The tone has changed in the OSHA Administration and efforts to ramp up and crack down are already in motion. More resources are being allocated to enforcement, and penalties and fines are being increased. Now is a good time to review your safety program and ensure that it is iron-clad. Here is a brief overview of some of OSHA’s recent and planned actions.
Improved record keeping
Part of the stage for stronger enforcement was set with the initiation of the Recordkeeping National Emphasis Program (NEP) in October 2009. The goal of this program is to assess the accuracy of injury and illness data recorded by employers. The record keeping NEP involves inspecting occupational injury and illness records prepared by businesses and appropriately enforcing regulatory requirements when employers are found to be under-recording injuries and illnesses. The inspections include a records review, employee interviews and a limited safety and health inspection of the workplace.
Harsher penalties for violators
The proposed Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA) would rev up the OSHA Act by raising penalties for violations of the law, strengthening workers’ voices in the workplace, expanding the rights of victims and their families, expanding OSHA coverage to public employees, and requiring the abatement of serious, willful and repeat hazards during the citation contest period.
“Good jobs are safe jobs,” says Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, on the proposed PAWA. This act has been in committee for years, but in the current environment stands a strong likelihood of being enacted.
Increased civil penalties
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is implementing a new Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) and increasing civil penalty amounts.
“For many employers, investing in job safety happens only when they have adequate incentives to comply with OSHA’s requirements,” Michaels says. “Higher penalties and more aggressive, targeted enforcement will provide a greater deterrent and further encourage these employers to furnish safe and healthy workplaces for their employees.”
This program includes increased OSHA inspections, including mandatory OSHA follow-up inspections.
In April OSHA released its regulatory agenda setting forth the regulations that have been selected for review or development during the coming year. There were several key points of this agenda that demonstrate OSHA’s more aggressive approach to holding employers to a standard.
OSHA is developing a new rule that would require businesses to have an Injury and Illness Prevention Program. This rule would likely have huge implications for virtually every business in the United States as it would require employers to implement a proactive program that involves planning, implementing, evaluating and improving processes and activities that protect employee safety and health. The economic impact to businesses would be significant.
Another rule that is further along in the process is the Cooperative Agreements. Currently, businesses who are utilizing federally funded onsite consultation program in cooperation with OSHA, or that have obtained Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) status are exempt from inspections. In this proposed rule, OSHA is proposing to reconsider exempting such businesses from enforcement and to allow Compliance Safety and Health Officers to proceed with enforcement visits resulting from referrals at sites undergoing consultation visits and at sites that have been awarded SHARP status.
The NAICS Update and Reporting Revisions related to Occupational Injury and Illness Recordkeeping Requirements reconsiders which businesses/industries are currently exempt from record-keeping requirements. It also revises the reporting requirements regarding certain injuries and fatalities. Currently, OSHA uses SIC codes for classifying industries that are exempt from record keeping. The NAICS codes are much more specific; multiple NAICS codes typically exist within a single SIC code. This means that OSHA will be able to “fine-tune” which specific businesses are exempt within what was previously a much more “broad brush” category.