The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) prides itself in the fact that, since the enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, job-related casualties and injuries have been reduced by more than 60 percent. However, its leaders feel more needs to be done to protect the health and safety of employees; there are still an estimated 12 workers killed on the job every day and more than 4.1 million serious job-related illnesses and injuries each year. OSHA’s answer to this problem is the adoption of systematic processes that proactively address workplace hazards called an injury and illness prevention program (I2P2).
Over the past several years, OSHA has implemented initiatives and incentives to encourage employers to adopt safety and health programs (e.g., the voluntary Safety and Health Management Program guidelines and national and international consensus standards). These programs can all be construed as some form of I2P2, as they share a common goal to help employers minimize injuries and illnesses that occur at the workplace. Unfortunately, these initiatives don’t provide the complete benefits that a comprehensive I2P2 requirement offers.
In 2010, OSHA sought input from the industry and held a series of meetings that were expected to result in the eventual issuance of a proposed rule requiring employers to adhere to an I2P2 standard. During these meetings, which included trade association staff, state/local governments, safety and health professionals, union and labor groups, and employers, discussion topics focused on the six key elements that OSHA believes are imperative to a successful I2P2:
Looking back, this concept is nothing new. In 1995, OSHA held a similar set of meetings to discuss the establishment of a safety and health program or I2P2 requirement. As a result, in 1998, OSHA drafted a proposal that would have required certain employers to establish an I2P2. However, they received a lot of feedback from small businesses that were concerned about the cost of implementing such a program. Ultimately, a proposed rule was never issued. However, further interest and support was generated for I2P2 because of the efforts from within a variety of industries and state and local governments.
In a recent interview, Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor, noted that the issuance of an I2P2 standard was still an extremely high priority for OSHA. He indicated that the agency could even issue an I2P2 standard requirement prior to the presidential election in November 2012. Although it is highly unlikely, it appears that thoughts of an I2P2 standard aren’t going anywhere.
In fact, 34 states and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are not waiting for a sweeping federal requirement and have already adopted some form of the I2P2 standard. According to OSHA, “These programs have a variety of names, including Accident Prevention Programs, Injury and Illness Prevention Programs, and Comprehensive Safety and Health Programs. The states’ programs also come in a variety of forms.” Either a state occupation and health entity or state workers’ compensation system operate them. Some are voluntary, while others are mandatory. Plans can be either comprehensive or partial and apply to all employers or only a specific subset or industry. For example, Michigan’s plan only applies to the construction industry.
There also are states with OSHA-approved plans, allowing them to create their own standards in place of or in addition to the federal rules, as long as they are at least as stringent as the federal program. These states are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming.
Most of these states require only employers with above a certain number of employees or companies with a higher-than-average rate of occupational injuries and illnesses to adhere to their respective programs. For example, Connecticut does not apply its program to employers with fewer than 25 employees, unless they have a higher-than-average accident rate. Hawaii has exceptions to portions of its program for a company with fewer than 25 employees, and California has similar exceptions applicable to employers with fewer than 10 workers. New Mexico’s plan only applies to companies that have insurance premiums that exceed $5,000. Tennessee, Utah and Vermont’s plans apply only to hazardous employers.
As a result of the implementation of state plans, California had a decrease in injuries and illnesses of 19 percent just five years after adopting I2P2. Also after five years, Washington saw a decrease in injuries and illnesses of 9.4 percent, and Hawaii has seen a drop of 20.7 percent since the inception of its program in 1985. OSHA also reported that these three states had workplace fatality rates as much as 31 percent below the national average in 2009, as a result of their mandatory I2P2 requirements.
Some states with approved plans conduct their own enforcement and issue their own citations, levying fines for noncompliance. Others let the federal government regulate it. Vermont has implemented a unique program, Project WorkSAFE. It is offered through the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which has nearly identical requirements to its federal counterpart and allows employers to confidentially work with the state to ensure safe working standards and identify hazards and correct them. As long as the hazards are corrected, the employer avoids any citations or penalties.
Why invest in safety?
Considering OSHA’s push and all of these existing state mandates and consensus standards, the question remains “Why?” Certainly, we all want to work to eliminate or reduce injury and illness along with the suffering it causes, but is an I2P2 program feasible, both financially and practically? And will it do the job? The answer is a resounding yes! I2P2 programs are not only an effective means to protect employees, but they make good business sense. The bottom line is that they save money and help to streamline arduous processes. Correctly implemented I2P2 programs result in a lower number of injury claims, less time off for sick or injured workers, reduced paperwork, increased liability avoidance, and improved organizational productivity and employee job performance. They have also been known to reduce job turnover and increase employee satisfaction.
According to the 2010 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, “the cost of the most disabling workplace injuries and illnesses in 2008 amounted to $53.42 billion in direct U.S. workers compensation costs, more than $1 billion per week” (see chart at left). This money could be used in other needed areas of improvement, such as job creation and innovation.
If you are covered by an existing state plan or voluntarily adhere to an I2P2-like standard, or if OSHA finally creates a federal I2P2 standard that applies to your business, an effective safety and health program is essential to your employees and your bottom line.
O’CONNOR is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 and firstname.lastname@example.org.