In July, David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, published a memo to his staff at OSHA highlighting several new approaches that OSHA is using (or planning to use) in its effort to protect workers. Dr. Michaels is building on the progress of his predecessors and reinforcing some of the weak links in the system created both by Congress and former administrations. In his recent letter, Dr. Michaels reviews some legacy issues that limit OSHA-influence in creating safer workplaces such as
- OSHA has only 2,000 inspectors responsible for the health and safety of 130 million workers at 7 million worksites
- OSHA fines are too small to have an adequate deterrent effect
- OSHA standards provide limited protection to whistleblowers from retaliation
- OSHA occupational exposure standards have been established for only a small percentage of chemicals used in US workplaces (most of those are based on out-of-date science) with a slow and resource-intensive standard-setting process
Dr. Michaels states that OSHA needs to transform how it addresses workplace hazards, and in its relationship to employers and workers. As such he outlines a new strategy that is a clear shift from recent years indicating that there is a new sheriff in town and business (ALL businesses) should take heed. Here are some of my extrapolations and thoughts regarding 6 of these transformational items -- consider how they will affect your business or workplace.
1. Stronger Enforcement: Some Employers Need Incentives to Do the Right Thing
OSHA will have more and bigger sticks. OSHA is redirecting resources to conduct inspections of high risk industries and tasks including ergonomics.