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Safety Story

Enforcement a Key Issue In OSHA Strategic Plan

SHA officials gathered for a live web chat with stakeholders, on April 7, to discuss OSHA's FY 2010 - 2016 strategic plan and to garner stakeholders' insights to help OSHA further develop its goal of protecting worker health and safety.

Enforcement is a flagship issue in OSHA's strategic plan, under its new administration, with a sharp emphasis on increasing the number of inspections conducted in a given year. OSHA plans to conduct over 40,000 inspections in FY 2010 and is in the process of hiring 110 new compliance officers, which will result in a noticeable increase in the number of inspections, beginning in 2011. In addition, Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) field inspection staff is being shifted to enforcement activities; non-government funding is being considered in order to continue the VPP program, with a fee-based system as one option suggested by the House Education and Labor Committee.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab provided further indication that enforcement of ergonomic issues is a key strategic component, and will increase, noting that the general duty clause will be used to cite ergonomic violations and a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) column will be added to the OSHA log next year. Acting Director of Enforcement, Tom Galassi, clarified that, "in order to document a general duty clause violation for ergonomics, among other things, the agency would have to demonstrate industry recognition and feasible ways to abate the hazard." Assistant Secretary for OSHA Dr. David Michaels commented that, "OSHA's field staff will be looking for ergonomic hazards in their inspections and we will be providing them with the support and back-up they need to enforce under the general duty clause. In addition, we will be examining employer logs to see if MSDs are accurately reported," illustrating the increased emphasis on record-keeping logs, during OSHA inspections. Michaels stated that OSHA plans to "take a hard look" at employer policies that discourage injury reporting, and referred stakeholders to a recent Business Week article, in which he spoke to the issue.

Although not yet finalized, OSHA explained that the new Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) program is aimed at employers who have demonstrated recalcitrance, or indifference, to their obligations under the OSH Act. Employers that demonstrate improved safety and health performance will be removed from the list, although one stakeholder indicated that "improved performance" is a rather ambiguous concept and questioned whether, if an employer is placed on the list, removal will be attainable. In addition, OSHA is reviewing and restructuring its penalties to ensure they are consistent with the seriousness of the violation, and serve as an effective deterrent. This has resulted in an expression of concern, by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, that the higher penalties will cause a steep increase in its caseload.

Dr. Michaels also mentioned that OSHA's strategic plan remains independent of the Protecting America's Workers Act (PAWA) legislation, and will be implemented regardless of whether PAWA is passed; however, he noted that, if the legislation is enacted, it would provide OSHA with additional tools for worker protection. OSHA's leading strategic measures focus on reducing fatalities from the most common hazards, including electrocution, hit by, caught between, and falls, with a strong emphasis placed on industrial hygiene, and an increased focus on issues such as noise and hearing loss, and air contaminant permissible exposure levels (PELs). He further commented that a task force is in the process
of examining existing PELs, however, existing PELs will remain in place until the task force reaches its conclusions.

National emphasis programs (NEPs) will continue, as they remain a good enforcement resource for injuries, such as hearing losses and amputations. Employers and employees in NEP targeted industries have seen
a reduction in these types of injuries and illnesses through the utilization of hazard recognition outreach activities.

OSHA continues to make progress on several high-priority rulemakings that have been on OSHA's regulatory agenda for many years, including the construction cranes and derricks standard, crystalline silica, and revision of the hazard communication standard to reflect the globally harmonized system (GHS) of chemical hazard communication. Attempts are being made to streamline the rulemaking process to save time and effort, for example, by shortening, or simplifying, preambles, while still meeting statutory and legal burdens.

OSHA is also conducting enhanced evaluations of the state plan states, in order to determine whether
the current monitoring, carried out by OSHA's regional offices, should be changed

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