To better protect workers, OSHA forms partnerships

Since 1998, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has entered into 398 OSHA Strategic Partnerships (OSPs). These partnerships are a key component of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) goal of a safe and secure workplace for all employees. DOL’s plan is to implement a balanced approach of strong, fair and effective enforcement with outreach, education, compliance assistance and voluntary cooperative programs.

The OSP is one of a number of OSHA’s cooperative programs. The other programs include the Alliance, On-Site Consultation and Voluntary Protection programs. Alliances are company and/or stakeholder agreements with OSHA that enhance compliance assistance, education and outreach. The On-Site Consultation Program offers employers an enforcement-free review of their workplace so long as the employer addresses all noted hazards. The Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) has been around for a long time. Companies must apply for and demonstrate a superior safety and compliance record to achieve this status. The OSP Program stands out among these voluntary cooperative programs. It requires a commitment to the achievement of pre-established performance measures.

Each OSP is unique. It can be established on a national or regional level. It may include a relationship between OSHA and groups of employers, employees and employee representatives or may include only one employer. Often it will include other stakeholders with a vested interest in the activities of the affected workplaces. A prime example of this is the Electrical Transmission and Distribution Construction Contractors and Trade Associations OSP. It includes the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and Edison Electric Institute (EEI). Their participation relates to the impact of products resulting from the OSP’s activity on their membership.

An OSP agreement’s basic elements include identification of partners, purpose/scope, goals/strategies, performance measures, annual evaluation, incentives, OSHA verification, management and operation, employee and employer rights, term of OSP, and signatures.

The beginning middle and end of the OSP agreement include obvious elements and/or formalities that must be addressed. The identification of partners is obvious. The OSP should include appropriate partners (e.g., employers, employees and stakeholders) who can have an impact on its success. The partners must recognize employer and employee rights.

The following statement is required in all agreements: “This OSP does not preclude employees and/or employers from exercising any right provided under the OSH Act (or, for federal employees, 29 CFR 1960), nor does it abrogate any responsibility to comply with rules and regulations adopted pursuant to the Act.”

The obvious ending to any agreement is the signatures. OSHA will sign the agreement. A draft of the other partners who will sign must be submitted as part of the approval process.

The other elements of the agreement are the substance of the OSP. This begins with the purpose/scope. A critical analysis is needed to determine if the OSP is suitable for accomplishing the goals desired for resolving or improving the identified worker safety and health issue/problem. The analysis must rely on data. OSHA should be consulted to help with the development of a purpose.

The next is to define goals/strategies. The goals must support the purpose and define expected outcomes. Strategies identify the plan or key steps for achieving the goals. Within the strategies, specific actions or initiatives that will be performed should be described. The questions about “Who,” “How” and “When” must be addressed. A fundamental broad goal is “to reduce employee injuries and illnesses.” A strategy may be the implementation of an effective safety and health management system. Actions include performing workplace surveys, conducting employee training or developing a given written program (HazCom, lockout/tagout, etc.).

An OSP goes beyond establishing goals and strategies. It must define performance measures, for instance, “effective performance measures compare the actual result with the intended or desired outcome.” The agreement must identify quantitative measurements for evaluating the program. Because the basic goal for all OSPs is the reduction of injuries, illnesses and fatalities, all agreements must establish a baseline for all summary line items of the OSHA 300 Summery of Injury and Illnesses Log. Other performance measures may include workers’ compensation rate comparisons, workers’ compensation costs, number of workplace inspections performed, response time for correcting identified hazards, and survey results of employee knowledge before and after OSP-directed training. Qualitative performance measures may be used. Examples of these include, but are not limited to, improved employee morale and better safety attitudes.

