OSHA's Plan to Work in New Ways

A panel of OSHA\r\nexecutives illustrated the agency's "New Ways of Working Plan," and\r\nupdated NSC Congress attendees on ergonomics, construction, standards, enforcement\r\nand partnership efforts.

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At an occupational keynote Tuesday at the National Safety Council''s (NSC) Congress & Expo in Orlando, Fla., a panel of OSHA executives illustrated the agency''s "New Ways of Working Plan," and updated attendees on ergonomics, construction, standards, enforcement and partnership efforts.

The high-ranking OSHA executive panel included OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary R. Davis Lane; Director of Compliance Richard Fairfax; Deputy Director of Construction Berrien Zettler; Director of Federal/State Operations Paula White; and Director of Technical Support Steve Witt.

OSHA''s New Ways of Working includes a focus on partnership, outreach, strong enforcement and rulemaking. The executives explained how OSHA is working to implement its new plan.

White told the audience OSHA''s first experience with partnership came with the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP). "VPP taught us that by working together, we can accomplish more," said White.

In addition to the VPP program, which recognizes work sites that are achieving excellence in health and safety, OSHA has engaged in partnerships.

"When government, management, labor and industry partner together, we can save lives and reduce injuries," said White.

OSHA currently has 86 active open partnerships throughout the country and experienced 83 percent growth in its partnership program so far this year.

White explained that those groups involved in the partnerships run the gamut from garment manufacturing to communication tower servicing groups.

Zettler told the audience how OSHA has created partnerships in the construction industry. Those companies participating in OSHA''s construction partnership are models for others.

"Construction companies that qualify for the partnership are inspected less often and if they are inspected and minor violations are found, they receive reduced penalties," said Zettler. "If we reduce the number of inspections with companies we know are partners, we don''t have to waste our resources on inspecting a company that is already working safely."

In terms of outreach, the advancement of the Internet as a global communication tool has helped OSHA better inform companies about safety and health.

Technological Support Director Witt explained how OSHA''s Web site has contributed to continuous outreach and training.

"The OSHA Web site receives 1 million hits per month and these people stay online for more than 30 minutes," said Witt.

Witt said the site includes three important information sources, including the technical links section, E-Compliance Assistance Tools (E-Cats) section, and the expert advisors section.

The site includes more than 130 links to various subjects in the health and safety field. E-Cats are graphical and word tools on topics such as logging, silica and respiratory assistance. Expert advisors is an interactive software program that provides personal advice to users.

OSHA''s outreach also includes the implementation of compliance assistant personnel who do not have enforcement responsibility.

"These people look for the opportunity to bring safety and health training and education to the workplace," said Lane. "I wish OSHA was as recognized for its education as it is for its enforcement."

Strong enforcement is another goal of OSHA''s new work plan. Fairfax said strong enforcement is important because it help the success of the other programs.

He noted that the Site Specific Targeting (SST) program has helped changed the way OSHA handles enforcement.

"Between 1996-97, we began collecting injury and illness data from an estimated 80,000 employers to help us track the SST program," said Fairfax.

Fairfax explained that OSHA has found three times more significant cases under SST, or those companies receiving fines totaling more than $100,000 for violations, than it had done prior to the program. In 1999, OSHA had 170 significant cases.

Davis explained to the audience why he believed OSHA rulemaking is so controversial. "The OSH Act passed by Congress envisioned broad public participation. This mandates OSHA to publish rules for public comment," said Davis. "It is difficult for us because we can''t please everyone, but we are trying to do a better job of writing standards."

He noted the proposed ergonomics standard saying that the actual standard is only 10 pages long, however, with the accompanying documentation, the standard is more than 1,000 pages.

Davis also gave the audience an update on where the standard is now. "I spoke with Charles Jeffress this morning and he said OSHA will publish the final standard by the end of this year," said Davis.

OSHA plans on moving toward implementation of other standards, including recordkeeping, safety and health programs and tuberculosis, after the ergonomics standard is published.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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