As usual, there is much to report on changes involving the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). New legislation has been proposed, advances have been made on proposed regulations, and new cooperative programs and materials have been created. Of course, there is ever-popular update on OSHA’s enforcement activity. None of this would be possible without a budget. A brief overview of these changes and a summary of OSHA’s 2007 budget are below.

Sen. Michael Enzi (R.-Wyo.) introduced three bills to reform OSHA, which included the following:

°The Occupational Safety Partnership Act deals with voluntary prevention programs, training and compliance assistance. Under this legislation, companies could receive exemptions from OSHA fines for using third-party consultants. The law would also address inconsistencies in state laws governing alcohol and drug programs and address training of personnel.

°The Occupational Safety Fairness Act addresses administrative issues. It would require citations be vacated if an employer used methods at least as protective as specified in a regulation. Warnings could be given in lieu of citations. The period for contesting citations would be extended.

°A HazCom Simplification and Modernization Act would provide assistance for developing material safety data sheets.

Proposed regulations and changes to regulations seem to progress at a snail’s pace toward a final ruling. Hearing Conservation in Construction, released as an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) in August 2002, is still subject to review. A few, however, are scheduled for final action this year.

Other regulations need closer attention. The Hazard Communication standard update needs to be ready by 2008 to meet the goal set by the United Nations to adopt a globally harmonized system of classification and labeling of chemicals (GHS).

A key regulation for the electrical line construction industry on the fast track is the revision of Subpart V Electric Power Transmission and Distribution and related standards on electrical protective equipment. This standard is definitely one to watch. A hearing was held on March 6, 2006. Action by OSHA to move it forward will not be far behind.

To help employers stay on track with all regulations, OSHA continues to enhance its compliance-assistance programs. OSHA partnerships and alliances continue to be created. In addition to the cooperative agreements, new outreach materials have been developed as part of OSHA compliance-assistance effort.

Recent releases include a Construction eTool for Spanish-speaking workers and new guidelines to help reduce motor vehicle crashes. Electrical contractors may find the new Construction Module in the OSHA Web site Quick Start guide very informative. It can be found at www.osha.gov/dcsp/compliance_assistance/quickstarts/index.html.

On the enforcement side, OSHA exceeded its goals. In fiscal year 2005, the target was 37,700 inspections, and 38,714 were conducted. From October 2005 to September 2006, there were 815 inspections of electrical contractors in federally regulated states.

This resulted in 1,801 citations and $1,696,425 in fines. The standards cited seem to remain the same from year to year: electrical, fall, training and personal protective equipment.

An interesting change that does appear is that programmed inspections are increasing, while unprogrammed (e.g., complaints) are decreasing. This may be due to the increase in special programs created by OSHA.

The Enhanced Enforcement Program targets repeat offenders. The Local Emphasis Program (LEP) enables OSHA area offices and regions to target specific hazards/industries in their geographic area.

Without money, OSHA would not be able to establish regulations, offer compliance assistance or perform inspections. The 2007 budget, if adopted, would be the largest in OSHA’s 35-year history.

It calls for an $11.2 million increase for a total of $483.7 million. This budget would allow OSHA to maintain its 2,173 full-time employees and stay on track with its 2003–2008 Strategic Management Plan.

The increased budget is needed for two special initiatives within the plan. The first is $2.6 million to expand outreach to Hispanic and non-English-speaking workers as well as those workers involved in the post-hurricane cleanup and recovery operations along the Gulf Coast.

Another $7.5 million is slated for a new information system (Occupational Safety and Health Information System or “OIS”) to track inspections and program activities. OSHA claims the OIS will enable it to better identify injury, illness and fatality trends at local and national levels. 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 joconnor@intecweb.com.