OSHA in 2007: An Overview

The arrival of 2008 prompted Occupational Hazards to take stock of what OSHA has — and has not — accomplished in 2007.

When the Democratic Congress became a majority party in November 2006, labor and industry advocates knew OSHA would be called on to answer tough questions in 2007, particularly from Congressional leaders who have disapproved of what is perceived to be the agency's current focus on compliance assistance over enforcement.

In addition, 2007 was the year when OSHA Administrator Edwin Foulke began to put his stamp on an agency widely criticized by worker advocates as being unwilling to vigorously enforce and update safety and health regulations. He was welcomed into OSHA in March 2006 and by 2007, Foulke had to show what he was made of.

With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the OSHA-related events that took place in 2007:

  • Standard-setting: In November, OSHA announced the employer payment for PPE rule, making it the only standard issued in 2007. Although the agency claimed the standard was in the works all along, many worker advocates counter that a lawsuit filed by the AFL-CIO and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), as well as Congressional pressure, played a role in the standard's release.

  • Congressional Oversight: Many experts claim that without Congress's involvement, OSHA would have delayed issuing the PPE rule and would have done nothing about the diacetyl issue. In addition, the agency faced Congressional hearings about OSHA coverage for public workers; the agency's enforcement record at the nation's oil refineries; and charges that OSHA failed to protect Ground Zero workers by not enforcing federal health and safety regulations.

  • Diacetyl: OSHA initiated a national emphasis program to address the hazards associated with working with butter flavorings containing diacetyl after the Teamsters union and the UFCW petitioned for an emergency temporary standard. Claiming this wasn't enough, Congress introduced a bill to force the agency to issue a final rule on diacetyl. In September, OSHA issued a guidance document and announced it would begin the regulation process.

  • CSB Report on BP Texas City Explosion: OSHA received scathing reviews in a CSB report, which stated the agency failed to provide effective oversight of BP's Texas City, Texas, refinery — where 15 workers were killed and 180 others were hurt in a 2005 explosion.

  • Court Mandates Release of Beryllium Records: Prompted by a lawsuit filed by former OSHA regional administrator Adam Finkel, a federal court ruled that OSHA should make its database of information on worker exposure to toxic substances available to researchers and policymakers.

OSHA Accomplishments

Despite challenges, OSHA logged some accomplishments in the past year:

  • In addition to the final PPE rule, the agency issued advanced notices of proposed rulemaking on power press safety and Phase III of the Standards Improvement Project, as well as a notice of proposed rulemaking on the PPE consensus standard and shipyard employment standards.

  • OSHA published two pandemic flu guidance documents and released an online hurricane matrix for response and recovery resources.

  • The agency formed 71 new alliances, 55 strategic partnerships and welcomed 255 new Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) participants.

  • In FY 2007, OSHA conducted 39,324 total inspections, a 4.3 percent increase over its stated goal of 37,700. Total violations of OSHA's standards and regulations were 88,846, a 6 percent increase from FY 2006. The agency cited 67,176 serious violations, a 9 percent increase from the previous year. The number of cited repeat violations also rose, from 2,551 in FY 2006 to 2,714 in FY 2007.

  • Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that FY 2006 fatal injury rates (3.9 fatalities per 100,000) are at an all-time low.

Occupational Hazards' special series, Chronicling OSHA in 2007, appears online at http://www.occupationalhazards.com.

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