AIHce: David Michaels Looks Ahead to OSHA’s 41st Year and Beyond

OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels offered a lively and informative overview of OSHA at 40 and beyond during a keynote address on May 18 at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Expo in Portland, Ore.

“What was the world like before OSHA?” Michaels asked. “The idea that workers had the right to a safe workplace didn’t exist.”

In 1970, with a work force half the size of the 2010 work force, an average of 38 workers died per day. In 2009, an average of 12 workers died per day. “Twelve workers is still too many,” Michaels acknowledged, “but OSHA standards save lives.”

Later he joked, “You might think the technical name [for OSHA standards] is ‘job-killing OSHA standards,’” referring to the scrutiny the agency has received in the Republican-dominated House.

OSHA standards, said Michaels, save lives. More importantly, he added, “OSHA stops jobs from killing workers.” Citing such standards such as the cotton dust standard of 1978, the 1987 grain handling standard and standards related to bloodborne pathogens and needlestick injuries, Michaels noted that fatalities were reduced by significant numbers.

Michaels shared his enthusiasm for the Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2) standard, which is about to enter the SBREFA process. GHS (the globally harmonized system for the classification of chemicals) should be published in the August regulatory agenda. He also said the agency plans to propose a standard for silica that will mandate that employers take certain provisions to protect their employees from silica exposure. Silica continues to kill and injure workers in a variety of industries and occupations, despite an emphasis on the health impact of the material that dates back 75 years.

Michaels also discussed the agency’s plan to reopen the public record on a proposed rule to revise the Occupational Injury and Illness Recording and Reporting Requirements regulation to add a a work-related musculoskeletal disorders column.

On Jan. 29, 2010, OSHA proposed to revise its Occupational Injury and Illness Recording and Reporting Requirements regulation to restore a column to the OSHA 300 log that employers would have to check if an incident they already have recorded under existing rules is an MSD. The proposed rule would not change the existing record-keeping requirements about when and under what circumstances employers must record work-related injuries and illnesses. The only additional requirement the proposed rule would impose is for an employer to mark the MSD column box on the OSHA 300 log if a case it already has recorded meets the definition of an MSD.

Saying that he didn’t understand the controversy over the column, Michaels noted, “If you count it, it counts.” He said the hope was that employers would use that column to take notice of an injury trend and would take steps to protect workers from ergonomic injuries.

Finally, Michaels addressed distracted driving. Although many employers now have rules in place that forbid employees from talking or texting on their phones while driving, those same employers need to take the extra step of ensuring the employee’s work isn’t organized in such a way that they practically are forced to talk or text while driving.

“If you drive for work, the work is driving; it’s not texting,” he said.

Every worker deserves to work in a safe workplace, said Micheals, and OSHA’s job is to ensure “that right is respected.”

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