Henshaw Says OSHA Close to Completing Work on PPE Rule

At yesterday's (July 9) meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH), OSHA Administrator John Henshaw indicated that the agency is "in the throes of finalizing our efforts" on a rule that would clarify employers' obligation to pay for personal protective equipment (PPE).

NACOSH's last meeting in February was characterized by some sharp criticism of Henshaw's leadership, particularly with respect to the agency's slimmed-down rulemaking agenda. But after introductory remarks appealing for comity by the committee's new chairman, public representative Peter Deluca, the first day of this summer's two-day meeting developed along more harmonious lines.

In February, NACOSH member Richard Duffy, representing the International Association of Firefighters, rebuked OSHA and NIOSH for failing to provide guidance, enforcemen, or leadership with respect to the PPE needs of emergency workers. But yesterday, Duffy went out of his way to praise the agencies for the progress being made in this area.

It was Duffy who then asked Henshaw about the long-delayed employer payment for PPE rule. Henshaw declined to reveal details about the timing or the nature of the decision, explaining that he did not want to "compromise in any way" a process that is nearing completion. However, the OSHA chief did discuss his own thinking about the matter.

"It's my belief that it is the employer's responsibility to make sure that workers are protected," said Henshaw. "PPE often times is an important factor in that protection, and if the employee is not protected and we go in on an enforcement action, then we hold the employer accountable; we cite the employer."

OSHA began work on the employer payment for PPE rule more than four years ago; according to the agency's most recent regulatory agenda, released May 27, the rule is still listed as a "long-term action."

Henshaw devoted the entirety of his prepared remarks at the NACOSH meeting to an explanation of OSHA's new five-year strategic plan, which by 2008 commits the agency to cutting workplace fatalities by 15 percent. Illnesses and injuries are to be reduced by 20 percent within the same time frame.

During the question period, NACOSH members generally praised the goals Henshaw had outlined in the strategic plan, though they had a number of questions about its details.

Safety representative James Stanley pointed out that motor vehicle crashes not a traditional area of OSHA jurisdiction account for the largest number of occupational deaths, and he asked Henshaw if the baseline for the agency's "admirable goals" included this workplace killer.

"It will include everything, we will be working on workplace motor vehicle accidents," Henshaw replied. "It's something we haven't necessarily focused on in the past, but we will be focusing on that in the future."

Henshaw did not reveal many details to committee members about how the agency would achieve its overall goals, nor how it would begin to prevent fatal motor vehicle crashes.

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