NSC: OSHA Chief Hails Agency's Voluntary Methods at Safety Congress

Hours before the National Safety Council closed its annual Congress and Expo because of Hurricane Ivan, OSHA Administrator John Henshaw highlighted the agency's emphasis on voluntary approaches to reduce workplace, illnesses, injuries, and fatalities.

Speaking to Congress attendees in New Orleans Sept. 14, Henshaw also praised OSHA's enforcement effort, pointing out that inspections are effective in cutting injury and illness rates.

Expanding the elite Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) has been one of Henshaw's priorities and he told the audience that in order to increase the construction industry's participation in the program, OSHA has begun "the most significant addition to our VPP in over 20 years."

Two weeks ago, Henshaw explained, OSHA published a proposal in the Federal Register to modify VPP in order to fit the needs of the construction industry. "By providing a way for short-term, mobile workplaces to qualify for VPP Star or Merit, we are creating a better way for contractors, owners and the public to recognize construction organizations and worksites that have superior safety and health programs."

Since Henshaw initiated the VPP expansion effort in 2001, the program has grown to include 1153 sites an increase of more than 48 percent.

Henshaw devoted a major portion of his speech to motor vehicle safety, noting that highway incidents are the leading cause of occupational deaths, accounting for almost one-quarter of workplace fatalities.

OSHA's 5-year strategic management plan calls for addressing this issue entirely through voluntary methods: outreach, compliance assistance and partnerships. A major current focus of the agency is to lead the private sector by example, by encouraging federal workers to wear their seat belts.

Inspections increased by almost 10 percent from 2000 to 2003, according to Henshaw, and he said the agency would exceed its inspection goals for fiscal year 2004.

OSHA's site specific targeting (SST) is intended to direct the agency's scarce inspection resources to the most dangerous U.S. worksites. Henshaw said the program is working.

When OSHA sends letters to the 14,000 employers who have high injury and illness rates, their reported rates decline by five percent in the following three years, he explained.

But OSHA inspections appear to be more effective than letters.

"When we followed up with an inspection of the workplace, they experienced a 12 to 13.8 percent drop in injuries and illnesses over the next three years," Henshaw said.

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