OSHA intends to become more active in regulation promulgation and enforcement. Specifically, a pronouncement by President Obama’s new Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, encapsulates the new focus: “As I have said since my first day on the job, …the U.S. Department of Labor is back in the enforcement business,” Solis said. “There will be no excuses for negligence…. And so long as I am the Secretary of Labor, the Department will go after anyone who negligently puts workers at risk.”
To that end, the new administration has earmarked significant additional funds for the enforcement of current OSHA regulations, the implementation of new OSHA regulations, and the hiring of additional investigators to increase enforcement. In June 2009, a House panel approved a $13.2 billion fiscal year 2010 appropriations package to fund the Department of Labor (DOL), which would represent an increase of $846 million from FY 2009 spending levels. This budget includes funding for OSHA at $554.6 million, which is a $41.6 million increase over FY 2009, yet $9 million lower than the President’s request. In light of the above, OSHA has a number of initiatives going forward, including, but not limited to:
A special emphasis on oversight of construction projects funded by the recently enacted economic stimulus package, including safety issues involving fall protection, contractor liability and electrocution hazards. Stimulus-funded construction projects will be subject to random inspections, and OSHA inspectors would still have the authority to inspect construction sites if they observe any violations of OSHA rules.
Regulation of new “green” technologies involving solar and wind power.
A planned increase in the number of OSHA inspectors. Specifically, the fiscal year 2010 budget request was in part designed to fund the hiring of 130 new inspectors. OSHA intends to further supplement its inspectors with “partnerships with businesses and nongovernmental organizations.”
Addressing ergonomics “in some way, shape, or form.”
Reviewing OSHA’s penalty structure. Specifically, OSHA’s Acting Administrator, Jordan Barab, has remarked that “the average serious penalty is now below $1,000” and “that doesn’t provide much of a disincentive.”
Increasing the speed of the standard-setting process, which has been described by Barab as “way too slow.”
Significant revisions to the Voluntary Protection Program in light of a recent Government Accountability Office report that concluded that the agency failed to sufficiently oversee the program.
Making unannounced inspections of up to 4,500 of the “most dangerous workplaces” in the country. The inspections will be conducted under OSHA’s 2009 site-specific targeting program, which includes sites that had injury and illness rates considerably higher than the national average.
Continuing the enforcement of combustible dust standards. In June 2009, OSHA announced that it had issued a total of 667 citations against companies in several Southern states for alleged worker safety violations during inspections for unsafe hazardous dust conditions. The most frequently cited were for violations of housekeeping, hazard communication, personal protective equipment, and electrical standards, and the general duty clause. OSHA intends to begin regulatory action on combustible dust, with an advance notice of proposed rulemaking scheduled to be issued by August 2009.
Monitoring and supporting legislation in furtherance of OSHA’s goals. Specifically, the proposed “Protecting America’s Workers Act” (H.R. 2067) would give the agency the authority to press criminal charges against negligent employers. Further, the proposed “Nurse and Health Care Worker Protection Act” (H.R. 2381) would require OSHA to promulgate a standard mandating the use of mechanical lifts by health care workers when moving patients. This legislation would require health care facilities to develop safe patient handling and injury prevention plans, establish data systems to track injury trends, establish systems for reporting instances in which patient handling equipment is not used, train nurses on safe patient handling, allow nurses to refuse work, and require the Secretary of Labor to conduct audits.
Ultimately, as noted above, employers should be aware of, and expect, an increase in regulatory and enforcement action by OSHA. To that end, it is more important than ever to remain vigilant with respect to workplace safety issues. Establishing strict safety guidelines, increased training, the formation of safety committees and awards to safety-conscious employees are only a few ways employers can minimize workplace injuries, and hopefully avoid a knock on the door from OSHA. For more details visit OSHA
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