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OSHA Pitching Rule; Foes Not Catching

Monday, January 23, 2012

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The federal government’s effort to bring an ounce of prevention to workplace health and safety has not lightened the pound of grief it is causing among business groups.


 Images: OSHA

A “lobbying battle” by business and labor is likely to follow the publication of a draft rule, The National Review reported.

Earlier this month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a new “White Paper” that aims to make the agency’s case for its long-delayed Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2) Rule—“an effective, flexible, commonsense tool” to “dramatically reduce the number and severity of workplace injuries and illnesses,” as the agency describes it.

Not a ‘One-Size-Fits-All’

First proposed in the 1990s, the Injury and Illness Prevention Program standard would require employers to develop a program to help them find and fix hazards in their workplaces.

The rule would not allow OSHA to cite employers for not addressing any hazards that are not now covered by OSHA standards.

“OSHA believes that workers will be better protected if each employer develops a proactive program to help them find hazards in their workplaces and develop a process to fix those hazards so that employees don't get hurt,” the agency says on the rule’s website.

“This would not be a one-size-fits-all requirement. Employers would tailor the program to the size and nature of their workplace.”

‘Real-World Experience’

OSHA notes that 15 states already have similar requirements for employers, while 19 states have voluntary programs. In many states, meanwhile, insurance companies offer financial incentives for having illness and injury prevention programs in place—a model followed by the Department of Defense and Department of Energy, among others, OSHA notes.

“OSHA is basing its proposal on the real-world experience of employers and the substantial data on reductions in injuries and illnesses from employers who have implemented similar programs—including the companies in our Voluntary Protection Programs,” the agency says.

“OSHA will develop a flexible proposal that is appropriate to large and small businesses.”

12 Worker Deaths a Day

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 12 workers are killed every day on the job and more than 3.3 million suffer a serious work-related injury or illness each year. The direct cost of the most serious injuries and fatalities is about $1 billion per week.

Says OSHA: “These injuries and illnesses are preventable.”

OSHA says that I2P2 programs can help boost a company’s bottom line by increasing productivity and substantially reducing insurance and medical costs. The White Paper cites numerous examples, in private companies and government agencies, of reductions in injuries and illness and associated cost savings.

Roots in 1995

An I2P2 rule has been in the works at OSHA for nearly two decades, ever since a series of stakeholder meetings that began in 1995.

In 1998, OSHA developed a draft proposed rule that would have required employers in general industry and maritime workplaces to establish safety and health programs. The proposed program had five core elements: management leadership and employee participation; hazard identification and assessment; hazard prevention and control; information and training; and evaluation of the program's effectiveness.

 OSHA says an Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2) can save employers money
OSHA says an Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2) can save employers money.

The draft was reviewed by a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act panel, but the rule was never published and OSHA removed it from its Regulatory Agenda in 2002.

On May 4, 2010, however, the issue returned to the front burner with a new OSHA announcement of stakeholder meetings that were held that summer. In December 2010, the American Industrial Hygiene Association released its own “White Paper,” at OSHA’s request, in support of the rule.

Since then, manufacturers and business groups have not waited for another draft to oppose the rule vigorously.

Last year, The Hill predicted a “lobbying battle” by business and labor over the issue. And the National Review called the idea a “Super Rule” that is “causing considerable anxiety among employers and employer groups.”

Failing to Make a Case?

So far, the White Paper seems to have changed few minds.

Marc Freedman, of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, wrote last week: “What the white paper fails to do is make the case for a regulation from OSHA mandating these programs, which we know is OSHA’s top regulatory priority.”

In a piece republished by the Coalition for Workplace Safety, sponsored by the National Association of Manufacturers, Freedman writes:

“We agree with OSHA that safety and health programs have shown significant benefits for the employers who have implemented them.” But he adds, “[H]ow these employers implemented these elements is unique to each employer and their workplaces.

“Such flexibility and individuality is anathema to a regulation mandating these programs. By definition, a regulation entails enforcement.”

He adds: “All those who believe OSHA inspectors have the best handle on improving workplace safety in the myriad different types of workplaces covered by the agency, raise your hand.”

