Jeffress Bridges the Gap for Safety

It's little surprise that 18- to 34-year-olds are at the heart of a nationwide increase in illegal drug use, and the manufacturing industry traditionally draws heavily from this pool of job seekers.

During a keynote session at the recent American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exposition in Toronto, OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress told attendees that safety and health in the new millennium will not be much different from the 20th century. "The same old hazards will remain with us in the future, but we also must be alert to the hazards of high-tech workers," he said.

Jeffress also talked about reaching across the borders to keep employees safe. The agencies responsible for occupational safety and health around the world must come together to protect employees and bring together the employee and the employer, he said.

Jeffress referred to bridging another gap, the "disconnect" between what safety and health professionals know and practice and what industry associations in Washington are saying to the public and lobbying for in Congress. "It will take forthright CEOs educated in practical realities to combat the views of the trade associations," he said.

In offering attendees an update on OSHA's activities, Jeffress said, "The noise of those against government regulations drowns out the voice of reason." Some of OSHA's activities:

  • The final recordkeeping rule, to be released in September and in force in January 2000, will include new forms and some changes in the way things are reported. Jeffress later changed the release date to late 1999 or early 2000, with implementation in January 2001.
  • Expect a change for permissible exposure limits for air contaminants. A change is long overdue, Jeffress said, citing that current PELs are 30 years old. Proposals for seven priority PELs is expected to be published this spring.
  • More outreach, education and partnership is another OSHA goal. If a budget request for $12 million makes it through Congress, the money will be used to put full-time OSHA training personnel in every OSHA area office, Jeffress said.

Jeffress said he welcomes third-party audits, but cautions that they cannot take the place of OSHA enforcement. He also noted that OSHA has an increased interest in addressing global worker safety and health issues.

Hazard classification and labeling requirements are different in each country. He hopes that technologically advanced countries "can develop a harmonized standard for labeling" to help developing countries implement their policies sooner.

Jeffress concluded by saying that "we cannot see the future clearly, but we do know that occupational health and safety issues will continue, and we will continue do what it takes to protect workers."

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