Dividing Could Conquer
- By Jerry Laws
- Dec 01, 2004
I'D be the last person to recommend betting the house on an unscientific
poll, but some of them are useful. It seems you and I agree: OSHA should divide
into two separate units, one for enforcement and the other to perform consulting
A 2004 strategy document issued by Britain's Health and Safety Commission
shows the way. The strategy committed the Health & Safety Executive
(Britain's OSHA agency) to provide "accessible channels of advice." HSE then
asked small businesses how it could improve communications with them. Just like
American business owners, they said they don't ask HSE for help because they
fear enforcement action will follow. When HSE announced it was studying the
option of severing its consultation and enforcement functions, our Web site
asked visitors whether OSHA should follow suit. Twelve said yes, one said it
probably should, and only one said no.
Cooperation and partnerships have been OSHA's priorities in recent years.
Congress and industry like its approach, but partnerships don't instill safety
where it is needed most, in the smallest companies. Having a separate safety
agency that does nothing but train, consult, and advise would help.
The obvious drawback to splitting OSHA in two is that Congress or the
president could deny funding to the enforcement side. I doubt this would happen,
however. True, some members of Congress and some business groups despise OSHA,
but they have failed to enact major reforms or cripple its budget. OSHA had $457
million in funding for fiscal 2004 and at this writing could expect $461 million
or $468 million for fiscal 2005.
HSE said the "modern industrial landscape" argues for a split because more
than 90 percent of all UK businesses employ fewer than 10 people. "If they fear
contact with HSE or (local authorities) and existing channels do not reach or
influence them, we are missing a huge opportunity and potential for safety and
health gain," the British agency said in September. "It is essential, therefore,
that we extend our reach, improve the take-up of advice and guidance we offer,
and stimulate others to give better coverage."
Complete separation would require new legislation, major organizational
changes, and new costs that may not be feasible, HSE cautioned, adding, "The
challenge is to provide support that is authoritative, proportionate and cost
effective without compromising HSE's or LAs' role as enforcers, or duty holders'
full ownership of their legal responsibilities."
This article originally appeared in the December 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.