Moving Forward

OSHA continues to insist, however, that a new rule remains a top priority, and the “White Paper” reiterates that.

“An enhanced focus on prevention is needed” to reduce preventable illness and injury in the workplace, the document says. An I2P2 “helps employers find hazards and fix them before injuries, illnesses or deaths occur.”

And although OSHA has been forced to withdraw several proposals in recent years, I2P2 is still moving forward.

OSHA chief Dr. David Michaels has frequently cited the rule as a priority, saying it “represents the most fundamental change in workplace culture since the passage of the OSHA Act” of 1970.

The agency says its next step is to gather comments during the small business review process, then publish a proposal—possibly as early as next month—and notice, set a comment period and hold public hearings.


Tagged categories: Hazards; Health and safety; OSHA; Regulations

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (1/24/2012, 9:06 AM)

One of the really nice things about my employer's safety program is that if I need something for legitimate safety reasons, it gets budgeted or more often immediately purchased with little to no hassle.

Comment from James Johnson, (1/24/2012, 9:15 AM)

Every one who thinks OSHA should force firms to generate more programs and add new rules, new fines and provide more overall government interference and regulations please raise your hands.

Comment from Angela Frye, (1/24/2012, 11:29 AM)

No one is dismissing the value of health and safety awareness, but this is the kind of overregulation that is nothing but one more nail in the coffin of small businesses that do not have the means to maintain departments devoted to nothing except trying to stay ahead of OSHA and SAIF inspectors and to minimize fines. Because, rest assured, this is just one more reason for inspectors to come into your business, and without finding violations and issuing subseqent fines, there is no justification for their jobs.

Comment from Paul Archambo, (1/25/2012, 10:12 AM)

Everyone who thinks 12 people dying at work every day raise your hand. If not for OSHA and the government it would be much higher. There are lots of employers out there who will only comply with the rules and regulations if they are dragged kicking and screaming, and there are those who realize that a safe work force is a happy work force. Studies prove that people who work for companies with a proactive safety program are more productive and have a higher morale. Of course we can always go back to the days when there were no safety programs or agencies, it would weed out some of the people who think those programs have no merit.

Comment from James Johnson, (1/26/2012, 12:11 AM)

When OSHA speaks of injuries and ILLNESSES I wonder what illnesses they are talking about? Are they saying employers should be responsible for workers getting a flu shot? Or of making employers responsible if workers eat a poor diet and have high colesterol? When government sneaks in such generic words one can only wonder.

Comment from M. Halliwelll, (1/26/2012, 10:50 AM)

James, if they listed them all, there would be tomes for the employer to read through and try to ascertain if they are applicable to their business. Sure, "illnesses" is a generic term and leaves the door open for interpretation, but I think it is a little easier for a company to identify its occupational disease risks (i.e. asbestosis and mesothelioma for asbestos workers) than to sift through the International Labour Office list of occupational diseases (which has 103 categories to classify occupational illnesses....that's not the listing of illnesses, but the groupings to make them easier to sift through). Could OSHA do better? Sure. But there is a fine line between regulating everything (which I assume you don't support) and being too general (which it looks like you don't support either) while actually trying to protect workers.

Comment from Robert Jorden, (1/27/2012, 12:25 PM)

Perhaps a few low cost high quality training sessions would help those with problems interpreting the regs. I don't think any of us really want to go back to the old days of take your chances. Thanks to OSHA we now have a much safer work enviroment. If you need help finding training check with one of the OSHA Training Institutes and ED Centers there are 24 around the country that offer quality nationally recognized classes covering all aspects of on the job safety.

Comment from shane hirvi, (1/27/2012, 12:52 PM)

I have never understood the stigma associated with OSHA. We are in a pretty dangerous indusry and one would think that worker safety would be a source of pride rather than contention. I understand OSHA comes in finds something and then starts piling on crap like out of date fire extinguishers, power cords, door swing in relation to steps etc... but those things typically get tossed out anyways. Contractors in this business should know how to run a safe jobsite. The fact is, however, that a couple times a month or more paintsquare has a story about a worker dying, getting injured or of some kind environmental incident caused by a contractor. I don't quite understand the huffy attitude towards osha given the risks associated with this industry and most likely never will.

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