To Protect and Serve:

Each year we look ahead to determine the challenges we'll face with respect to safety compliance; of course, the greatest predictor is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) itself. Its activity is directed by its five-year Strategic Management Plan. Individual focus is given to problems revealed through an analysis of the data on the annual company injury and illness logs. The areas selected by OSHA are often reflected in its regulatory agenda and budget. In addition, changes in leadership affect its activity.

Last year, President Bush’s new appointee for assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, Edwin G. Foulke Jr., took command. He believes in the Strategic Management Plan. In a speech he gave to the American Society of Safety Engineers, he expressed the following as OSHA’s three fundamental goals:

  • Reducing occupational hazards through direct intervention

  • Promoting a safety and health culture through outreach, education and compliance assistance

  • Maximizing OSHA’s effectiveness and efficiency by strengthening the agency’s capabilities, diversity and infrastructure

Foulke’s focus is prevention. He states that it is “an employer’s legal responsibility and moral obligation” to ensure workplace safety and also stresses the point that safety makes good business sense. To prove his point, he quotes figures showing that effective safety and health programs offer a return on investment of $4 to $6 for every $1 invested.

Direct intervention
Foulke views direct intervention as a function of enforcement. This consists of the creation of standards and the enforcement of its provisions. Several standards or potential standards were cited as major issues. The Hexavalent Chromium Standard, which was promulgated on Feb. 28, 2006, was on the top of the list. Other major issues included the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals and the Standards for Electric Power Transmission and Distribution Lines and Equipment (29 CFR Subpart V of Part 1926). By fall 2006, a notice of proposed rulemaking on the GHS was released, and the comment period on Subpart V closed, each taking a step closer to a final rule.

To put things in perspective, most electricians working in power plants should notice the effect of hexavalent chromium in the industry. Other possible exposure, which may have an effect, is that which occurs when welding stainless steel. When the GHS is completed, it will have a universal impact. It affects all businesses. The goal of the GHS is to standardize labeling and chemical Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) information between the United States and other countries. Hazard communication training, labels and MSDSs currently in place will need to be updated. The effect of changes to Subpart V should go without saying. Line construction safety requirements will follow the mandates found in the General Industry Rule 1910.269.

Other standards were noted, but were not identified as major issues. Foulke recognizes the complex nature of the rulemaking process. He was the former chairman to the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Review Commission and worked in a law practice addressing safety and health issues. Standards he mentioned are Silica, Emergency Preparedness, Subpart S—Electrical (General Industry) Standards; the update of all OSHA standards based on the current National Standards; and the assigned protection factors for the Respiratory Protection Standard. Silica and Emergency Preparedness remain in the prerule phase. Subpart S and the consensus standard update are in the final rule phase. The assigned protection factors have been promulgated. Use of respirators should come into compliance with these factors.

Of particular interest was Foulke’s mention of updating the permissible exposure limits (PELs) for chemicals and employer preparedness for a pandemic flu. He may seek a way to address PELs outside the rulemaking process. As for the pandemic flu, he noted that OSHA has already issued guidelines for those who may most likely be exposed to the avian flu and has been working with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Agriculture Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to develop guidelines for employers and employees to prepare for a pandemic human influenza. Since Foulke sees enforcement through intervention and inspection, activity related to these standards and others will continue. Looking at the 2007 budget, the greatest increase in dollars is in enforcement. This may simply reflect increases due to payroll changes, the proposed workload data in the budget calls for the same number of federal inspections in 2007 as were competed in 2006. Under Foulke’s, strategies such as the Site-Specific Targeting Program (SST) and Enhanced Enforcement Program will continue. The SST focuses on nonconstruction work sites with 40 or more employees with the highest injury and illness rates. The Enhanced Enforcement program targets repeat offenders and those who fail to learn from OSHA’s outreach efforts.

