The OSHA review of state plans could result in a dialogue about the meaning of "at least as effective."

What Does 'At Least As Effective' Mean?

John Duncan, director of the California Department of Industrial Relations, says a meeting with OSHA's regional administrator could start a national dialogue to clarify what "at least as effective" means.

The triggering events that caused OSHA to evaluate all of the state plans and issue reports on them Sept. 28 were construction worker fatalities on Las Vegas Strip projects, causing a June 2008 mass walkout by thousands of workers and ultimately bringing a Pulitzer Prize to the Las Vegas Sun in April 2009. Now, the leader of the state agency that includes Cal/OSHA, widely considered the best and most effective state plan, hopes to start a dialogue with OSHA that will clarify what the plans must do -- a question unresolved since OSHA was created 40 years ago.

The 25 plans must enact regulations that are "at least as effective" as federal OSHA's. But John Duncan, director of the California Department of Industrial Relations (parent agency of Cal/OSHA), sent an Oct. 28 letter to OSHA Region 9 Regional Administrator Ken Nishiyama Atha saying the OSHA auditors who wrote the report on his agency misunderstand how Cal/OSHA's program differs from the federal one. This is the second letter Duncan has sent in response to the report, and both say "at least as effective" does not mean a state plan must mimic OSHA.

Duncan points out -- as does the OSHA report -- that Cal/OSHA adopted the first U.S. injury and illness prevention program law about 20 years ago, a step federal OSHA is now trying to emulate. Cal/OSHA also spearheaded safe sharps and bloodborne pathogens protections for health workers and has been a leader with its heat protection standard to protect outdoor workers, he notes.

"Our hope is that this [meeting] will serve as a stepping stone to a national dialog about the OSHA paradigm itself," he writes, "including how OSHA and the state programs can come to a clearer understanding of what it means for a state to be at least as effective as OSHA, and how we can move cooperatively forward to improve workplace safety and health."

Duncan says metrics are not yet in place among the states or at OSHA to track progress in reducing occupational injuries, illnesses, and deaths and in improving behavior in the workplace to increase safety performance. "We and many stakeholders nationwide believe it is long overdue that OSHA confront head on the issue of defining what effectiveness means in this context, and we are still hopeful OSHA will begin to do so," he adds.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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