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An Early Prediction on the New OSHA

Ronald J Lott Ph.D, CPE


The constitution of the United States established three branches of the government—Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. The legislative branch is to pass laws, the executive branch is to execute laws, and the judicial reviews the constitutionality of the establishment and execution of laws.

In 1970 the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed at a time when an estimated 14,000 workers were dying each year. In the law’s preamble it states, that every working man and woman in the United States will be afforded a safe and healthful work environment to the extent possible. The law established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which promulgates standards as a part of Title 29 of Federal Law with regulations codified in 1910 and 1926 for General Industry and for Construction, respectively; with other parts published for other types of industries.

In recent years an approximate 5-6,000 workers die each year. On September 11th, 2001 some 3000 Americans died, and justifiably so, our country has responded. Consider however, that with the aforementioned number of workplace fatalities, approximately 40 to 48,000 American workers have died at work since 9-11 - its just that the news media was not there to film it.

Employers expend nearly $170 billion dollars annually on workers’ compensation costs; the average cost of a death is $250,000.00, and a recordable case, $28,000.00. Ironically, during hard economic times, the safety program is usually the first to be cut. Maybe if the OSHA becomes more active, better decisions will be made.

The New OSHA

What will the new Administration’s OSHA be like? The Congress will likely pass the Protecting American Workers' Act, which provides for increased monetary penalties against employers for regulatory violations. Hilda Solis, the new Secretary of Labor, has pledged to "put enforcement back into the Department of Labor" - including more OSHA inspections. It is expected that under the new administration, employers must get ready for a shift away from the cooperative atmosphere of the recent past to a more aggressive, citation-based approach.

The OSHA of the prior administration indicated that its’ enforcement activities were significant, yet on April 1st, 2009 the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Labor reported a devastating report on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) enforcement failures.

“The report from the Department of Labor on OSHA’s enforcement failures is devastating news for America’s working men and women. As the findings show, dozens of workers died at employers who were previously inspected by OSHA in dangerous and severe situations. According to the report OSHA, under the Bush Administration, failed to designate these employers for strict action under the Enhanced Enforcement Program that was supposed to prevent further fatalities and serious injuries.

Worker protection regulations are simply guidelines which essentially state, if you have these types of hazards and you follow these guidelines, you will protect your workers, increase the longevity of your workforce, limit workers’ compensation cost, and limit company or personal liabilities. At any rate, the guidelines are regulatory requirements and not optional activities; standards state, the employer must or shall or will. Just as most citizens do not elect to violate laws such as going through “red lights,” taking other’s things, tax fraud, murder, etc. it is ironic that some will choose to ignore worker protection laws. Often such decisions are made naively or because they do not realize the potential consequences (civil and criminal) and the cost of such decisions. In addition they may not understand the correlation between the enhancement of production and the maintenance of both the occupational and non-occupational health of their workforce.
As previously mentioned, everyday you read about or talk with a safety manager or trainer that has either been released, their staff decreased, or their budgets cut; usually as a “cost saving initiative” by the company. Such actions will inevitably lead to increasing costs of workers’ comp and if the New OSHA does increase its activities to identify violators of standards, additional cost will occur.

Human Resources and Safety & Health Manager Solutions

Managers responsible for safety and health programs must become better researchers, statisticians, epidemiologists, sociologists, actuaries, and staffers. There is plenty of documentary evidence to provide production managers in order for them to understand the potential consequences of their decisions concerning the elimination of health and safety initiatives. Some include:
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics Data
  • Safety Pays Data
  • Demographic Epidemiological Data
  • OSHA Violation Data
  • Professional Journal Articles
  • Professional Organization Data

These are but a few sources of data gathering that will help to better inform management so that they make more informed decisions about the benefits of maintaining a safe and healthful workplace.

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