With all the fanfare OSHA’s administrator, Dr. David Michaels, has made over his “Injury and Illness Prevention Program” (I2P2) as being “OSHA’s highest rulemaking priority,” one has to wonder “Why?” 

Few of us have had the pleasure of laying our eyes on the draft proposed regulation (whatever happened to the so-called “unprecedented levels of openness in Government” to create a “Transparent, Participatory, and Collaborative Government” pledge?)1, but with the recent OSHA White Paper, Fact Sheet, and sparse FAQs on its I2P2 website, one can begin to contemplate the reality of this regulation.

OSHA is describing its I2P2 as a “proactive process to help employers find and fix workplace hazards before workers get hurt.”2  OSHA hangs the success of I2P2 on six basic, also major, elements:  management leadership, worker participation, hazard identification and assessment, hazard prevention and control, education and training, and program evaluation and improvement.

Footnoted on page 1 of its White Paper, OSHA clarifies I2P2 as “Systematically address[ing] workplace safety and health hazards on an ongoing basis to reduce the extent and severity of work-related injuries and illnesses.”3 

Turning to page 2 one reads that OSHA refers to I2P2 as a “Tool” that “helps employers find hazards and fix them before injuries, illnesses, or deaths occur.”4 

This word play on “process” versus “tool” versus “system” leads one to ask the question, “Is the I2P2 regulation going to be a generic proactive process, a prescriptive tool, or an overarching management system. Or all of the above?”  From a systems thinking perspective, tools (i.e., Job Hazard Analysis, Root Cause Analysis, etc.) are utilized in workflow processes to accomplish work.  Combining all the various workflow processes (i.e., operations, maintenance, HR, finance, safety, health, environment, etc.) in a corporation ultimately describes the overall management system of the corporation.

Let’s take a look at the six elements in the context OSHA seems to be portraying as an effective program.  Keep in mind, a regulation would apply to ALL companies (Small, Medium, and Large) in ALL industry sectors.

Management leadership

OSHA expects companies to create I2P2 goals and actions to achieve the goals, designate at least one person for implementing and maintaining the I2P2 program, and provide sufficient resources to ensure an effective I2P2 program.

Does any Federal agency have the regulatory authority to regulate the inner nuances of managerial decision-making in a company?

Goal setting can be a very arbitrary activity. Historically, goals have focused on the past – an injury must occur in order to be counted against a goal.  Since I2P2 stresses finding and fixing hazards before injuries occur, how does one set a goal for something that does not occur? 

Believing companies will go on a hiring spree for a safety professional is naïve, particularly when one considers the paucity of safety professionals graduating or even looking for a job.5

And what does providing sufficient resources amount to?  How much is enough in the eyes of an OSHA inspector? 

Worker participation

OSHA wants employers to consult with employees in the I2P2 effort, participate in inspections and investigations, report concerns, and not retaliate against an employee who reports a concern.

Most company owners and managers in public companies are inclined to reach out to employees when it comes to matters of safety.  That’s been my experience. Managers motivated by power and not interested in employee input are the exception, not the rule.

And just how do you measure worker participation? 

Hazard identification and assessment

OSHA wants employers to solicit workers to identify, assess, and document hazards, investigate injuries and illnesses to identify hazards, and inform workers of hazards.

This is nothing more than a refinement of the Worker Participation element.  Does OSHA think workers are not engaged in hazard identification and assessment? Or not engaged enough? How will an OSHA inspector make this determination?

Hazard prevention and control

OSHA wants employers to prioritize and control hazards, protect workers from hazards that cannot be controlled immediately, verify controls are effective, and discuss the hazard control plan with workers.

All very laudable principles that in all likelihood have been ongoing for a number of years in the vast majority of companies.  Companies need their employees to be at work working, not laid up at home. 

Education and training

OSHA wants employers to provide initial and refresher training in a language and vocabulary the worker can understand for reporting injuries and safety concerns, to recognize, eliminate, control, or reduce hazards, and to participate in I2P2.

Small and medium firms will find they can only afford a generic; one-size fits-all training, which likely will not fit their needs. Those who are trained will forget within a matter of weeks, if not days. 

Program evaluation and improvement

Of all the “major elements” of I2P2, this is the greatest argument for making I2P2 a voluntary initiative.  OSHA does not have the inspector workforce to assume the responsibilities to adequately and knowledgably inspect companies for their I2P2.

Closing thoughts

The complexities of management systems in the private sector vary too much in type and style to have a Federal agency dictating how any particular company should manage any specific aspect of a safety program. I would speculate the regulation would be open to significant interpretation on both the part of the regulator (i.e., inspector) and the regulated.  I2P2 will have a demonstrative economic impact on the very businesses that cannot afford yet another layer of regulations.

Lastly, an ongoing safety management system takes boots on the ground. Small and medium-sized companies cannot afford to hire safety and health professionals. Even if they could, professionals are nowhere to be found despite NIOSH’s “wishful projecting” two years ago.6


1 Obama, B. January 21, 2009. Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies. Subject: Transparency and Open Government. The White House. Washington, D.C. 

2  OSHA. January 2012. Injury and Illness Prevention Programs – White Paper. Located at: https://www.osha.gov/dsg/InjuryIllnessPreventionProgramsWhitePaper.html 

3  Ibid. pp. 1.

4  Ibid. pp. 2.

5  Leemann, J.E. February 2012. The workforce numbers game – Miscalculating supply and demand in the EHS field.  Industrial Safety & Health News.

6  Ibid. pp. 17..