ASSE Chair: OSHA's Standards-Setting Process is Broken, Needs Fixing

American Society of Safety Engineers' (ASSE) Governmental Affairs Committee Chair Thomas F. Cecich, CSP, CIH, of Apex, North Carolina, testified yesterday on the benefits of the OSHA's cooperative programs before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions' Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety's hearing on "Is OSHA Working for Working People?" in Washington, D.C.

Cecich noted that while it is true that OSHA is a regulatory enforcement agency, practicing safety professionals know that enforcement alone is not sufficient in eliminating workplace injuries and illnesses in this country.

"Most SH&E professionals believe that for OSHA to achieve its Congressional mandate of eliminating occupational injuries and illnesses, it is essential that OSHA utilize a broad array of tools in order to reach all types of organizations," Cecich said. "Consultative services, alliances, cooperative programs, training and education, standards setting, and enforcement are all tools that OSHA must utilize. With less than 3,000 employees to serve more than six million businesses, it is vital that OSHA leverage all its resources to obtain the maximum benefit."

Cecich, a safety professional for more than 35 years, is a retired vice president of GlaxoSmithKline where he had responsibility for Environment, Health and Safety Global Business Support. "We believe it is important to highlight the value we see in the alliance and cooperative programs that OSHA has developed," he said. "Through a broad network of alliances and partnerships, OSHA has become a more open organization that does a better job at reaching out to its stakeholders and the safety and health community. ASSE itself is proud to have joined in one of the first alliances with OSHA, and we view our alliance as a success. Our experience suggests that the alliance has resulted in a much more positive view of OSHA's role and has mitigated the old us-against-them attitude within the safety and health community."

Cecich added, however, that there was opportunity to improve OSHA "The OSH Act has changed little in 36 years, yet during that time, huge changes and many advances have occurred in U.S. workplaces and our workforce. OSHA has evolved during that period to reach as many stakeholders as possible," he said. "However, like world-class organizations, OSHA must seek to continuously improve its safety and health processes."

Addressing OSHA's role in standards setting, Cecich noted that the process in safety and health is broken and needs to be fixed. "The workplace is rapidly changing due to new technologies, a changing workforce, and globalization," Cecich said. "Limitations in the original Act, subsequent Congressional and Executive Branch actions, resource constraints at OSHA, and a litany of private court challenges have resulted in an inability of OSHA to update old regulations and to develop new standards in a timely manner to protect the U.S. workforce. We encourage Congress to engage in stakeholder dialogue to improve its standard-setting process to protect workers while preserving the productivity of American business." Cecich commended Subcommittee Chair Senator Patty Murray for holding the hearing, but noted, "We hope this inquiry can lead to legislative initiatives that proceed in a bipartisan manner and help cement what should be a meaningful partnership between OSHA, labor, management and safety, health and environmental (SH&E) professionals like our members. Such cooperative efforts can work to continue to bring down the number of deaths, injuries and illnesses among this nation's working people."

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