OSHA, MSHA Chiefs Highlight ‘Ambitious’ Regulatory Agendas

SAN DIEGO – The importance of collaboration and sharing common goals was the message Tuesday during the Occupational Keynote at the NSC’s Congress & Expo. Assistant Secretary of Labor Dr. David Michaels and Assistant Secretary of Labor for mine safety and health Joseph Main both outlined their agencies’ “ambitious” regulatory agendas.

Michaels said one of OSHA’s goals is for employers to establish a culture of workplace safety through the agency’s proposed illness and injury prevention program. The proposed program would require employers to create a plan for identifying and correcting hazards. Michaels expressed the importance of this plan and said it would provide companies a broader approach to safety. “As we move forward, we need support,” Michaels said. “We need to hear from workers and companies if these [programs] work.”

Michaels said that requiring an injury and illness prevention plan would level the playing field for employers and would help improve productivity. “A lot of companies may think that OSHA shouldn’t tell them what to do,” Michaels said. “In this case, I think we have to.”

Following Michaels, NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard said that vaccinations are an important part of an effective illness and injury prevention program. “Oct. 1 is the beginning of flu season,” Howard said. “And this year you need only one shot for the different flu strains.”

Howard called for employers and workers to voluntarily step up to receive flu vaccinations. “We want to immunize people to create a herd immunity,” Howard said. “If you vaccinate enough people, the virus can’t propagate from person to person. I hope you will attack influenza.”

In addition to expressing the importance of injury and illness prevention outreach, Main addressed MSHA’s specific goals for improving mine safety. “On April 5, mine safety took a turn,” said Main, referring to the Upper Big Branch mine explosion that killed 29 workers. “It was one that brought us back to the center of gravity and told us that we haven’t fixed all the problems.”

MSHA is working to reform its respirable dust program, which Main said is the biggest safety issue regarding the numbers of miners killed. Additionally, Main said the agency is moving to establish new screening requirements and new ways to propose penalties. Main said that from 2005 to 2009, there was a 30,000 increase in violations at coal mines. “This is a sign it’s moving in the wrong direction,” Main said. “It’s a sign that these mine safety systems are not working.” Main said MSHA will continue to conduct surprise inspections at mines in the agency’s increased regulatory efforts.

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