OSHA's Strategic Plan Lessons Learned

In recent months, OSHA Administrator John Henshaw has spoken frequently about the agency's new, five-year strategic plan (SP), intended to guide OSHA's direction through the year 2008. What has received less attention is how the new SP differs from the one it replaces and that guided the agency from 1997-2002.

These differences can reveal a great deal about how the agency is changing.

The first installment of this two-part series will focus primarily on OSHA's successes in meeting the goals of its old SP.

Gary Visscher, deputy assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, pointed out in an interview that some old goals do not appear in the new SP because they have been successfully institutionalized. For example, when a new standard is issued, the old SP called for compliance assistance, training and outreach materials to educate employers and workers about the requirements.

"Part of the roll-out of any standard now is doing a lot of outreach," said Visscher, who cited the agency's widely praised efforts with the new steel erection and recordkeeping rules as examples.

But the absence of a goal in the new SP could also mean the agency is backing away from a previous priority. For example, missing from the new SP, but present in its predecessor, is the expectation that OSHA conduct "targeted inspections to enforce new standards."

Since the steel erection standard took effect in January of 2002, OSHA has publicized four high-profile enforcement actions on the new rule; there have been none on the new recordkeeping standard.

The vast majority of the goals OSHA set for itself in the old SP were met. These goals ranged across the board, from reducing injuries, illnesses, and fatalities, to improving worker involvement, to organizational and management performance.

A survey conducted by the Gallup Organization in 2001 determined OSHA exceeded or came very close to satisfying each of four "customer satisfaction" goals:

  • 92.6 percent of employers and workers rated OSHA's compliance assistance in useful in improving workplace safety and health (90 percent goal);
  • 86.4 percent of workers in establishments where there is an OSHA intervention rate their involvement in safety and health activities as satisfactory (90 percent goal);
  • 87.2 percent of employers and workers interacting with OSHA rated OSHA staff's professionalism and competence as satisfactory (80 percent goal);
  • 88.6 percent of stakeholders rate their involvement in OSHA's stakeholder/partnership process as positive (95 percent goal).

Strategic management plans are intended not only to drive success, but also to identify weaknesses, the subject of the second and concluding part of this series - "Silica Tops the List of OSHA Challenges".

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