Safety and OSHA News

Top 5: What’s ahead for workplace safety in 2013

New regulations from OSHA; stepped up OSHA penalties; workers’ comp reform; and what to do with those increasing injury rates? Those will all be on the table for workplace safety in 2013.

In no particular order, here are five top workplace safety areas to keep an eye on in the coming year:

1. New OSHA regulations

Revisions to two existing regulations are pretty much ready to go: updates on the electrical power transmission and distribution regulations, and an update of the walking and working surfaces regulations. The latter still needs final review by the Office of Management and Budget.

Then there are the revisions to the silica standard, including a stricter permissible exposure limit. This update has been stuck in the governmental approval process for years now. Even so, another barrier has popped up. This fall, OSHA administrator David Michaels said the update could be delayed again because regulators need to figure out how to incorporate the new hydraulic fracturing industry, commonly known as fracking, into the revised silica rules.

Probably not in 2013, but later in President Obama’s second term, more new and revised OSHA regulations could surface. Among them: combustible dust; infectious diseases; backup alarms on construction vehicles; and a high priority for Michaels, Injury and Illness Prevention Programs.

2. OSHA enforcement

When it comes to issuing citations, OSHA has to work within the framework set by Congress.

However, there is some wiggle room.

Through administrative efforts, OSHA has managed in the last four years to almost double the cost of the average serious violation to $3,000.

Also, the number of companies facing total fines above $100,000 has gone up. In 2010, only 164 companies were issued six-figure fines. In 2012, that number jumped to 217, a 32% increase.

One way OSHA is increasing the amounts paid by companies: classifying citations as “willful,” which have a $70,000 maximum, compared to “serious” citations, which have a $7,000 max.

3. Workers’ comp reform

All eyes are on California when it comes to this one.

The state is trying what might seem impossible: It wants to increase payments to injured workers while keeping down the costs to companies and insurers.

The changes in California’s workers comp system will go into effect over the course of the next 12 months. Among the changes:

  • a new system for resolving medical treatment and billing disputes
  • streamlined administration, and
  • reduced litigation costs.

Lawmakers who enacted this measure in 2012 estimate it will save employers $1.7 billion. Others doubt the savings will be that large. Some say it will be an accomplishment if the rate of increase in workers’ comp rates slows down.

4. More focus on injury and fatality rates

There’s one reason for additional focus on this: Injury and fatality rates are both up across the nation.

How do you make those rates go back down, as they were just a few years ago?

OSHA will say stricter enforcement is the key.

Industry groups will push for more help from the safety agency and less focus on issuing fines.

It’s not a new debate, of course. The rhetoric may get louder now that statistics show the U.S. isn’t consistently reducing the numbers of workers injured and killed on the job each year.

5. Less focus on injury rates

How can you have more focus and less focus on injury rates?

OK, we guess technically, you can’t.

But safety pros are realizing that the best safety programs can’t rely solely on measuring injury rates.

There have to be other measures of more proactive parts of safety programs, sometimes referred to as leading indicators. This would be in addition to measuring lagging indicators, such as injury rates and workers’ comp costs (which of course are also based on injury rates).

Examples of leading safety indicators: counting and investigating near misses; tallying number of hours of employee safety training; and getting workers to report more potential hazards.

What are you concentrating on in your safety program for 2013? Let us know in the comments below.

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