Jordan Barab, acting OSHA chief until nominee Dr. David Michaels is confirmed by the Senate sometime this fall, spoke of the “great energy in OSHA these days as we look forward to positive changes in the agency,” in a speech he delivered in August to members of the Voluntary Protection Program Participants Association.

Barab’s bottom line message: “Although we wish everyone were as committed to workplace safety and health as VPPPA members, this is unfortunately not the case. For that reason, this administration will turn its focus to those worst offenders who continue to needlessly put workers' lives in jeopardy.”

He proceeded to present priority items and actions on OSHA’s new agenda:

”OSHA is hiring around 130 new inspectors in FY 2010. We have also added inspectors this year to ensure that work funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is done safely.

”OSHA is launching a new Severe Violator Enforcement Program to improve our targeted inspections. This is a revitalization of our former Enhanced Enforcement Program.

”We just finished a construction sweep in several cities in Texas in response to a growing number of fatalities that has unfortunately made Texas the nation's leader in workplace fatalities. We will be launching a number of similar initiatives in coming years as troubling trends indicate a problem.

”We're seeking ways to raise penalties and make them a real disincentive to cutting corners on safety.

”We're accelerating those standards that have been languishing in the pipeline - such as silica, cranes and derricks, and the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals.

”Secretary Solis has announced a new standard to address the hazards of combustible dust and we'll be announcing other new standards for hazardous situations where no standards exist.

”We'll be looking at how we can streamline the rulemaking process to issue smarter, more protective standards in a faster timeframe.

”We'll also be launching a number of new National Emphasis Programs (NEP). We are just finishing up an NEP on refineries and have just launched an NEP focusing on chemical plants.

”And we will soon announce our new Recordkeeping National Emphasis Program in response to studies and Congressional hearings that have cast serious doubt on the accuracy of statistical reports on injuries and illnesses.”