OSHA – It’s Been 45 Years, How Are They Doing?

October 20, 2015 No Comments

When OSHA started in 1971, we were all excited about the wonderful things we thought they’d accomplish.  44 years have passed and it’s time to both celebrate OSHA’s accomplishments and identify areas needing improvement.

Since 1971, workplace injury and illness rates have decreased 67%, and fatalities have decreased 65%.  While those are terrific numbers, I don’t think OSHA can take all the credit.  Part of the credit must go to the workers compensation system which charges premiums based partially upon losses.  Even if there were no OSHA tomorrow, most American businesses would continue their safety and loss prevention efforts because of the significant impact workers compensation claims have on their bottom line.

OSHA as an organization is in much better shape today then they were decades ago.  Lately, the heads of OSHA have all been seasoned safety and health professionals, and not political appointees like in the early days.  The qualifications of the average inspector has also improved.  The standards themselves have been fine tuned, updated and improved over the years.

Overall, if I had to give OSHA a grade, I’d give them a “B” for their performance so far.  What should OSHA work on in the future to raise their grade?   Here’s my list:

  • I’d like to see OSHA hire more new inspectors who have degrees is occupational safety and health.  With so many fine universities having accredited B.S and M.S. degree programs in occupational safety and health it no longer makes sense for OSHA to continue to hire employees with non-safety related degrees.
  • The CSP certification is the ultimate recognition for a safety and health professional.   Yet OSHA does not seem to recognize this certification, nor do they require it for management positions.  OSHA should mandate that all managers at or above Area Director level should have a CSP.
  • OSHA has yet to develop standards on ergonomics,  slips and falls, workplace violence, and casual work-related driving; yet these are some of the most frequent causes of workplace  injury accidents.  
  • Federal OSHA still does not require employers have a comprehensive formal safety program (IIP Program). 
  • Non-English speaking employees have more than their share of accidents, yet OSHA does not require that safety training and communications be in the employees’ principle language (Quebec does).
  • Many standards need updating or are not protective enough.  Overall, Canada (and many European countries) have more up to date and protective standards than USA’s OSHA does.  For example, the UK has excellent ergonomic standards, and Canada has more up-to-date and protective noise standards.
  • OSHA needs to maintain a lazer like focus upon reducing fatalities and serious injuries.  Sometimes OSHA seems more concerned with issuing citations than in reducing accidents.  Their most frequently cited standards often have little correlation to where accidents are coming from.  For example, year after year, 1910.1200 (hazard communication) is one of the most frequently cited standards; yet I rarely see actual injuries or illnesses that were caused by lack of compliance with this standard.  Blood borne pathogens (1910.1030) is another standard where I see far too much focus and far too little value.
  • OSHA penalties do not have enough “teeth” to them.  OSHA rarely sends anyone to jail, and their fines are usually quite modest.  In Canada, the Provincial safety inspectors send business managers and executives to jail  with regularity.  In Canada, their executives are much more concerned about employee safety than their USA counterparts.  Most USA employers view OSHA as a pain, but they are not personally worried about non-compliance penalties.  For example, roofers are required to wear fall protection, but I rarely see roofers in the real world actually wearing fall protection.  If OSHA sent a few roofing company executives to jail, I bet you’d see immediate and near universal compliance with this important standard!     
  • VPP is great, but employers have little incentive to strive for VPP status other than corporate pride.  Why not offer tax incentives for those businesses who achieve VPP status?
  • The OSHA On-Site Consultation program should be eliminated.  OSHA is a workplace safety and health “enforcement” agency.  They should leave safety consulting to the private sector (e.g. insurance companies and consultants).  Each year OSHA identifies 10,000 or so U.S. employers with horrible accident records and puts them on a “to be inspected” list.  But because of the lack of manpower, only about half of these targeted employers are ever inspected.  The money saved by eliminating the On-Site Consultation programs would be put to better use by hiring more enforcement division inspectors.  

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