Periodically, it is a good idea to take a look at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) activities and their plans for the future. This is particularly true following a presidential election. Important areas are personnel changes, the budget, the regulatory agenda and trends in enforcement as observed through the most frequently cited standards. Each must be reviewed carefully. Although they may not reveal major changes, subtle differences can have a significant impact.

With the re-election of George W. Bush, the Republican philosophy will be maintained. One would expect few, if any, changes in the way business is performed. This should be true even with the resignation of Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, John Henshaw. His emphasis on voluntary compliance was consistent with the administration's philosophy and is expected to continue. However, one effort championed by Henshaw seems to have lost steam. OSHA has decided not to pursue the update of OSHA Standards based on National Consensus Standards.

The 2006 budget confirms the plan for status quo (see table below). With a $4.6 million increase for Federal Enforcement, OSHA will only be able to maintain the same number of inspections. The proposed funding for Federal Compliance Assistance is $2.4 million. This money is expected to provide the support needed to increase the number of Voluntary Protection Program sites and consultation visits.

These increases come at the cost of the Susan Harwood Training Grants. OSHA believes that programs already developed under the grant will compensate for this loss.

OSHA's regulatory agenda does not show much progress. Three Notice of Proposed Rulemakings are expected to be released in 2006. This is down from only four in 2005. The scheduled number of releases does not mean significant rules are not in the wings. There are a number of regulatory changes on the schedule that will have a great impact on the electrical industry, but progress will be slow.

Pending standards that should be watched are Employer Payment for Personal Protective Equipment and the Revision and Update of Subpart S-Electrical Standards. The following should also be watched and are in the proposed rule stage: Cranes and Derricks; Confined Spaces in Construction (Part 1926): Preventing Suffocation/ Explosions in Confined Spaces; Electric Power Transmission and Distribution; and Electrical Protective Equipment.

The indicator that offers contractors the greatest potential to respond is the trend in enforcement. Again, there does not appear to be many changes. The top 10 violations include electrical standards, fall protection, scaffolds, ladders and head protection. These same standards are cited year after year.

One change not visible by reviewing the top 10 frequently cited standards is OSHA's use of the National Fire Protection Associations (NFPA) 70E standard in its enforcement. NFPA 70E contains four chapters covering Safety-Related Work Practices, Safety-Related Maintenance Requirements, Safety Requirements for Special Equipment and Installation Safety Requirements.

OSHA has been using the General Duty Clause [Section 5(a)1] of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act to hold contractors accountable for these practices. This is confirmed by the increase in 5(a)1 citations and penalties.

Whether looking to address the subtle differences in OSHA's activity or to work on safety issues facing the industry, electrical contractors should turn to their trade association. The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) has allied with OSHA in addressing general industry safety concerns and the special hazards associated with power line construction. The NECA Safety Expert System Software and NECA publications include safety and compliance assistance information, covering all areas of safety and health. The latest version of the software includes special documents for NFPA 70E. Contact NECA at 301.657.3110 or visit www.necanet.org. 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.