Dr. David MichaelsA packed assembly room at the AIHce was treated to a conversation between OSHA boss Dr. David Michaels and a former OSHA chief,

John Henshaw, who headed OSHA during the Bush II administration. Here are some takeaways from Dr. Michaels’ comments:

● OSHA soon will issue a public request for information on how to update dangerous chemical personal exposure limits. “The standards system doesn’t work,” said Michaels. “We have to have a dialog or we’ll have another one in ten years, just like we had one ten years ago when John was at OSHA.”

 ● “I’m a big supporter of VPP,” said Michaels. “I’m committed to it and it is going forward. We do think it grew a little too fast before we arrived at OSHA. Right now, with budget money tight, VPP is not the place to put limited funds; that is for enforcement and outreach. So VPP re-certifications will go very slowly, and certifications will slow down.”

● “We have two concerns with VPP: fatalities of contractors at VPP sites. And the 800-pound gorilla, rate-based incentive programs. VPP sites must change if they have those programs. We are very concerned about employees not reporting injuries so the crew, the company, etc. can win bonuses and other rewards. We have lost some VPP companies who said we can’t change our programs.”

● On budget cuts: “Not being able for OSHA personnel to come to meetings like this will hurt us.”

● 60 percent of the 22 whistleblower laws OSHA enforces and investigates, sometimes issuing penalties, are so-called “11c” cases – employees see a hazard, report it, and then are penalized.

● “It’s hard to imagine Congress passing any OSHA legislation this year.” Lawmakers can't cook much bigger fish to fry as it is.

● The talent gap in occupational safety and health is noticeable, the shortage of professionals is disturbiing  “We have a hole in OSHA staffing,” said Michaels. “We have senior people who have been with us since the beginning, the early 1970s The high-water mark of staffing was reached in the late 1970s. In the ‘80s staffing declined, then picked up in the late 80s. So there is a gap there.”

● I2P2, the Injury and Illness Prevention Program, remains the 800-pound gorilla at OSHA. “It is still my number one priority,” said Michaels. “We think employers need some sort of management system for safety and health. The standards-setting process takes years, so now we are pursuing other avenues to promote I2P2. All of our consultants are telling employers I2P2 is the way to go. In some of our enforcement settlement cases, if the company agrees to implement an I2P2 program, we will consider reducing the penalty. I would love to see a proposal come out, but until then we will do what we can to promote and encourage I2P2.”

● “Regulatory ‘whack a mole’ doesn’t work. Every time we regulate one substance, another pops up that needs action. Substance by substance rulemaking doesn’t work. That’s why we are putting out a request for information to get ideas on what may work.”

● In the beginning talking stages: global harmonization of injury and illness reporting and recordkeeping to ease burdens on multinationals that must conform to requirements in different countries, and to better analyze worldwide injury and illness statistics and trends. Also, there is early talk of harmonizing safety and health management systems, the components of which can be different in different parts of the world.

● Michaels was emphatic in answering a question about OSHA tackling the subject of job stress. “No. We have too much on our plate now,” he said.