Inspections and citations are down. Little activity has occurred on the advancement of new regulations. In addition, if we look at the proposed budget for 2008, funding seems inappropriate to keep pace with rising costs. In fact, the budget again calls for the elimination of the Susan Harwood Training Grants. However, for those affected by a given standard or a target of enforcement, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is alive and well, and it will continue to be so in 2008. In order to get a better perspective on where OSHA is for 2008, it is necessary to take a closer look at the its goals, strategies and budget.

The obvious goal for OSHA is to reduce injuries, illnesses and fatalities. It has four basic strategies. No. 1 on the list is “strong, fair, and effective enforcement.” The second is setting safety and health standards and providing guidance. Third and fourth are training and education, and cooperative programs, compliance assistance and outreach.

Enforcement

Since 2003, federal inspection rates have decreased steadily from 39,817 to 36,500 in 2007. The violations issued over the same period decreased as well, with the exception of 2003 and 2004. In 2003, there were 83,539 citations issued. In 2004, citations increased to 86,708. After that, the steady decrease brought the number down to 83,913. Looking at the figures available for inspections performed in state plan states, the numbers show a similar decrease. In 2006, there were 58,058 inspections and 54,500 in 2007.

This overall decrease is consistent with the numbers observed for electrical construction. During the period from Oct. 1, 2005, to Sept. 30, 2006, OSHA performed 824 federal inspections and issued 1,736 citations to employers classified as electrical work (Standard Industrial Code 1731). The total penalties amounted to $1,083,766. For the same period in 2006 to 2007, the number of inspections dropped to 678, citations dropped to 1,359, and penalties dropped to $842,625.

Looking forward to 2008, there is little doubt this trend will change. Funding for federal enforcement in 2007 amounted to $172.6 million. The budget request in 2008 calls for $183 million, an increase of $10.4 million. This matches the proposed increase in the number of inspections proposed for 2008 of 37,700. However, if increase in funding is adjusted for inflation, the amount is reduced to only a $2 million increase. When state plan states are included, there is actually a decrease. OSHA 2008 budget keeps state enforcement funding flat. Only $91.1 million was offered for 2007 and 2008. The number of state inspections in 2008 would be reduced by 2,500 to 52,000. Therefore, the combined number of inspections proposed for 2008 would be 1,300 less than in 2007.

Regarding the type of citations issued, there appears to be no change in what OSHA seems to find when looking at electrical work. The top 10 citations found during the years 2005–2006 and 2006–2007 remain the same. Although its position changed slightly, the top 10 continue to be 1926.405 Wiring methods, components, and equipment for general use; 1926.453 Aerial lifts; 1926.403 General requirements; 1926.501 Duty to have fall protection; 1926.404 Wiring design and protection; 1926.1053 Ladders; 1926.416 General requirements; 1926.1052 Stairways; 1926.100 Head protection; and 1926.20 General safety and health provisions (number indicates the standard reference in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 29 construction industry standard).

In OSHA’s defense, it is not becoming less effective. As mentioned earlier, its strategy must be considered. OSHA has implemented a number of programs that attempt to focus on those employers presenting the greatest risk to their employees. These programs include the Site-Specific Targeting Program (SST), Enhanced Enforcement Program (EEP) and national and local emphasis programs. SST identifies work sites with the highest rates of injury and illness and directs that inspections be performed at these sites. It is based on the incident and days away, restricted or transferred (DART) rates. OSHA recently lowered the threshold for primary targets from a DART rate of 11 to those with nine or higher. OSHA’s EEP focuses on employers who repeatedly ignore their safety and health obligations. EEP cases may involve follow-up inspections of the cited workplace, inspections of other work sites of the same employer, more stringent settlement terms and even federal summary enforcement orders. National and local special-emphasis programs target high-risk hazards and industries. These programs allow immediate inspections when safety and health hazards are observed at a work site. There currently are five national emphasis programs. They include focuses on amputations, lead, silica, shipbuilding and trenching. OSHA sees the trenching program as a success for the emphasis program. This program was implemented in 2003 and reduced trenching fatalities by more than 15 percent in the first two years.

Standards and guidance

Little progress has been made on the establishment of new regulations. There were four standards finalized last year. The hexavalent chromium standard was published, the fire protection rules for shipyards were updated to reflect current consensus standards, and the assigned protection factors for selecting the appropriate respiratory protection were established. Of most significance to the electrical industry were the changes to Subpart S Electrical of the General Industry standards. The changes focused on electrical installation and the safe design of electrical systems in buildings, industrial facilities and other workplace settings.

In addition, only a few standards have moved forward slightly in the process. The changes to the Hazard Communication Standard to adopt the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, which will make material safety sheets and hazard warning labels consistent with other countries, has made it to the proposed rule stage on the agenda. The same is true of OSHA’s Standards Improvement Project, the removal or revision of duplicative, unnecessary and inconsistent requirements. Of most significance to the electrical industry is the movement of the Electric Power Transmission and Distribution update. It is in the final rule stage.

Factoring in the budget on what’s ahead for 2008, little is expected to change. The 2008 budget for Safety and Health Standards is $16.9 million. This is only a $400,000 increase. Adjusted for inflation, it is a decrease of $363,000.

Again, the true impact on future business, however, may be in OSHA’s target or strategy. In December 2008, OSHA announced a final rule on employer payment for personal protective equipment (PPE). Although the vast majority of employers already pay for most kinds of PPE, the standard would mandate which types the employer must purchase. The rule effective date is set for Feb. 13, 2008, and OSHA will begin enforcing the rule on May 15, 2008. The other rule OSHA plans to push forward is the Emergency Response and Preparedness rule. With the lessons learned and experience with Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina, Edwin G. Foulke Jr., assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, would like to publish a consolidated rule to ensure employers are prepared for disasters.

Training, education and compliance

When it comes to programs to train and assist employers, looking strictly at the budget, there doesn’t appear to be much new to offer. The only true increase is in federal compliance assistance programs. The figure in the 2008 budget for state compliance assistance is $54.5 million, an increase of $2.1 million. Adjusted for inflation, it decreases by $1.4 million. The federal compliance assistance budget is $79.6 million, an increase of $7.1 million. Adjusted for inflation, it is reduced to a $3.5 million increase. Funding for training grants has been eliminated. The remaining budget areas—technical support, statistics and administration—all have reductions in funding when inflation is factored in.

However, as presented earlier, budget alone doesn’t tell the whole story. OSHA has been very successful with the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP), strategic partnerships and alliances. VPP sites achieve injury and illness rates that are more than 50 percent below the national average. OSHA has 1,300 VPP sites and anticipates 216 more in 2008. There are similar success stories with partnership and alliance groups. With regard to compliance assistance materials, the OSHA Web site (www.osha.gov) has become the resource for safety and health. OSHA expects to get approximately 1 billion hits on the site this year. The OSHA training strategy of using the OSHA Training Institute or outreach education centers has proven very effective. Almost 500,000 people were trained through these centers, and many became instructors themselves, training even more workers in safety.

Regardless of whether one feels OSHA’s investments are appropriate, it may be of interest to note that of the net budget increase of $17.9 million ($20.5 million minus $2.6 million grant elimination), 51 percent has been dedicated to enforcement. The $8.4 million increase in compliance assistance represents 41 percent.

It is clear OSHA plans to focus on enforcement with a relatively balanced effort on compliance assistance. Employers would be wise to take advantage of OSHA’s offer to help and avoid the wrath of an inspection.

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.