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Progress has been made on safety, but what else should be done?

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Federal regulators have made strides in establishing and implementing standards to mitigate work-related fatalities and injuries, and voluntary efforts have also contributed to improved safety in the workplace, but more could be done, according to some experts.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s silica rule, which lowers the permissible exposure limits for workers to silica dust and mandates that employers incorporate certain equipment and procedures to reduce risks, was adopted during the last year of the Obama administration after decades in the making. However, the agency has been unable to establish a safety and health program management standard amid fierce opposition, settling for a long-awaited update to its 1989 voluntary guidelines in 2016.

Also missing from OHSA’s standards list is an ergonomics standard. Up until this year, the only time the Congressional Review Act was successfully used to overturn a federal regulation was in 2001, when President George W. Bush and Congress derailed the agency’s efforts to regulate ergonomics via a formal standard.

“It would be nice to have a standard, but the way it was written under Clinton was so terrible Bush needed to get rid of it,” said Paul Esposito, president of STAR Consultants Inc. in Annapolis, Maryland. “It’s just unfortunate that OSHA’s never figured out how to put something decent back. But the industry recognizes that this is such a significant cost, not only mentally to the worker, but fiscally to the insurance companies. The ergonomic programs have grown and matured even without regulation — just in response to risk.”

The previous approach to workplace safety was compliance-focused, but it had limited impact in addressing injury causation, said Jim Smith, Boca Raton, Florida-based director of risk control services for Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. and president of the American Society of Safety Engineers.

“Now we see more of a risk-based approach in the safety business,” he said. “You’re looking at the highest risks that have the most probability and severity, and you try to put your limited resources toward addressing those first and then work down the line.

It’s not there yet in the entire industry of safety, but we’ve been moving there in the last three to four years, and we’re going to continue to move that way because nobody has enough time, resources and money to fix everything.”

“As much as (the Occupational Safety and Health Act) was a landmark at the time, right now it’s seen as the floor as I think it should be,” said John Dony, director of the Campbell Institute at the National Safety Council in Itasca, Illinois. “Compliance is the minimum.”

Advances in technology such as wearables and drones and the use of data is leading to another wave of innovation in the safety area, he said.

“The challenge is how do we integrate and use all this information at a time when we’re just inundated with data?” Mr. Dony said.