Does Workplace Safety Hang in the Balance?

Regardless of who wins on of the closest presidential elections in American history, employers and employees will see changes in the\r\noversight of their safety and health programs, according to one expert.

While the country awaits a definitive answer to who won one of the closest presidential elections in the history of the United States, America''s employers and employees will see fundamental changes in the oversight of their safety and health programs regardless of the victor, according to one occupational safety and health expert.

Duane Daugherty, vice president of Safety Services at Medcor Inc., is the author of The New OSHA published by the American Management Association.

Daugherty said Vice President Al Gore''s approach to safety and health is not necessary Clintonian and Texas Gov. George W. Bush would likely resist reform.

"The general public seems unaware of the changes Gore has had on regulatory agencies, and particularly OSHA, through his Reinventing Government initiative," said Daugherty.

"He didn''t campaign on the changes he brought about," which Daugherty said include enhancements to the technical side of OSHA''s operations.

According to Daugherty, OSHA''s Reinvention Team has introduced a slough of outreach programs in the form of software or Internet-based resources.

Daugherty said Gore likely would also put pressure on the handful of state-run OSHA programs that make workers covered by them exempt from federal oversight.

"It''s been widely recognized that the feds have been lenient with these state agencies, some of which cover a significant amount of workers, as with California''s CalOSH. A Gore administration would be interested in tightening enforcement in areas where statistics reveal there are known problems."

On the other hand, according to Daugherty a Bush administration would likely put a hold on developing standards and delay a long-anticipated streamlining of OSHA recordkeeping requirements that would benefit small business in particular.

"The reason for that may not be quite so obvious," said Daugherty. "As a pro-business administration, large businesses tend to like the status quo. Changing reporting requirements for a large corporation -- even to simplify them -- can be a logistical nightmare."

Daugherty also expects that Bush would table the agency''s push for an ergonomics standard, supported by Gore but expected to face a challenge in the courts.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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