Safety Professionals Get Answers from OSHA

In an informal question and answer session at the VPPPA Conference in Seattle, Wash., OSHA Administrator Charles Jeffress answered the curious questions of attendees.

Have you ever wished you could sit down and discuss OSHA issues with the agency''s Administrator Charles Jeffress?

Attendees at this year''s Voluntary Protection Programs Participants Association (VPPPA) Conference in Seattle, Wash., had the opportunity to do just that.

In an informal question and answer session, Jeffress addressed recent "hot" topics and the concerns of professionals in the safety and health field, including ergonomics, recordkeeping, a safety and health program standard and OSHA partnership.

Here are some of issues discussed at yesterday''s Coffee Talk session with Jeffress.

Ergonomics

Will an ergonomics standard exist by the end of this year? Jeffress said, it is going to happen.

He admitted that the proposed standard has traveled down a rocky road as far as Washington politics is concerned. "Ergonomics was chosen as the issue to play politics with OSHA by those who don''t like any government regulations," said Jeffress.

After asking how many of the attendees had ergonomics programs in place and 80 percent of the people in the room raised their hands, Jeffress continued.

"Those charged with safety and health in the workplace don''t want to see employees get hurt. The lobbyists in Washington are the only ones talking about politics, not workers."

Jeffress said the final standard may face some legal challenges and court struggles but ultimately it will not be a struggle over whether or not there will be a standard.

"Once the standard is out there, it may need some further modifications as a result of court hearings, but it will be out there," said Jeffress. "It is a safety and health issue and people ultimately know it is the right thing to do."

Recordkeeping

As he has noted before, Jeffress said that the agency has been moving forward with the recordkeeping and expect to have the proposal out by the end of this year.

"Expect a simpler form with much simpler instructions," said Jeffress. "By the time all is said and done I expect the effective date for the rule will be 2002.

Safety and Health Program Standard

With OSHA''s attention focused on getting the ergonomics standard finalized, Jeffress said the safety and health program standard will not be out this year.

However, he assured the audience that the safety and health program standard "would be back on the front burner next year."

"I hope that we will be able to focus more on substance instead of politics for this rule unlike the ergonomics rule," said Jeffress.

OSHA Partnership

Jeffress said OSHA''s partnership concept is a result of the agency''s desire to not be viewed simply as enforcers.

"This is essentially a way for us to recognize those companies or associations who are doing the right thing," said Jeffress. "Show us what you are doing and we will focus our inspections and recognize your efforts."

When asked ''what will happen to OSHA after the November election?'' and ''what his best moment as OSHA administrator has been?,'' Jeffress remained diplomatic.

"Regardless of who wins, funding for OSHA will remain strong and the commitment to safety and health will also remain strong," said Jeffress.

Jeffress said he was most proud of the emphasis that has been placed on outreach and partnership during his time at the agency.

"I believe in strong enforcement but I don''t believe enforcement is enough," noted Jeffress. "I am most proud of the investment in training and outreach the agency has made over the past three years."

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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