NSC 2011: Michaels Makes Case for OSHA

Nov. 2, 2011
During the occupational keynote at the National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expo, OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels asserted that OSHA regulations don’t kill jobs – they prevent jobs from killing workers.

"Every day you hear accusations that standards are killing jobs," Michaels told NSC attendees. But in reality, "there’s no question they save lives. If they didn't, we wouldn’t be setting standards," he explained. "When someone says, 'Oh, that’s a job-killing regulation,' think twice."

The occupational keynote, where Michaels was joined onstage by NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard and Dr. Michael Silverstein, the assistant director for industrial safety and health in Washington State division of occupational safety and health, opened with a 5-minute video highlighting the strides OSHA has made in workplace safety in the agency's 40-year existence. Following the video, Michaels stressed that OSHA has been "very successful" and has made a big difference in worker safety over the years.

Michaels' defense of his agency's mission was in part a response to the current backlash against regulations. He offered testimony on this very topic during an Oct. 5 congressional hearing, when Reps. John Kline, R-Minn., and Tim Walberg, R-Mich., accused OSHA standards of being "job-killing" regulations.

Michaels also reiterated his support for the proposed Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2) standard. He has long stressed that this program could be the best solution to creating safer American workplaces. "We know a management system will have bigger impact that individual standards," he said.

OSHA has held stakeholder meetings on I2P2, has requested small business input and is preparing to issue a white paper, but Michaels remains unable to provide a timeline for future activity on I2P2. Considering that some of the pushback from Congress has surrounded the I2P2 proposal in particular, the standard's progress may depend on the as-yet undecided federal FY 2012 budget.

While an I2P2 standard might not be right around the corner, Michaels indicated that the agency is making strides to align the hazcom standard with the Globally Harmonized Hazard Communication System (GHS). According to Michaels, the rule potentially could be published as soon as early 2012.

Howard: Demand for OHS Professionals Outpaces Supply

NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard discussed NIOSH's recent survey that found a projected shortage of occupational safety and health (OHS) professionals.

According to the assessment of 7,602 U.S. establishments that employ approximately 75 percent of all OHS professionals, employers expect to hire about 25,000 OHS professionals over the next 5 years. But just under 13,000 OHS professionals will graduate within the next 5 years, which leaves a deficit of 12,000 OHS professionals compared to the projected need.

"In terms of decline of occupational safety and health training funding, it’s extremely troubling given the employers' hiring expectations," Howard said.

The survey also found that most employers would prefer for their OHS hires to have at least a bachelor's degree level of education, be trained as leaders in safety and health, be knowledgeable in multiple disciplines and able to understand "new forms of communication" – all of which must be considered for future training of OHS professionals in order to position them to best serve employers’ needs.

Silverstein’s Four EHS Areas of Focus

During the keynote presentation, Dr. Michael Silverstein highlighted the four strategic occupational safety and health areas he thinks especially must be addressed:

1. Public employees in more than half of the nation's states are not protected by OSHA laws. “This is a gap in the overall structure in our safety and health nationally,” Silverstein stressed.
2. Thirty percent of all workplace injuries and illnesses and 40 percent of their associated costs are attributed to musculoskeletal injuries, which are not subjected to a specific regulatory structure to protect workers.
3. Workers are still being killed by exposure to hazards that have had known effective controls for hundreds of years – such as trenching, for example.
4. Today's work force is rapidly aging. Some workplaces may be designed to protect employees who are 30 years old but not 60-70 years old. Additionally, the work force increasingly is multi-lingual and multi-cultural, which presents other challenges to worker safety and health.

Silverstein stressed that "injuries and illnesses are predictable and preventable" but also acknowledged his concern that a safety and health management program, if not executed properly, could become a paper tiger. He recommended that employers' efforts to find and fix hazards – what an I2P2 standard would call for – should be independently monitored.

In a press conference following the keynote, Silverstein added that the standard-setting system is "irrevocably broken" and moves at a glacial timeline compared with the effectiveness of most safety standards. I2P2, meanwhile, may have become a symbol for all regulation for those who argue that standards kill jobs. This provides "a huge obligation for [those] within health and safety to speak up and provide balance," Silverstein said.

About the Author

Laura Walter

Laura Walter was formerly senior editor of EHS Today. She is a subject matter expert in EHS compliance and government issues and has covered a variety of topics relating to occupational safety and health. Her writing has earned awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) and APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Her debut novel, Body of Stars (Dutton) was published in 2021.

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