TOSHA Administrator: Every Employer Should Join VPP

There are 37 VPP sites in the state program, with two initial certifications under way this year and eight recertifications accomplished in 2017. "Frankly, it's something every employers should do," he said. "They could do that."

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee OSHA Administrator Steve Hawkins gave an update on the state agency's activities and priorities at this year's Safety+ symposium here, telling his audience Aug. 29 how much the agency is accomplishing with just 93 employees (38 of whom are occupational safety specialists and 31 of whom are industrial hygienists). He said TOSHA will survey stakeholders about their views on the partnership between VPPPA and the Tennessee Safety & Health Conference and that the two organizations may partner again in 2021 if the reviews are favorable.

During its most recent fiscal year -- July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018 -- TOSHA's Safety & Health Compliance Program made 1,734 inspections that identified 8,305 hazards and resulted in $3,981,525 in penalties assessed, Hawkins said. The Consultative Assistance Program had 434 visits the identified 3,453 hazards; no penalties were assessed as a result of these activities. He urged employers in the state to make use of the consultative program.

Collected penalties -- about 90 percent of them are collected, he said -- go into the state's general fund. Currently, employers are contesting the results from 39 inspections; TOSHA has the second- or third-lowest contest rate in the country, Hawkins said, which he said shows the agency does a good job of properly classifying violations.

There are 37 VPP sites in the state program, with two initial certifications under way this year and eight recertifications accomplished in 2017. "Frankly, it's something every employers should do," he said. "They could do that."

Hawkins discussed the agency's emphasis programs, both its own and federal OSHA emphasis programs it has adopted, as well as the need for standards on tree care (arborists') operations and communication tower work. Every time there's a change in communication tower technology that requires equipment to be switched out at the tops of the towers, "we have a rash of fatalities. It happens every time," he said.

Assistant Administrator Wendy Fisher joined Hawkins for part of the presentation devoted to fatality rates and cases in the state. Tennessee's manufacturing fatality rate in the latest year available, 2016, was 4.3, and its construction fatality rate that year was 15.8 -- both are above the national averages, Fisher said. Transportation accidents, falls, and struck by/caught in cases are among the leading causes, she explained.

"Construction in Nashville is pretty much the Wild West," Hawkins said in response to a question after Fisher posted a map of the state's counties showing where this year's occupational fatalities have occurred. He said TOSHA's staffing is the same, but construction in Nashville has "probably quadrupled" in the past three to four years. "This has been a really bad year" statewide for work-related fatalities, he added.

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