Safety 2012OSHA’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

In this special government employee (SGE) program, such an individual receives three days of free OSHA training, then participates annually as a member of an OSHA team evaluating other companies’ safety procedures. The agency wants to increase the number of SGEs who can help permanent OSHA staff work with employers in preventive efforts.  

The deputy assistant secretary’s presentation to TRSA included numerous statistics on the agency’s enforcement activities in 2011, such as a leveling of inspection totals from the prior year (down about 300 to 40,600) and a 6,000 decline in violations to 91,000.

The textile services business had no willful or repeat violations, a rarity among industries, Fairfax said.

Those findings are consistent with TRSA’s SafeTRSA education and benchmarking program, which has logged results of improved safety practices among member companies during the past five years:

- 42% reduction in total recordable injuries and illnesses rate (TRIR)
- 1/3 reduction in DART Rate (days away from work, restrictions or transfers)
- Most recent annual improvement of 5% in TRIR and 2.5% in DART rate