ORC Calls for Collaborative Dialogue on OSHA

The day before the elections,\r\nOrganization Resources Counselors Inc. has released a paper to stimulate a dialogue on what needs to be done to revitalize and redirect OSHA.

The day before the presidential and congressional elections, Organization Resources Counselors Inc. (ORC) is calling on business, labor and others to engage in a search for common ground and for mutually acceptable approaches to future programs and priorities of OSHA.

ORC is an international management consulting firm that works with corporate safety and health leaders to promote effective occupational safety and health programs and practices in business, and to facilitate industry understanding of and contribution to the formation of national occupational safety and health policy.

In a white paper released Friday, "An OSHA That Works: A Proposal For Seeking A Collaborative National Agenda," ORC said, "Despite some significant efforts in recent years to develop new programs and strategies, OSHA is regarded by many as being out of touch with the business world of the 21st century and even in its conventional role of establishing and enforcing mandatory safety and health standards, the agency too often seems unable to take effective action."

This position is just the opposite of the one OSHA was trying to present of itself to safety and health professionals at the recent National Safety Council Congress last month in Orlando, Fla.

At that Congress, a panel of OSHA executives took part in a session that illustrated the agency''s latest initiative to change its image called "New Ways of Working."

OSHA''s New Ways of Working includes a focus on partnership, outreach, strong enforcement and rulemaking.

But OSHA''s new plan may be enough change for ORC.

The paper goes on to express ORC''s belief that: "Employers, employees and safety and health professionals -- and all who have a direct stake in occupational safety and health -- have an obligation to try to improve the agency''s effectiveness and value in the ongoing national effort to make our workplaces safer. The challenge is determining how to restore OSHA''s capacity to provide leadership in this effort."

In the paper, ORC said, "No one organization can ultimately develop a ''fix'' that will be acceptable and achievable from both a practical and political perspective. What one organization can do -- and what ORC proposes to do -- is to initiate and stimulate a ''dialogue'' on what needs to be done to revitalize and redirect OSHA."

As a starting point, the paper said ORC suggests four principle goals to enable OSHA to achieve its new initiative over the coming decade.

ORC believes OSHA should:

Implement strategies, programs and incentives that will stimulate safety and health excellence in every workplace. OSHA has taken some steps in this direction through efforts such as its emerging partnerships, its Web site and its "Safety Pays" initiative, said ORC. However, there is much more OSHA can do such as "strive through broad partnerships with business, labor and professional groups to become a leader in computer-based training and distance learning.

Identify the nation''s most serious safety and health risks and mobilize all its resources and programs toward their reduction. OSHA''s experience with many of its Special Emphasis Programs strongly suggests that identifying risks and mobilizing resources to attack them can be successful, said ORC.

Involve stakeholders in priority-setting and program implementation and evaluation. Compared to a decade ago, OSHA today seeks stakeholder input on the development of its regulatory proposals on a much more regular basis, said the paper. However, OSHA only occasionally seeks input on other critical initiatives, such as compliance directives and interpretations, and almost never involves stakeholders in the implementation and evaluation phases of a policy or program, according to ORC.

Improve the effectiveness and timeliness of its regulatory, compliance and other program initiatives of its communication, outreach and other "service delivery" efforts. The growing disparity between the speed and agility of business and the sluggishness and inflexibility of OSHA action is one key factor in the agency''s decreasing credibility, particularly in the rulemaking arena, but in other areas as well, said the paper. In ORC''s view, "OSHA''s future credibility and effectiveness are directly tied to its ability to develop and issue new and revised standards, guidelines and other safety and health information in a timely fashion.

ORC said it hopes to initiate a national dialogue on how to improve OSHA.

ORC is inviting all key stakeholders to participate in the debate.

In the coming weeks, ORC said it will be working with interested stakeholders to develop an approach to conducting collaborative discussions.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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