What OSHA Is Getting Right?


OSHA seems to be everyone’s favorite punching bag and the recipient of criticism over virtually everything that it does. If it issues a rule that does not make any sense, then we’ll see the business community protest whatever that action is as being wasteful.

If OSHA doesn’t move fast enough or works on ‘too few rules’ then the unions will balk. In some respects, the Agency can hardly ever win… or so it seems most of the time. But in this blog post, I wanted to focus on some of the things that I believe the Agency is doing well and ought to continue doing in the future. Afterall, there is universal agreement among ALL STAKEHOLDERS, whether labor-business-academia-regulators-or other, which is that we all want to ensure employees have the opportunity to earn their pay without getting injured or ill as a result of their hard work. Agreed.

So where the debate (and criticism) comes into effect is in “how” to accomplish worker protections…. enforcement (“shaming companies into compliance”) or compliance assistance (“helping employers protect their employees”) — or a mix of the two. Perhaps this is a little over simplistic, but it breaks it down to the basic blocks.

So, is OSHA doing the right things to accomplish its mission? Well, not to get right back into the spiral thread of thinking, lets just focus here on the good things that OSHA is doing.

First, OSHA has done a fantastic job in opening up communications between the Agency and stakeholder community. It started with the day long meeting last year that they called “OSHA Listens”. It was a potpouri of stakeholders taking their time slots to raise whatever issues were important to them. Issues ranged all over the map from how the Agency ought to be managed, ineffective or over-reaching policies, advocating or opposing rulemaking items, promoting a new rulemaking, and scores of other topics and issues. To my knowledge, this was the first time OSHA had ever done something like this. And it was great. Who knows how or if the Agency will take any of that information to heart, but at least stakeholders had the opportunity to express their concerns and ideas.

Second, the Agency instituted webchats for everything from answering questions on the bi-annual uniform regulatory agenda(s) to soliciting information on which chemicals ought to be considered for a PEL review. There were several other topics as well. These webchats are demonstrable examples of the Agency, if nothing else, attempting to better engage stakeholders to make sure that their views are heard. Hopefully, as more of these webchats occur, the agency will continue to get better in answering direct questions. But this is a great move in the right direction and look forward to the Agency conducting more webchats in the future.

Third, OSHA has conducted a number of face-to-face stakeholder meetings to discuss complex issues such as Combustible Dust, Safety and Health Program rule, and other important issues. The Agency made the extra effort to make sure that stakeholders from across the country were able to participate by holding some of these meetings out in the Regions…. Chicago, Atlanta, etc. This ensure(s) that more stakeholders have the opportunity to have their voices heard.

Fourth, the Agency has taken a fresh look at some of their newest policies or rulemaking efforts to see if they make sense considering today’s economic environment … and more importantly, acknowledge the business community’s success in reducing injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Nation is continuing to experience all-time low injury/illness and fatality rates. Knock on wood, but we are seeing new historic low rates each subsequent year. This is fantastic and a sign that employers have heard the message that “Safety Pays”.

Of course this is not an exhaustive list of things that the Agency is doing right, at least not in my opinion. There is still plenty of room for improvement. But with this post, I wanted to focus strictly on the positive.

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Prometrix Consulting, with a staff of former OSHA officials, offers expert consulting and training services to help clients ensure compliance with complex workplace safety and health requirements.

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