OSHA's Standard-setting Outdated, Jeffress says

Oct. 20, 1999
OSHA's task of setting standards needs to change heading into the new millennium, agency head Charles N. Jeffress says at the National Safety Council Congress & Expo.

Setting standards, one of the four main objectives of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), needs to change heading into the new millennium, agency Administrator Charles N. Jeffress said Oct. 19 to attendees of the 87th annual National Safety Council Congress & Expo in New Orleans.

As OSHA continues with enforcement, partnerships and outreach/training, how the agency goes about setting standards will be a key to the agency's success in the 21st century, Jeffress said.

"The strategies of the past are not sufficient to move us into the future," he said. "To meet the challenges of the new millennium, we need a new strategy. A new strategy calls for new ways of working."

OSHA needs to move from a specification approach of standard-setting that is limited and inflexible to a focus on performance, Jeffress said. This new systems approach to safety, which would empower employers and employees to address problems within a practical framework that fits the individual workplace, makes more sense, he added.

"It's risk-based on what hazards are, rather than being just rules-based," Jeffress said, adding that he would expect employers and employees to work together to analyze the workplace and define and fix hazards.

To help management and labor achieve that goal, OSHA's challenge is to write easy-to-understand rules that are flexible and are enforced fairly and consistently, Jeffress said.

"OSHA doesn't need to direct your every step, but OSHA needs to set the framework that every workplace in the country needs to work within," he said. "OSHA's job is to provide impetus to get people started and an accountability process to keep people going."

Once OSHA releases its proposed safety and health programs standard next year, the agency will begin designing courses, in anticipation of a final standard, for compliance officers to be retrained in systems evaluation. This training, Jeffress said, will enable these officers to analyze and evaluate safety and health programs and systems.

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