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Deja vu all over again: OSHA gets tough and ambitious

OSHA boss Dr. David Michaels has had few opportunities so far (he arrived at the agency December 9) to publicly articulate his plans. There have been no press conferences, one on one interviews, congressional testimony, and but a handful of speeches.

Seasoned OSHA observers have watched the agency operate in fits and starts during its almost 40-year history. Conventional wisdom holds that OSHA turns more aggressive under Democratic leadership and more cooperative and consultative under Republican rule. One of Dr. Michaels first public speeches, made to the Small Business Regulatory Roundtable on Occupational Safety and Health Issues (part of the Small Business Administration) on January 22, 2010, struck the tough tone and sketched the ambitious reach OSHA-watchers expect from a Democratic-led agency. Here are excerpts from that speech:

“Under this administration, OSHA is returning to the original intent of the OSH Act. We're a regulatory and enforcement agency and we're going to act like it. “

“We are now focused on re-energizing proposed standards — silica, beryllium, cranes and derricks, a globally harmonized system for chemical labeling, and a standard for confined spaces in construction, electrical power generation in construction, and new initiatives such as managing hazardous, combustible dust and ensuring compliance with CDC infectious disease guidelines.”

“We also need to move forward on… work-related musculoskeletal disorders, safety and health management systems, and permissible exposure limits. We have not yet decided how best to move forward on these issues… “

“When we make a proposal, we'd like to hear from companies that have tested and embraced successful practices, and companies that can tell us with authority what works, what doesn't work, and what makes sense.”

“I am committed to finding ways to get OSHA's abundant compliance assistance resources into the hands of more small business owners and workers. “

“OSHA is proposing to revise its recordkeeping regulation to restore the column for musculoskeletal disorders (MSD's) on the OSHA 300 Log that employers use to record workplace injuries and illnesses. Let me be clear: This is not a prelude to a broader ergonomic standard. OSHA believes that putting the MSD column back on the log will… provide useful information that employers and workers can use to better identify musculoskeletal disorders in their workplaces. At this time, OSHA has no plans for regulatory activity.”

“OSHA is expediting efforts to update existing permissible exposure limits… to protect workers from respirable crystalline silica dust. We are working to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in July 2010.”

“In October 2009, OSHA published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to protect workers from the hazards of combustible dust fire and explosion. We are now analyzing (stakeholder) comments.”

“OSHA is hiring. The President's FY 2010 budget appropriates $558.6 million — a 10 percent increase over FY 2009 — enabling us to hire additional employees for standards writing, whistleblower investigation and more than 100 new compliance safety and health officers.”

“When you institute a comprehensive safety and health management system or program into your workplaces, with employer leadership and worker input and participation, you'll find the investment pays off in productive dividends.”

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