'OSHA Listens' to Recommendations on Health, Safety Matters
OSHA officials recently solicited comments and suggestions from the public on key workplace health and safety issues during "OSHA Listens."
David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, said public involvement in the government's activities is a priority for the administration and is important to enhancing the agency's efforts to protect the safety and health of workers.
"This meeting is just the beginning of our commitment to engaging in public and indiscernible decision-making," he said. "We are in the process of preparing our strategic goals and plans for the agency, and we want and need your feedback."
Stakeholders ranging from injured employees and labor unions to pro-business advocacy groups and university educators came together to offer their thoughts on the future of workplace health and safety. While differences in opinion were prevalent, many parties agreed on some of the most pressing issues, including:
- Outreach efforts. According to Aaron Trippler, government affairs director at the American Industrial Hygiene Association, further outreach is necessary outside of compliance that communicates significant health and safety issues in different industries. Many of the group's members, he said, suggested OSHA be a frequent presence in the workplace and increase communications with the media to promote workplace health and safety.
Christopher Patton, president of the American Society of Safety Engineers, urged the agency to join the social media revolution in its outreach strategies. OSHA, he said, should use tools such as blogs with really simple syndication feeds to announce rules, training, changes, guidance documents and other advances. Patton suggested reaching out to young workers through Twitter and Facebook and establishing resources to share OSHA information through YouTube and cell phones.
Marc Freedman, director of labor law policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, cautioned OSHA that it needs to do more than just enforce.
"OSHA has made great strides in developing materials and assistance for employers to help them learn what they are supposed to be doing," he said. "The goal should be to find ways to expand this level of support and get it in more employers' hands, not to redirect resources to emphasize enforcement first."
- Safety and health management rule. Patton said the single most important measure that OSHA could take to help encourage employers, workers, and unions identify and address workplace hazards is the adoption of a safety and health program management standard.
"The risk assessment such a standard would cause is the best way to address both current and emerging hazards for which it will be increasingly difficult to set standards," he said. "With the resources already readily available on OSHA's Web site and from private vendors, even small employers can have the capability of establishing risk assessment programs in their workplaces. The time has come to move forward a standard."
- Unaddressed health and safety hazards. Among the risks inadequately or currently not addressed by OSHA regs and rules, stakeholders listed permissible exposure limits, nanotechnology, implication of medical marijuana, earthquake mitigation, and the threat of emerging health issues such as aerosol transmissible diseases and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in health care facilities.
- Voluntary Protection Program. Many stakeholders said they were troubled by OSHA's plan to cut funding to support the agency's Voluntary Protection Program in FY 2011. The program has come under fire after a report by the Government Accountability Office questioned the oversight and performance assessment of the VPP.
"ASSE understands OSHA's intent to expand its enforcement capabilities to better reach employers not committed to safety," Patton said. "But turning its back on a cooperative program that directly helps our members do their work is a short-sighted measure."
Read more at the WORKERSCOMP ForumTM homepage.
May 3, 2010
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