Would Withdrawn Standard Improve Safety for Government Employees?

Commenting on the Bush administration's new initiative to reduce injuries and illnesses among federal employees, American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) President James "Skipper" Kendrick, CSP, urged the administration to re-examine a standard OSHA removed from the regulatory agenda to assure long-term success of the program.

In January, President George W. Bush directed executive branch departments and agencies to participate in the Safety, Health and Return-to-Employment (SHARE) initiative to reduce federal workplace injuries and the cost they incur. The memo noted that when measured by workers' compensation losses, federal workplace injuries cost more than $2 billion and 2 million lost production days annually, not to mention the pain and suffering by workers and their families. (See "Department of Labor Makes Plans to SHARE Workplace Safety.")

That process would be made easier, said Kendrick, if the administration hadn't withdrawn the Injury Illness and Prevention Standard, also known as the safety management standard, that called for employers to implement workplace safety and health management programs. The standard was withdrawn from OSHA's regulatory agenda in August 2002.

"SHARE arms the many federally employed safety, health and environmental practitioners, including ASSE members, with the authority of your office in fulfilling their long-standing commitment to helping make sure that federal workers go home safe and healthy from their jobs each day," Kendrick wrote in his letter to the president. "SHARE also puts into place a larger framework for working towards safer and healthier workplaces that leading private sector corporations already employ. As those corporations have long understood, this improved focus of commitment at the highest executive level will mean fewer injuries and less illness for federal workers, leading to greater productivity and lower costs to the federal government."

Kendrick said his primary concern is that when program measurement, as called for by SHARE, is based solely on what are known as "trailing" indicators such as lower workplace injury and illness case rates, lower lost-time injury and illness case rates, timely reporting and fewer lost days, "Success can too easily be compromised by short cuts and compromises to achieve paper instead of real gains,"

Trailing indicators measure results, he noted, but do not adequately show managers where a program does and does not work. "They only show whether an outcome was good or bad," he said.

What safety and health practitioners consider as "leading indicators," such as safety program design and management measures, are a better indication of the quality of the management of a safety program, Kendrick told the president. "These leading indicators, along with the trailing indicators, provide a better, more comprehensive picture of the program and may suggest how the program can be more cost effectively managed."

Kendrick said ASSE wants the Bush administration to turn to the Injury Illness and Prevention Standard as a resource to enhance SHARE and help it establish a more comprehensive program, completely integrated into the organization, with both trailing and leading indicators.

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