OSHA to Release Proposal by End of Year, Michaels Tells Public Health Association

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DENVER--The Occupational Safety and Health Administration plans to release its injury and illness prevention program proposed rule to the public in late November or December, David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said Nov. 8.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association, Michaels said the proposed rule is being reviewed under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act to determine its impact on small businesses. In May, OSHA invited interested parties to participate in informational meetings on the rulemaking (75 Fed. Reg. 23,637; 40 OSHR 378, 5/6/10).

The rule is intended to help employers reduce workplace injuries and illnesses “through a systematic process that proactively addresses workplace safety and health hazards,” OSHA said.

“We are asking employers to find workplace hazards and essentially negate them,” Michaels told the APHA meeting. “We're trying to get away from 'catch-me-if-you-can,’ and adopt instead the idea that every employer should have a risk-based system to address hazards. And workers have to have an important role in that system.”

Michaels joined three other Obama administration health and safety officials in a roundtable discussion at the meeting.

The other panelists were Gregory Wagner, deputy assistant secretary of labor for policy in the Mine Safety and Health Administration; John Howard, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; and Rafael Moure-Eraso, chairman of the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

Strengthening Enforcement.

Michaels also said that stronger enforcement, deterrence, and prevention are hallmarks of OSHA's policies and practices. In particular, he said, the agency is intensifying its efforts against “bad actors” and in cases where workers are “killed or their limbs are threatened.”

He said the agency is using its “egregious citation policy” to go after employers on a per-instance basis under the same standard rather than grouping similar violations together for purposes of calculating penalties.

“This enables us to come up with a very big penalty” in the worst cases, he said.

OSHA began implementing its new enforcement policy Oct. 1 with increased penalties for various types of violations (40 OSHR 843, 10/14/10)

Michaels said the agency is planning to use the general duty clause under the Occupational Safety and Health Act against employers in cases involving chemical hazards for which current standards are “wildly and dangerously out of date.”

Assistance for Small Employers.

The agency is also going to make compliance assistance available to small employers, he added, noting that President Obama's latest budget includes “the largest increase to assistance small employers in recent years.” And, he said, OSHA has a goal of moving injury reporting to an electronic system.

Improved enforcement and better regulation are also critical priorities at MSHA, Wagner said, calling attention to the agency's unprecedented legal move last week calling for a preliminary injunction to shut down Freedom Energy Mine in Pike County, Ky., for repeated safety violations.

Moure-Eraso said the Chemical Safety Board has taken an important role in the review of the BP Plc Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. “We are trying to identify root causes. We are looking at the whys something happened,” he said. “We have some questions they are going to have to answer.”

By Tripp Baltz

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