Construction will undoubtedly continue to receive the bulk of inspections. As noted above, OSHA responds to annual statistics. Although overall rates have gone down, construction numbers such as the 8 percent rise in workplace fatalities from 2003 to 2004 and the increase in injuries in the Hispanic working population provide a focus for OSHA prevention activity.

Outreach, education and compliance assistance
However, consistent with the OSHA philosophy and in agreement with Foulke’s views, outreach, education and compliance assistance must play a major role in reaching OSHA’s goals. OSHA continues to develop construction compliance materials on its Web site. Most of these have been in both English and Spanish. In fact, OSHA actually proposed $2.6 million in its 2007 budget to expand outreach for Hispanic and other non-English-speaking workers. Outreach materials are not only posted on the Web site. They are distributed as hard copies. Materials include QuickCards, Pocket Guides and fact sheets.

OSHA training figures are also on the rise. OSHA-sponsored training programs increased 23 percent from 2004, and OSHA has proposed another modest increase of 4 percent from the 2006 figure of 415,800 training participants to a 2007 figure of 432,300 participants trained. The Chicago OSHA Training Institute alone boasts an array of almost 60 courses.

These training programs do not include the many programs that continue under the Susan Harwood Training Grants. These continue despite OSHA’s failure to request funds for 2007. Between the 2006 requests and the various ongoing grants, more than 57 not-for-profit organizations are offering safety and health training and educational programs ranging from construction hazards to emergency planning. Based on Foulke’s comments when the grants were released last year on Sept. 29, 2006, chances are the grants will continue in 2008.

“Training and education are the cornerstones of workplace safety and health. These grants create new opportunities to reach non-English-speaking employees and others in high-hazard jobs and help them return home safe at the end of the workday,” Foulke said.

Strengthening capabilities, diversity and infrastructure
The third and final element, which we can continue to expect, is OSHA’s development of cooperative and voluntary programs. These include the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), the Strategic Partnership Program and the Alliance programs. VPPs are sites that apply to OSHA to demonstrate its high level of commitment to safety and health. Partnerships establish a cooperative relationship between OSHA, employers, employees and other interested stakeholders to improve compliance. Alliances are cooperative programs that foster training and education; outreach/communication; and promote dialogue on workplace safety/health at a national level.

Foulke believes in the many partnerships and alliances that have been created. He has cited the success of these programs. The VPP grew to more than 1,400 sites in 2006. There were more than 165 strategic partnerships and 431 national, regional and area alliances. Through these programs, OSHA has been able to reach more than 8 million workers and hopes to continue to grow the programs to reach millions more.

There are a number of regional and local partnerships and alliances within the electrical industry. You may also be influenced by a voluntary compliance program regardless of your chapters’ participation. Many Associated General Contractors chapters and subcontractor associations have entered into partnerships and alliances. The benefits or obligations of its participation could filter down to you on the job.

Of particular interest should be the status of OSHA’s Transmission & Distribution Strategic Partnership Program for line construction. This partnership has resulted in a number of benefits for the industry. It has identified the four leading causes of fatalities in the industry, created a Lineman OSHA 10-hour course and is developing safety best practices for line construction. Approximately 70 percent of the electrical transmission and distribution industry is represented. It includes individual companies, the National Electrical Contractors Association, Edison Electric Institute and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. It will continue to remain a force in 2007.

The bottom line is that OSHA must and will continue to establish and enforce occupational safety and health regulations. But, the current leadership at OSHA, as well as the recent administrations that have gone before, recognize that OSHA needs to do more than impose penalties. As expressed by Foulke, the best analogy is that of the police officer: “When you see a police officer on a street corner, you are not afraid of him. You might even go up and ask for directions, and you’ll be grateful for the advice. However, you are also aware that if you run a red light, that same friendly, helpful police officer will be obliged to issue you a ticket that could result in your paying a hefty fine for breaking the law.” Seek help from OSHA, and understand the job it must do when you don’t comply.     EC

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 or by e-mail at joconnor@intecweb.com.