The current regulatory approach toward safety and health in the workplace needs improvement, according to the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).
Its “OSHA Reform Blueprint” calls for changes to emphasize risk management, sharpen the agency’s focus on productive policies and fill gaps that limit OSHA’s ability to protect workers:
- Adopt a risk-based approach and require safety and health programs. A risk-based approach would take a systemic view of an employer, proactively identifying, assessing, mitigating and communicating risk levels. One way to do this would be to require all employers to implement a safety and health program, including a comprehensive approach to find and fix hazards.
- Focus efforts on finding solutions to the primary causes of workplace fatalities. The majority of workplace deaths result from these types of incidents: motor vehicle, slips/trips/falls, contact with objects/equipment, and workplace violence. ASSE recommends a new OSHA National Emphasis Program on the leading causes of fatalities in these categories.
- Expand third-party auditing. OSHA should establish a policy on third-party auditing to allow them to augment the inspections performed by the agency. Audits and consultation assistance would provide injury and illness prevention recommendations beyond the scope of OSHA regulations. Where OSHA inspections focus primarily on violations of established standards, a third-party auditing system could provide guidance to assist employers with abatement options.
- Expand options for employers in settlement agreements. ASSE recommends OSHA formalize a policy to award credit against a fine to employers who commit to working with qualified third-party safety and health professionals. The association suggests OSHA direct cited companies’ penalty fees back into safety and health improvement.
- Embrace expanded use of consensus standards and negotiated rulemaking. The current process for enacting or changing OSHA standards takes a lot of time. Expanding the use of consensus standards and negotiated rulemaking could help OSHA more efficiently maintain up-to-date standards. There are a number of organizations producing safety and health standards, including the American National Standards Institute, the National Fire Protection Association, the International Organization for Standardization and Underwriters Laboratory. Negotiated rulemaking happens when OSHA establishes a group of stakeholders most familiar with a topic and asks the group to develop a standard.
- Provide coverage for all public workers. Most states under federal OSHA jurisdiction don’t offer safety and health coverage to public sector workers.
- Reduce chemical and physical exposures through occupational hazard banding. Hazard banding assesses exposures and risks across broad chemical and physical hazard categories and establishes hazard control strategies (bands) based on the assessed risk. This practice has been adopted by several European countries and global pharmaceutical companies.
- Increase collaboration with NIOSH for improved OSHA guidance. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health conducts careful, well-reasoned research, but the ASSE says there is often a disconnect between research and the operational reality of the workplace. NIOSH can help produce data to assist in OSHA’s rulemaking process.
- Intensify Total Worker Health efforts. The Total Worker Health program, led by NIOSH, advocates for a holistic approach that ensures workers are as healthy as possible as they participate in the workplace, making them less prone to injuries and illnesses from workplace risks. Put another way, it links employee wellness and workplace safety.
- Rescind the 2016 electronic recordkeeping rule. ASSE calls this rule “needlessly complex,” resulting “in a great deal of confusion, particularly over the whistleblowing protection section and reference to drug testing.” The rule’s emphasis on data collected after injuries occur incentivizes employers to focus only on this set of lagging indicators, according to ASSE. Publishing this data misleads the public about an employer’s commitment to worker safety and health. OSHA could develop guidance on leading indicators and overhaul the recordkeeping system to use both leading and lagging statistics.
- Increase opportunities for positive recognition. OSHA should consider a national recognition program, according to the ASSE, that provides positive publicity for employers that have gone far beyond compliance by instituting creative safety and health management systems.
- Focus on safety and health. The ASSE says OSHA has sometimes strayed from its core mission. For example, OSHA recently set policies regarding gendered restroom use and has delved into union issues and labor management. “OSHA’s limited resources should be focused on occupational safety and health, nothing more and nothing less,” ASSE says.