OSHA, NIOSH Heads Discuss Upcoming Regulation, Future of Safety Profession

During the middle of a bustling afternoon on day two of ASSE’s Professional Development Conference, OSHA Chief Dr. David Michaels and NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard took time to discuss what to expect from the two agencies in the coming years.

CHICAGO –- During the middle of a bustling afternoon on day two of ASSE’s Professional Development Conference, OSHA Chief Dr. David Michaels and NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard took time to discuss what to expect from the two agencies in the coming years.

As the plenary Q&A started, Michaels jumped into a discussion about the status OSHA’s Injury and Illness Prevention Programs standard (I2P2). “We’re just at the beginning of our regulatory initiative,” Michaels said. “We’re encouraging employers to develop their own injury and illness programs before the standard is developed. This isn’t something to wait for regulation. It’s something we should be doing now.”

When asked if I2P2 will be perceived as regulatory burden, Michaels said it will be enforced differently than other standards. In contrast to rules in the general duty clause, the I2P2 standard will be more of a guideline. “I2P2 isn’t going to be an open door for citing everything,” Michaels said. “We’re going to be looking for components of a plan, which will be enough to comply with the standard. This isn’t something employers should fear. It will lead to less citations in the long run.”

Michaels also emphasized that OSHA and employers need to do a better job of recording on-the-job injuries. “We’ve seen too many programs that encourage people not to report injuries in incentive programs,” Michaels said. “For every OSHA reported injury last year, there 3.5 injuries that went through worker’s compensation, so those injuries weren’t reported to OSHA.”

In addition to I2P2 and recordkeeping, OSHA will focus on safety in the health care industry and its upcoming silica health standard. “Silica will be our next big health standard,” Michaels said. “Standards related to infectious and airborne diseases and other hazards that health care workers are exposed to will be coming much farther down the line.”

NIOSH is also devoting its resources to increasing safety in the growing health care field. “Right now NIOSH is researching how influenza is transmitted,” Howard said. “We’re seeing if influenza is transmitted through small or large particles. The findings to this research will relate to the utility of personal respiratory wear for health care workers. We’re also spending a lot of time researching the risks of nanotechnology.”

Establishing partnerships with organizations like ASSE has allowed NIOSH to continue to research workplace health and safety, especially with its constricted budget, Howard said. “We have to get out of the laboratory and partner with you all,” he said. “Right now we’re trying to work with Gallup to add safety and health components to its polling.”

Michaels and Howard also contemplated the future of the safety professional industry. “As OSHA becomes more prominent, we hope that will attract students to join the safety field,” Michaels said. “We know that employment in the health and safety field reflects government involvement.”

Howard said that future safety professionals will need to be trained in a wide variety of specialties. “We have to expand the scope of what is considered safety and health as a profession,” Howard said. “It’s not going to be enough to say, ‘I’m an expert in rigging.’ Unless you have a more broad knowledge, I don’t think you’ll be successful. The challenge will be how to train people as generalists.”

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