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.
|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.”
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.|
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.”
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.