OSHA wants to convene small business panels by the end of 2002 to discuss how to set up broad injury and illness prevention plans and programs.

Any action, particularly mandatory requirements, are a long way off. Remember, OSHA also is wrestling with how to set up voluntary ergonomics programs in targeted industries.

Still, this announcement in OSHA's latest "regulatory calendar" shows that the agency is not giving up on the idea of somehow providing industry with guidelines - if not a standard - for setting up safety and health programs. In the late 1990s, OSHA drafted mandatory safety and health program requirements, but the effort was derailed by the ergo express - OSHA's big push for an ergonomics standard that was eventually blocked by Congress.

Supporters of a broad safety and health program rule say it should have been the first standard ever drawn up by OSHA. In the late 1980s, OSHA issued voluntary guidelines for safety programs that form the basis of the agency's Voluntary Protection Program requirements.

Any future OSHA action might be influenced by a committee of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI Z10), which will propose a safety and health management standard sometime next year.