OSHA’s enforcement chief told TRSA members (TRSA represents the $16-billion textile services industry that employs nearly 200,000 people at more than 2,000 facilities nationwide) that the agency is “struggling” with incentive programs that recognize employers for exemplary efforts in preventing workplace injuries and illnesses.
Limited resources have prevented OSHA from expanding these efforts after they grew significantly in recent years, said Richard E. Fairfax, deputy assistant U.S. labor secretary.
Speaking to TRSA’s Leadership & Legislative Conference, Fairfax said President George W. Bush’s administration allowed these initiatives (such as the Voluntary Protection Program) to grow so quickly that the agency is having difficulty keeping up with them.
In more recent years, OSHA has concentrated on evaluating their effectiveness. “I think the world of the program,” Fairfax said of the VPP, but he indicated that such endeavors may need better quality control.
The VPP, Safety & Health Achievement and Recognition Program (SHARP) and other honors awarded to employers including many in the textile service industry are under evaluation by an OSHA team Fairfax appointed last summer.
“I told them to take as long as they want, to do a top to bottom review,” he said.
In the meantime, he urged employers to take advantage of other compliance assistance programs, such as the free OSHA consultation service for companies with 250 workers or less. Agency personnel who visit a business and find violations don’t notify the federal office of these unless the location’s management refuses to fix them.
OSHA’s best and brightest move to compliance assistance
This program saw a budget increase in 2011, Fairfax noted. Each OSHA area office employs a compliance assistance specialist who performs these inspections.
“Our senior and best compliance officers have moved into those positions,” he explained. “They’re not allowed to do anything in enforcement.” They exist for training and outreach and usually “all it takes is a phone call to the office” to involve them in a voluntary compliance effort.
Fairfax also pointed out that the agency hopes to increase its use of private-sector safety pros to help with other employers’ preventive efforts.
OSHA to increase private sector safety pro assistance