OSHA Chief Calls for Support of Proposed Injury Prevention Reg

Says failure to safeguard workers provides competitive advantage

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's rule under development to require employers to have injury and illness prevention plans is a "regulatory effort you should get behind," OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels told an audience of safety managers at the National Safety Congress Oct. 5 in San Diego.

Michaels said there continue to be "companies that treat injured workers as disposable" and that this disregard for safety provided them a "huge competitive advantage" over employers that invest in safety programs. Michaels said it was common for employers to have such programs and that they should support the OSHA rulemaking effort.

In May, OSHA announced that the rule would require employers to create a plan for identifying and correcting hazards, and then implement the plan. Workers would have a role in the development and implementation of such plans. At the time, Michaels said the agency was "asking employers to 'find and fix' the hazards in their workplaces."

OSHA developed a draft proposed rule in 1998 that would have required employers to establish safety and health programs. The draft proposed rule 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. The rule was never issued and was dropped by the agency in 2002.

Michaels also told the NSC audience that the agency would soon be announcing an initiative for updating its regulation of chemical hazards. OSHA presently has standards for about 500 chemicals, but about 470 of them date from voluntary standards that were established before 1968. The agency has struggled for years to develop a system that would allow it to update its permissible exposure limits without resorting to costly and time-consuming substance-by-substance rulemaking.

Michaels was also asked about a recent report critical of state-run OSHA programs. Currently, 25 states and territories run their own OSHA programs. According to law, states must operate these programs so that they are as effective as the federal program. Michaels said one of the difficulties of evaluating these programs was that there was no clear definition of what the phrase "as effective as" really meant.

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