"It is not my intention to do away with government," President Reagan once said. "It is rather, to make it work-work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it."
Yet, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration plans to issue a standard that business owners say will be exactly contrary to Reagan's vision.
David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, claims the Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (I2P2) standard will be "good for workers, good for business and good for America." Many job creators would disagree.
Based on preliminary comments from the OSHA, the anticipated rule will require all employers to implement safety and health programs to "find and fix" all hazards in their workplaces, even those not otherwise regulated.
This regulation will potentially affect every employer covered by the agency, unless the OSHA exempts small businesses or those with less hazardous workplaces.
While safety and health programs adopted voluntarily by employers have helped many companies improve their workplace safety cultures, mandating them and specifying how they must be set up is a not a good approach.
The moment this regulation gets issued, safety and health programs will go from being a good idea to a legal requirement, which means employers will have to meet the OSHA's standards rather than what works best for them.
The OSHA will have the authority to come in and second-guess an employer about how well they have implemented their program.
Not surprisingly then, employers see the I2P2 regulation as just another OSHA enforcement tool rather than something that will help them enhance their safety practices.
And indeed a recent Rand study found that California's similar regulation, which has been in place since 1991 has not prevented workplace fatalities and barely made a dent in total injury prevention.
There are serious problems about this standard that the OSHA has not addressed. For instance, how will companies who already have safety and health programs in place be treated?
Forcing companies who have implemented programs tailored to their specific needs to start over makes no sense and is an inappropriate use of OSHA resources.
Another troubling issue is whether employers will be required to "find and fix" ergonomics hazards. The Clinton administration issued an ergonomics regulation in 2000 that was subsequently invalidated by Congress (the only time this has happened).
A key problem with that regulation was the absence of a useful definition for ergonomic hazards and the fact that an employee's risk for injury is driven by many factors outside the workplace.
Finally, will OSHA "double dip" on citations-issuing one citation for a hazard and another because the safety and health program failed to detect and correct the hazard?
The OSHA will be convening a small-business review panel before they issue the proposed I2P2 rule. When the Clinton administration tried to implement a similar rule back in 1998, comments from the review made clear that small businesses regarded this concept as costing much more than OSHA calculated.
Imposing a new and costly safety and health program standard will only serve to increase OSHA enforcement with no discernible improvement to worker safety and health.