ASSE's President: We Need to Change Course

"For far too long, occupational safety and health has been dominated by a politically charged yes and no conversation about occupational safety and health that, as these statistics demonstrate, is not advancing worker protections," Terrie Norris said in response to the BLS preliminary fatality data from 2010.

The preliminary 2010 fatality numbers released Aug. 25 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is a call for action and a clear sign that a "new paradigm" is needed to advance U.S. employers' safety, Terrie Norris, president of the American Society of Safety Engineers, said Aug. 30. The BLS report said 4,547 workers died from occupational injuries in 2010 compared with 4,551 in 2009. ASSE extended its condolences to the families of the 4,547 people who died last year.

"ASSE urges everyone concerned with worker safety not to accept as reasonable the preliminary results of this report that show little change in the number of workplace fatalities between 2009 and 2010," said Norris, CSP, ARM, CPSI. "Despite the dedicated efforts of ASSE's members, employers, workers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the fact that this nation's fatalities are not significantly decreasing should be a call for action, not complacency, especially at an economically challenging time when some of the most dangerous industries are not at full employment. A statistical plateau of worker fatalities is not an achievement, but evidence that this nation's effort to protect workers is stalled. These statistics call for nothing less than a new paradigm in the way this nation protects workers.

"For far too long, occupational safety and health has been dominated by a politically charged yes and no conversation about occupational safety and health that, as these statistics demonstrate, is not advancing worker protections. This oppositional approach leaves too many of this nation's workplaces mired in efforts that do not achieve better safety but merely meet the most minimal standards for safety. That needs to change. Instead of a tug of war over compliance to prescriptive standards that cannot address each workplace, this nation's approach to workplace safety must encourage a specific dialogue about the most important risks in each workplace that engages employers, workers, and OSHA in a cooperative effort to address those risks, supported not only [by] enforcement but by NIOSH research and education resources.

"ASSE and its members are engaged in helping move this nation towards that goal. ASSE has supported the idea of an OSHA injury and illness prevention program (I2P2) standard with the knowledge that this standard, if done well, can begin to move OSHA's focus from prescriptive approaches to safety to risk-based and more cooperative efforts. We have established a Risk Assessment Task Force of members and others who will work to engage the occupational safety and health community in moving towards more risk-based approaches to managing safety in all workplaces. ASSE's Sustainability Task Force is intent on making sure the quickly growing voluntary fervor among employers to address sustainability encompasses worker safety and health now. Our federal occupational safety and health reform bill seeks to be a platform for compromise and addresses ways the 40-year-old OSH Act fails to advance workplace safety, including helping make the standard-setting process work, allowing the adoption of updated permissible exposure limits, and better defining who is qualified to do safety, among a variety of measures.

"The time has come for all stakeholders in occupational safety and health to come down off the plateau of acceptance and work together to find conciliatory ways that help make sure our economy, our jobs and corporate bottom lines can benefit from a safe and healthy workforce."

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