With performance measures comes a qualifying evaluation. Evaluations must be performed annually. OSHA sees the optimal evaluation as one that is a collaborative effort of the primary partners. OSHA has established a standardized format, the Annual Evaluation Report. At a minimum, this report requires someone with knowledge of the OSP’s strategies who is able to verify achievement of goals and recognize areas in need of improvement. The report includes performance measures identified in the agreement and evaluates the number completed. These include training, consultation visits, reviews and development of safety and health management systems, OSHA enforcement inspection, on-site nonenforcement interactions, participant self-inspections or other activities.

An attractive part of the OSP is contained in the element called define benefits. Partners may be eligible for special enforcement provisions. However, these special provisions are linked the partners’ adherence to the agreement. Eligibility for these provisions is related to a partner’s efforts to provide safe and healthful working conditions and their degree of success. OSHA will not offer routine partnership-wide deferral or exemption from programmed inspections.

The agreement also must define verification procedures. The main difference between the evaluation and verification process is the entity performing the activity. OSHA will verify that participants are upholding their responsibilities. They will do this by performing off-site verification, on-site nonenforcement verification and on-site enforcement inspections. Partners and OSHA will determine the parameters under which these will be conducted. However, OSHA will hold partners accountable for compliance. OSHA 300 logs will be submitted for off-site verification. Partners who are selected for on-site enforcement inspections risk the potential for citations and penalties.

The next element is to define management and operation of the OSP. This describes the system that will be implemented to ensure success. It will identify contacts, employee participation and the development of steering committees or other task force groups to manage partnership activities. It should describe the roles and responsibilities of those involved, including a statement of each partner’s contribution.

As noted above, the OSP agreement must identify what will be accomplished and when. All agreements have to specify the OSP term. This not only requires a “sunset” date when the agreement automatically terminates but establishes other criteria for termination. There should be a provision for closing the agreement when goals are met. Other criteria include termination if a primary party unilaterally withdraws or the partners fail to meet requirements. The typical term of an OSP is three to five years.

A number of OSPs that include electrical contractors have been established. The most notable is the Electrical Transmission and Distribution Construction Contractors and Trade Associations National OSP, which was identified earlier. It was established in August of 2004 and renewed in 2006. This group has had great success in identifying accident causes and establishing best practices. The partners already have established and agreed to implement the following best practices: job briefings, pre-use inspection of rubber protective equipment, administrative controls, qualified observer, insulate-and-isolate safety performance check, and lock-to-lock use of rubber gloves and sleeves. They also created an industry-specific OSHA 10-hour program and trained more than 2,100 employees.

Various regional OSPs have been established by electrical contractors. Several contracting associations and organizations have entered into agreements that have also had great success in improving workplace safety and health. The Northern New Jersey OSP was established in 2003 and renewed in 2006. The partners in this OSP reduced their cumulative lost workday injury and illness rate to 57 percent below the national average.

The Atlanta Electrical Contractors Association (AECA) as a division of NECA, IBEW Local 613, the Atlanta Electrical Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (AEJATC) and the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) signed an agreement in January of 2005. This OSP experienced total case incident rates (TCIR) and days away from work, restricted or transferred rates (DART) that are approximately 60 percent lower than the BLS National Average for 2004.

Other standard OSP goals include the reduction of injury and illness rates, increased safety training, hazard recognition and standardized checklists designed to exceed OSHA requirements. These partnerships continue to make improvements in safety and health.

Anyone interested in establishing an OSP such as those described here should become familiar with the OSP Program. The details can be found on OSHA’s Web site (www.osha.gov) under Cooperative Programs. The OSP directive is CSP 03-02-001 [TED 8-0.2]—OSHA Strategic Partnerships for Worker Safety and Health. The local region or state coordinator should be contacted. Make sure you have a clear idea of what the partners want and how it will be accomplished. Identify who should be involved. Consider others with similar problems, stakeholders that can help leverage appropriate resources and any other affected parties. Use the appendices found on OSHA’s Web site to draft a partnership agreement. Submit the proposal to OSHA. Regardless of where submitted, it will be routed through OSHA’s regional or national office and solicitor. Once approved, a signing ceremony will be held and the OSP can begin under the parameters of the agreement.  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.