The New OSHA
Reinventing Worker Safety and Health
An Unbiased Evaluation of OSHA's Progress
From 1995 to 2000
American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE)
May 22, 2000
We have to recognize that, done right, regulation protects our workers from injury, and that when we fail, it can have disastrous consequences. I believe we can bring back common sense and reduce hassle without stripping away safeguards for our children, our workers, and our families.
- - President William Jefferson Clinton, February 21, 1995, OSHA Reinvention Initiative - -
ASSE is in strong agreement with the statement above, and considers itself to be perhaps the best unbiased safety and health advocate that OSHA has. Our nearly 33,000 members have been committed to the protection of people, property, and the environment since 1911. Our members have told us that there is a strong need to support OSHA and ensure that public policy impacting safety and health is based on good science and sound technology. This Society believes that OSHA, through its standards and enforcement activities, provides a needed base level of occupational safety and health worker protection. It establishes a base, from which our members and the companies and employees they serve, can build better systems for safety and health accomplishment. In regard to the New OSHA, the report issued by the Clinton Administration targeted three key initiatives for reform. These reinvention initiatives and our overall views are as follows:
Key Initiative #1, The New OSHA: OSHA will change its fundamental operating paradigm from one of command and control to one that provides employers a real choice between a partnership and a traditional enforcement relationship.
ASSE has voiced support for the Maine 200 Concept on numerous occasions, and we continue to advocate innovative approaches to occupational safety and health. OSHA needs to focus its resources on areas where it can have the most impact in the reduction of occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. This approach is consistent with the philosophies of key legislators in the House of Representatives and the Senate. ASSE knows from data and anecdotal information that such intervention programs do work, (e.g.: Florida's intervention program to address the significant number of fatalities in the construction industry). It is important to recognize that taking some of the proactive actions recommended in this program may not necessarily impact enforcement action. OSHA current notification program provides advance warning to employers with significant lost workday injury and illness rates (LWDII) about potential courses of action. The Society sees this initiative as a proactive way to communicate with employers who having the most to gain through effective implementation of safety and health management programs.
Key Initiative #2, Common Sense Regulation: OSHA will change its approach to regulations by identifying clear and sensible priorities, focusing on key building block rules, eliminating or fixing out of date and confusing standards, and emphasizing interaction with business and labor in the development of rules.
ASSE has commented on literally dozens of OSHA proposed regulations and standards. OSHA's emphasis on Plain English Initiatives is a positive first step in creating and promulgating regulations that can be understood by a wide audience of stakeholders. Our members are highly experienced in understanding and implementing federal safety and health regulations, and we do not have concern with taking the lead on such issues. However, small business historically may not have the resources or expertise needed to work such compliance issues. Plain language programs can be helpful in assisting small businesses. In addition, the interaction we have had with the Agency on initiatives such as ergonmics, safety and health management rule, and other regulatory initiatives has been very encouraging for safety professionals. While ASSE and OSHA disagree at times on specific issues, (e.g. proposed ergonomics standard), there is greater synergy between the Agency and professional safety and health groups such as ASSE. This action is predicated upon ASSE making a cognizant decision to speak on a more consistent basis to OSHA on important occupational safety and health issues. However, at the same time there has also been more outreach from OSHA to ASSE and its members. The OSHA Strategic Plan was also an excellent step in mapping out safety and health strategies for all stakeholders to review. The Society went on record as supporting the plan, and it should help OSHA to be both efficient and effective.
Key Initiative #3, Results Not Red Tape: OSHA will change the way it works on a day-to-day basis by focusing on the most serious hazards and the most dangerous workplaces and by insisting on results instead of red tape.
We agree that the content of the rules OSHA enforces can only be effective if the agency's 900 inspectors and other employees possess cutting edge knowledge of occupational safety and health. The Society strongly endorsed the concept that job performance should not be measured on the number of violations found but rather on positive impact to safety and health in the workplace. We know that OSHA inspectors have been told clearly that there are no numeric inspection goals for citations and fines. However, the knowledge, background, and expertise of compliance officers continues to be one of the Society's greatest concerns. OSHA needs to increase its efforts in recruiting high-caliber safety professionals, and we would like to see more effort from the Agency in regard to encouraging participation in professional safety and health groups. ASSE was founded in 1911, almost 60 years before the establishment of OSHA, and we have knowledge and experience that would benefit OSHA in enhancing the safety profession. Finally, ASSE would like to see more direct financial support to promote professional development opportunities for safety and health professionals employed by OSHA. This would include professional certification which requires appropriate education, experience, ongoing training, and passage of rigorous examinations. Supporting professional certification of public sector safety and health professionals will greatly benefit the country. We are concerned by instances of OSHA employees being dissuaded from pursuing professional certification by supervisors, or forced to take unpaid leave for a preparation workshop.
Our overall opinion is that OSHA is attempting to reach the goals of reinvention, and we do not doubt the good faith efforts by many OSHA employees to attain these key objectives. Progress is being made in an incremental fashion. From that perspective we believe the Agency has made a good overall effort to change how it does business, but it still has a long way to go until it meets the lofty expectations stated in President Clinton's 1995 speech.