The serious ramifications of NFL players suffering concussions have received more and more attention. Now a professor of environmental health sciences is suggesting that OSHA “step up” to the challenge of making the sport safer for players.
A recent article in The Arizona Law Review, The NFL as a Workplace: The Prospect of Applying Occupational Health and Safety Law to Protect NFL Workers, considers what might happen if professional football players were subject to government regulations. Among its authors: Adam Finkel, professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
The article says OSHA clearly has the authority to regulate the NFL. Of course, there are many reasons why that hasn’t happened.
Despite the lack of previous government action, the paper suggests there are several ways it could happen:
- OSHA could develop a bulletin identifying risks associated specifically with the NFL workplace. The bulletin could cover a single issue such as concussions.
- NIOSH (The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) could perform a Health Hazard Evaluation of an NFL workplace.
- OSHA could advise NFL clubs through its On-Site Consultation Program and help the teams establish injury and illness prevention programs.
- OSHA could issue a guidance document spelling out what it believes constitutes an NFL club’s general duty to maintain a safe and healthy workplace.
- The NFL (or its players’ union) and OSHA could form an Alliance, a program that works with employers and employees to promote worker safety and health.
- The NFL clubs could enroll in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program, in which management, labor and OSHA work cooperatively to prevent injuries through a system focused on hazard prevention and control, worksite analysis, training, management commitment and worker involvement.
- The NFL or its players’ union could invite OSHA or NIOSH to review their collective bargaining agreement.
- OSHA could enter into an enforceable partnership with the NFL and its players’ union. This would be similar to what several industry groups proposed to OSHA in the late 1990s and would include binding promises concerning worker health.
- OSHA could issue citations under the General Duty Clause since few if any specific safety or health standards apply to hazards routinely affecting NFL players.
- OSHA could establish a special emphasis program under which it could inspect some or all NFL workplaces for General Duty Clause violations as well as violations of specific standards.
- OSHA could issue regulations for the NFL in one of six ways: negotiated rulemaking; via a petition from an interested party; as the result of a lawsuit; at the state OSHA level; by Congressional requirement; or create a standard specific to either a particular injury (ex. head trauma) or one affecting various hazards found only in the NFL.
The paper says it’s most likely player health issues will continue to be addressed via collective bargaining agreement negotiations between the teams and players, with or without OSHA’s involvement.
At the same time, the authors point out the wide variety of ways for OSHA to intervene without formally regulating the NFL.
Do you think OSHA should be involved in ensuring the safety and health of NFL players? Let us know what you think in the comments.