OSHA Introduces New Strategic Plan

As part of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) new 6-year strategic plan, OSHA unveiled its goals, strategies and approaches for improving workplace safety and health, with a focus on enforcement, reducing fatalities, maintaining a strong outreach and education program, improving “voice in the workplace” and more.

The DOL Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2010-2016 is required through the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act. According to U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, DOL’s plan will “demonstrate how the department has aligned its strategic direction, goals and performance measures” to achieve the goal of “good jobs for everyone.” DOL’s plan is expected to be in place by Sept. 30, 2010.

OSHA officials participated in an April 7 live Web chat to discuss the plan and solicit input from stakeholders.

OSHA’s Plan

According to the plan overview, “OSHA is focusing on actively promoting safe and healthy working conditions for working men and women by: setting and enforcing workplace safety and health standards; delivering effective enforcement; providing outreach, education and compliance assistance; and encouraging continual improvement in workplace safety and health.”

To accomplish these goals, OSHA will use the following strategies:

  • Strengthen enforcement capabilities – target the most egregious and persistent violators.
  • Strengthen regulatory capabilities.
  • Increase OSHA’s presence in the workplace.
  • Protect workers in high-hazard occupations.
  • Protect vulnerable and hard-to-reach worker populations.
  • Review and restructure penalties to ensure that penalties imposed are consistent with the seriousness of the violation and act as effective deterrence to violators.
  • Maintain a strong outreach and education program.
  • Enhance and strengthen compliance assistance program for small businesses.

OSHA intends to measure its success by reducing fatalities associated with the four leading causes of workplace fatalities (falls, electrocutions, caught in or between, and struck by); increasing the number of targeted hazards abated, including hearing loss in manufacturing, illnesses in general industry/construction and amputations; and increasing awareness of OSHA rights, responsibilities and programs to improve “voice in the workplace.”

During the live Web chat, OSHA Administrator David Michaels stressed that this strategic plan is independent of the Protecting America’s Workers Act, and will be implemented regardless of whether that act passes.

Ergonomics and VPP

The strategic plan overview as currently provided by OSHA consists of general goals and does not outline specific regulatory actions. Many stakeholders who weighed in on the Web chat, however, questioned whether this plan specifically would address ergonomics.

“Until recently, enforcement around ergonomic hazards languished,” Michaels explained during the live chat. “We recognize that thousands of workers annually suffer from musculoskeletal conditions associated with ergonomic hazards and OSHA must do more. OSHA’s field staff will be looking for ergonomic hazards in their inspections and we will be providing them with the support and back-up they need to enforce under the general duty clause. In addition, we will be examining employer logs to see if MSDs are accurately reported.”

Dorothy Dougherty, director of standards and guidance, added that OSHA hopes to issue the rule on adding a musculoskeletal disorder column to the OSHA log in time to implement the new requirements on Jan. 1, 2011, when the next annual reporting cycle would begin. The comment period on this rule had been extended to March 30, 2010, to provide stakeholders with additional time to submit their comments.

“OSHA is currently reviewing the comments and has begun work on drafting the rule,” Dougherty said.

Questions regarding the Voluntary Protections Programs (VPP) also surfaced several times during the live chat, with many stakeholders expressing concern about the future of the program. OSHA Director of Administrative Programs Kim Locey explained that the agency is “not eliminating the VPP, but due to budgetary issues we are using our limited resources where they are most needed by focusing on employers that do not do a good job protecting their employees.”

Locey and Steve Witt, director of cooperative and state programs, both stressed that OSHA is searching for alternate, non-government-funded ways to continue the program.

Industrial Hygiene Focus

OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Rich Fairfax told EHS Today during the live chat that in addition to increasing compliance staff and performing more inspections, the strategic plan will place a strong emphasis on industrial hygiene.

“So our health inspectors will be focusing more on industrial hygiene issues, such as noise and hearing loss,” he said.

The plan also indicates that OSHA intends to target hearing loss in manufacturing, illness in general industry/construction and workplace amputations. Michaels told EHS Today that the agency would work to accomplish this through the National Emphasis Programs (NEP) in these industries and continuing to provide outreach activities for employers and workers.

Additionally, Fairfax acknowledged that the Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) are outdated and explained he has put together a task force to examine the issue. In the meantime, he said, the agency will rely on existing PELs, the respiratory protection standard and hazard communication.

According to OSHA’s plan, the agency intends to “review and restructure penalties,” a possibility that was the subject of a March 16 House hearing.

“OSHA will shortly be changing our penalty calculation method resulting in higher penalties,” Fairfax said. “Stay tuned.”

For more information about the DOL strategic plan, as well as OSHA’s overview and the archived Web chat, visit http://www.dol.gov/_sec/stratplan.

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