OSHA's Michaels Asked to Clarify Incentives Stance

The DOL assistant secretary maintained it is clear to employers and managers how to implement an incentives program that OSHA will approve, but questioners said they’re not so sure.

NASHVILLE – OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels fielded questions Aug. 26 during the Labor/Management Open Forum at the 29th Annual National VPPPA Conference being held here. Michaels discussed OSHA’s isocyanates national emphasis program, heat stress prevention, GHS, fall prevention, and a recent presidential executive order telling his agency to share process safety management data with EPA and to modernize the PSM standard. But questioners kept asking him about incentives.

Michaels mentioned incentive programs where workers said they declined to report injuries because co-workers would lose bonuses, or even a monthly pizza lunch, because of it. He said such programs, which incentivize workers for keeping injuries low, are counterproductive, in OSHA’s view. Some questioners said they still don’t understand what leading indicators OSHA considers valid, and Michaels said several times he believes there is a “roadmap” that employers can follow.

"There is a huge debate right now about what are the really important leading indicators," he allowed.

One questioner said state plans in his VPP region are saying some employers’ incentive plans meet OSHA’s guidelines, in their view, but the plans are still “shying away” from approving about six sites for admission to VPP because of this issue. Michaels answered that he was unaware of that problem and would check into it. OSHA does not want to hinder VPP approvals, he said.

During an OSHA “all hands” meeting in February 2013, Michaels also discussed the benefits of VPP membership: "As you all know, one of my main objectives is to educate our country's employers about moving beyond reactive compliance to embrace a culture of safety. Many workplaces have already adopted injury and illness prevention programs, where employers develop a process to find and fix workplace hazards before workers are hurt,” he said, according to the transcript posted on the OSHA website. “Employers in our terrific VPP and SHARP recognition programs recognize that higher profits are the welcome byproducts of safety management. These employers experience dramatic decreases in workplace injuries, accompanied by a transformed workplace culture that leads to higher productivity and quality, reduced turnover, reduced costs, and greater employee satisfaction. Now it's time to take this message from the best to the rest."

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