A look at a recent speech given by OSHA's Assistant Secretary, David Michaels, Ph.D., provides employers with insight into what agency touts as successes over the past several years and its vision for the year ahead. Addressing OSHA's employees at its "All-Hands Meeting" in February 2013, Dr. Michaels noted that in recent years, the agency has:
Launched the new Severe Violator Enforcement Program to target the worst of the worst violators;
Issued a record number of significant and egregious enforcement cases including the largest fine in OSHA history;
Issued three major standards;
Strengthened the protections of whistleblowers;
Launched several new National, Regional, and Local Emphasis inspection programs.
Dr. Michaels revealed that in 2012, OSHA conducted nearly 41,000 Federal OSHA inspections, and another 51,000 with its State plan partners. OSHA provided free on-site assistance to nearly 30,000 small and medium-sized businesses. As OSHA moves forward, Dr. Michaels noted, it will make increased use of its data to target high hazard workplaces. Other areas of focus include protecting temporary workers and employees in hospitals and healthcare, which he stated have an "alarming high rate of worker injuries and illnesses."
Also in 2012, OSHA updated the Hazard Communication standard, which contains new label elements, a new safety data sheet format, and training requirements that must be completed by December 1, 2013. Moving onto a another standard – albeit one in the early stages – Dr. Michaels reiterated that OSHA's Injury and Illness Prevention Program ("I2P2") remains its number one priority. I2P2 is OSHA’s initiative to create a standard that would compel employers to find and fix hazards.
Commenting on OSHA's continuing efforts to expand its Whistleblower Protections Program, Dr. Michaels stated that in 2012, the agency helped award nearly $27,000,000 to whistleblowers. "But sanctioning employers who retaliate against workers, and making workers whole, are not our only goals," Dr. Michaels explained. "We are working hard to prevent retaliation from happening in the first place; we are sending a message to employers across the country that punishing workers for exercising their rights will simply not be tolerated." In this regard, Dr. Michaels noted that employer incentive programs based on injury rates or reports can discourage workers from reporting injuries and that the agency is taking a close look at these programs to determine if they unlawfully discriminate or retaliate against workers or result in violations of OSHA's recordkeeping regulations. Click here to view a copy of Dr. Michael's speech.
Clearly, the take away for employers is that it’s worth paying attention to those things to which OSHA is paying attention. As we move forward in 2013, and OSHA's agenda under President Obama's second term, employers should ask themselves, "Are we ready?" I will discuss more on this topic at the 18th Annual Akerman Labor & Employment Law Seminar.