessing emerging risks as your playbook. In fact, consider OSHA and NIOSH to be joined at the hip for the purposes of this question.)
  • How can the agency improve its efforts to engage stakeholders in programs and initiatives? (1. Monthly online fireside chats by the assistant secretary. 2. Are you watching NIOSH's Twitter page? 3. Somehow, see that President Obama mentions workers' safety in his State of the Union speech.)
  • What specific actions can the agency take to enhance the voice of workers in the workplace, particularly workers who are hard to reach, do not have ready access to information about hazards or their rights, or are afraid to exercise their rights?
  • Are there additional measures to improve the effectiveness of the agency's current compliance assistance efforts and the on-site consultation program to ensure that small businesses have the information needed to provide safe workplaces?
  • Given the length and difficulty of the current OSHA rulemaking process, and given the need for new standards that will protect workers from unaddressed, inadequately addressed, and emerging hazards, are there policies and procedures that will decrease the time to issue final standards so that OSHA may implement needed protections in a timely manner? (I haven't heard a good solution for this one. If one exists, please share it.)
  • As we continue to progress through a new information age vastly different from the environment in which OSHA was created, what new mechanisms or tools can the agency use to more effectively reach employers and high-risk employees with training, education, and outreach? What is OSHA doing now that may no longer be necessary?
  • Are there indicators, other than work site injuries and illness logs, that OSHA can use to enhance resource targeting? (These are good indicators if completed truthfully. Work on ways to encourage or compel truthful recordkeeping and to sample or summarize the universe of logs so we can finally see an accurate picture of workplace safety in America.)
  • In the late 1980s, OSHA and its stakeholders worked together to update the Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) (exposure limits for hazardous substances; most adopted in 1971), but the effort was unsuccessful. Should updating the PELs be a priority for the agency? Are there suggestions for ways to update the PELs, or are there other ways to control workplace chemical exposures?

Comments from AIHA and ASSE members could be e-mailed to Aaron Trippler, AIHA's Government Affairs director, and Heidorn (the pair will make a joint presentation at the upcoming April 7, 2010, OH&S virtual conference) at [email protected] and [email protected].

Posted by Jerry Laws on Jan 27, 2010

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