OSHA Standards Provide
Safety At Work
Written by Steve Hudgik
The definition of a project is anything that takes much longer than you thought it would take. Which means setting an OHSA standard is surely a project.
It’s been four decades since the OSH Act of 1970 was signed into law by President Richard Nixon. In the last 40 years the nation has made impressive progress in reducing work-related deaths and injuries.
- Illnesses and deaths have fallen dramatically
- Workplace fatalities have dropped by 65%
- Occupational injury and illness rates have dropped by 67%
- Safety at Work programs have reduced injuries by 20 to 40%
- Safety at Work programs save $4 to $6 for every dollar invested, yet only about 30% of U.S. worksites have established Safety at Work programs
- Safety at Work programs improve morale and reduce the costs of missed work
But still, much work remains. Every day on average twelve workers die on the job and each year more than 3.3 million working men and women suffer a serious job-related injury or illness. And millions more are exposed to toxic chemicals that may cause illness years from now.
How Can OSHA Standards Help?
OSHA standards are rules that provide the information employers and their workers need to make sure their workplace provides for Safety at Work.
OSHA has standards for construction work, maritime operations and general industry, which includes most worksites. These standards limit chemical hazards, require the use of certain safe practices and equipment and require employers to monitor hazards and keep records of workplace injuries and illnesses.
Examples of OSHA standards include requirements to: provide fall protection, prevent trenching cave-ins, prevent infectious diseases, ensure that workers safely enter confined spaces, prevent exposure to harmful substances like asbestos, put guards on machines, provide respirators or other safety equipment, and provide training for certain dangerous jobs.
Employers must also comply with the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act, which requires employers to keep their workplace a place of Safety at Work. This clause is generally cited when no OSHA standard applies to the hazard.
How Are OSHA Standards Created?
Surprisingly, establishing an OSHA standard takes about six years to complete. The seriousness of the job, and the numerous stakeholders, combine to create a process that is thoughtful but also slow and encumbered.
Should OSHA decide a standard is needed, several advisory committees may be asked to participate. There are two standing committees, plus ad hoc committees that become involved in areas of concern to OSHA. All advisory committees, standing or ad hoc, must have members representing management, labor, and state agencies, as well as one or more designees of the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The two standing advisory committees are:
* National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH), which advises, consults with, and makes recommendations to the Secretary of HHS and to the Secretary of Labor on matters regarding administration of the Act.
* Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health, which advises the Secretary of Labor on formulation of construction safety and health standards and other regulations.
What Is Negotiated Rulemaking?
When creating a standard there are two considerations: what change will we make and what process will we use to gain consensus. Negotiated rulemaking has proven to be the most acceptable process.
A balanced group representing the regulated public, community and public interest groups, state and local governments, join with a representative of the federal agency in a federally chartered advisory committee to fine-tune the text before it’s published as a proposed rule in the Federal Register. If the committee reaches consensus on the rule then the federal agency can use this consensus to build the final rule. The proposed rule is still subject to public comment. If consensus is not reached, the agency proceeds with normal rulemaking activities.
What Are the Advantages of Negotiated Rulemaking?
Federal agencies have identified several advantages to negotiating before notice and comment. The regulatory negotiation process allows interested, affected parties more input into the drafting of the regulation, which creates a rule that's more likely to be sensitive to the needs and limitations of both the parties and the agency. Rules drafted by negotiation tend to be more pragmatic and more easily implemented at an earlier date, thus providing the public with the benefits of the rule while minimizing the negative impact of a poorly conceived or drafted regulation.