Small and Mid-Sized Businesses: Be Heard by OSHA!

OSHA is updating its 1989 Safety and Health Program Management (SHPM) Guidelines. These guidelines were put into place to help employers voluntarily implement safety programs in their workplaces.

The draft of the 2015 SHPM Guidelines has been released and is open for public comment until February 22, 2016. This 44–page revision seeks to make implementation easier and more effective for small to mid-sized businesses, and to reflect modern technology and practices.

As of the date of this blog there were 37 comments made on the public comment site.  The comments range from very well-thought out and detailed responses to OSHA’s specific questions to misplaced worker safety complaints.  There is a striking lack of commentary from representatives of small to mid-sized businesses on the struggles they face in implementing and maintaining safety and health plans. The SHPM Guidelines are specifically designed for these companies (although they can certainly be applied in a larger company setting) so now is your chance to help OSHA design the tool that best meets your needs.

While comments can be freeform and address whatever issues you would like to see addressed in the SHPM Guidelines, OSHA has asked for responses to the following specific questions (as submitted in the National Safety Council’s response):

“1. Many names are used to describe workplace safety and health programs. The current draft is entitled Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines because this document updates and replaces OSHA’s 1989 publication with the same title. In the intervening years approaches such as those described in these guidelines have come to be known as Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems (OHSMS), Safety and Health Management Systems (SHMS), and Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (IIPP or 12P2). The agency is interested in using a name for this program that small and medium- sized businesses will easily understand. Should OSHA consider changing the title to reflect any of these more contemporary titles? If so, why?

2. One fundamental goal of the guidelines is to encourage continuous improvement in workplace safety and health management and performance. Does the section on Program Evaluation and Improvement make it clear that employers are to improve their programs over time as their evaluation suggests ways to enhance program performance on an ongoing basis (i.e., that it’s okay to start with a simple program and build to a more comprehensive program over time)?

3. The Agency’s goal was to write the guidelines in language that is appropriate for, and easily understood by small and medium-sized businesses and their workers without relying on consultants or outside assistance. Has OSHA achieved that objective?

4. Have the guidelines overlooked any concepts or actions that are critical to establishing and maintaining an effective safety and health program?

5. Can you submit to OSHA any case studies or other documentation that illustrates the effects (benefits, organizational impacts) of fully implementing a safety and health program similar to the program described in OSHA’s guidelines?

6. OSHA’s goal is that these guidelines generally be consistent with the current consensus standards. To what extent, if any, are the guidelines inconsistent with the ASSE AIHA Z10-2012 Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems standard, or the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS) 18001 Occupational Health and Safety Management standard? Please provide examples of inconsistencies. If so, do these inconsistencies make small and medium-sized businesses more or less likely to implement a safety and health program?

7. Do these guidelines contain any action items that cannot be fully implemented or are too difficult to be implemented by small and medium-sized businesses? Can you provide examples of situation(s) where this might occur?

8. Are there industries or types of workplaces in which these guidelines are not appropriate or would be difficult to implement? If so, please give examples and explain why.

9. Has the section on Coordination and Communication on Multiemployer Worksites effectively conveyed actions needed to protect all workers?

10. Appendix A presents several tools and resources that can aid in program implementation. Are these tools helpful? Should OSHA develop additional tools and resources? If so, what additional tools and resources are needed?

11. Some of the actions recommended in these guidelines are also required in certain circumstances by OSHA standards. Appendix B lists OSHA standards that contain requirements that are the same or similar to the actions recommended in the Guidelines. Is Appendix B needed and helpful? Is there a more effective way to convey the information contained in Appendix B?

12. What type of information is most persuasive to small and medium-sized businesses about the benefits of implementing a safety and health program in their workplace? Who can speak most persuasively about the topic (e.g., other business owners/managers, OSHA staff, consultants, etc.)? What stops small and medium-sized businesses from adopting a safety and health program?

13. Should OSHA plan to hold stakeholder meeting(s) to allow the public to discuss the guidelines with Agency officials face-to-face? Would holding such a meeting(s) be productive and result in significant improvements in the guidelines? Would you participate in such a meeting?”

The National Safety Council provided a very thorough response to each of the above questions. Some of the concerns they addressed were; providing more auditing tools available online to download like JSA’s (a.k.a. JHA’s) and hazard assessments, emphasis on consistency with ANSI and OHSAS 18001 focus on safety leadership in an organization & having management take an active role in promoting the safety policy.  In its response the National Safety Council praised the Appendix B of the SHPM Guidelines which shows where it overlaps with OSHA standard requirements. National Safety Council writes “Appendix B will serve as an excellent reference for industry”.

There were other comments that supported the need for consistency with other federal and industry-specific standards such as FAA, JCAHO, CMS, ANSI and OHSAS 18001.

Following the public comment period, which closes February 22, there will be a public meeting on March 10, 2016 for those interested in commenting on the SHPM Guidelines.

Don’t miss this opportunity to tell OSHA what is important to you. What will help you to create and implement an effective safety and health plan at your organization?