OSHA gears up for a national targeting program
OSHA has wanted to "nationalize" the pilot effort in Maine for several years. Identifying employers nationwide with poor safety records and offering them a choice between traditional inspections or voluntarily working to upgrade safety was a goal of former agency head Joe Dear. But the targeting plan has been repeatedly delayed. Employer opposition to programs proposed in Colorado and Missouri brought political heat on OSHA. Dear's departure slowed down all OSHA "reinvention" initiatives. And union leaders have been concerned about OSHA's ability to monitor voluntary improvements and the role employees play in those efforts.
At press time in mid-November, OSHA officials were still working out details on how targeting would be conducted. Agency spokesman Stephen Gaskill said only that "we are in the process of nationalizing" a targeting plan. The program was scheduled to be rolled out October 1, at the start of OSHA's fiscal year 1998, but Gaskill said November or early December was the latest start-up date.
The latest complication is Charles Jeffress's arrival as the new OSHA chief. Jeffress, the head of North Carolina's OSHA program, started work at federal OSHA on November 12th--right around the time the national targeting program would be unveiled (see sidebar). This could be a rude introduction for Jeffress, since the targeting plan has opponents lined up against it. Chief among them is Rep. Cass Ballenger from Jeffress's home state of North Carolina.
Ballenger wrote a letter to Jeffress's boss, Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, protesting that targeting would force employers to meet requirements for safety and health programs that are not spelled out in any law (OSHA's recent work on trying to set a standard on program requirements has run into serious opposition). How OSHA officials avoid a fight right out of the box between Jeffress and Ballenger remains to be seen. Ironically, Ballenger introduced Jeffress at his Senate confirmation hearing, touting his ability to do a good job at OSHA.
What to expectWhat to expect Back in September, OSHA's Kansas City Regional Administrator Charles Adkins gave an audience of industrial hygienists an idea of how the targeting program would work at the American Academy of Industrial Hygiene's annual conference in Baltimore. Here's an outline of OSHA's plans:
From a database of job-related injury and illness records collected from every facility in the nation with more than 60 workers, OSHA will target manufacturing sites and employers in 14 other industries (not construction sites). Five hundred facilities with the worst lost-workday incidence rates, or high rates and a history of non-compliance will receive "wall-to-wall" inspections.
Letters will be sent to approximately 20,000 facilities with the next highest lost-workday incidence rates informing the sites that they are on OSHA's list of targeted facilities. These facilities will be given a choice:
- Partner with OSHA to come up with plans to improve safety, or be inspected.
- OSHA will spot check about 20 percent of the facilities that decide to upgrade safety on their own.
- The cut-off used to select targeted facilities will be lost-workday incidence rates of 7.0 for 1996.
The list of targeted facilities will not be made public, but employers must post OSHA's letter of notification for employees.
Controversy assuredSome of these specifics will change before the final targeting program is unveiled, since they were still in draft form when Adkins spoke at the industrial hygiene meeting. Check ISHN's online weekly news updates (at www.ishn.com) or contact your nearest OSHA area office for the latest information.
And don't be surprised if the program runs into more delays. Jeffress is going to have to sell it to industry groups and Republicans on Capitol Hill, and he needs time to do his homework. Welcome to Washington, Charles.