Obama Administration Charts Four-Year Plan for Federal Workplace Safety
President Obama said that each year, a significant amount of federal employees are injured or made ill on the job.
"Although the federal government has made progress in reducing workplace injuries and illnesses in recent years, its workers -- excluding those employed by the U.S. Postal Service -- still filed more than 79,000 new claims and received over $1.6 billion in workers' compensation payments in fiscal year 2009," he said.
The four-year Protecting Our Workers and Ensuring Reemployment Initiative, which will cover fiscal years 2011 through 2014, will extend prior workplace safety and health efforts of the federal government by setting more aggressive performance targets, encouraging the collection and analysis of data on the causes and consequences of frequent or severe injury and illness, and prioritizing safety and health management programs that have proven effective. Under the POWER Initiative, each executive department and agency will be expected to improve its performance in seven areas -- reducing total injury and illness case rates; reducing lost time injury and illness case rates; analyzing lost time injury and illness data; increasing the timely filing of workers' compensation claims; increasing the timely filing of wage-loss claims; reducing lost production day rates; and speeding employees' return to work in cases of serious injury or illness.
According to the Obama administration, executive departments and agencies, except the USPS, will coordinate with OSHA and the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs to establish performance targets in each category. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis will lead the POWER Initiative by measuring both governmentwide and agency-level performance and report the findings annually.
OSHA battle brewing.
While Obama administration's new plan received praise from congressional safety advocates, a potential battle looms over proposed legislation to reform regulations for the mining industry. Critics of the Robert C. Byrd Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010 said the legislation will enact sweeping workplace safety changes that have nothing to do with the mining industry. The bill, which was recently approved by the House Committee on Education & Labor, would increase whistleblower protections for workers who speak up about dangerous conditions and increase civil and criminal penalties for employers who fail to fix chronic safety problems. The bill would also extend similar worker protections to all workplaces, not just mining.
"Every day, 14 workers don't come home from work," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the committee. "While they don't make headlines like trapped miners do, their lives and limbs are no less valuable."
The amended bill would allow OSHA to assert concurrent enforcement jurisdiction in states with OSHA state plans, if the state is failing to maintain protections for workers that is at least as effective as federal OSHA.
While Republicans on the committee chastised the legislation for further burdening businesses with costly regulations, safety advocates expressed concerns that the bill's inclusion of changes to the Occupational Safety and Health Act will be lost under the weight of opposition to the mining industry reforms. American Society of Safety Engineers president Darryl C. Hill also said the bill does not address a "glaring failure of the OSH Act" to provide more than 8 million public sector workers with the same minimal federal occupational safety and health protections that all other workers enjoy.
"The OSH Act will not be truly reformed until public sector workers receive the workplace protections they deserve," he said.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
September 20, 2010
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