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OSHA seeks input to modernize health and safety guidelines

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is seeking public comment on a proposal to modernize its voluntary safety and health program management guidelines.

The voluntary guidelines were first published in 1989 to help employers establish health and safety management plans at their workplaces, but the agency proposed updating the guidelines on Monday to reflect modern technology and practices. Public comments are due Feb. 15.

“The goal of safety and health management is to prevent workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths,” Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels said in a statement. “Employers who embrace these guidelines will experience lower injury and illness rates, and their progress in improving the safety culture at their worksites will contribute to higher productivity, reduced costs and greater worker satisfaction.”

The core elements of the guidelines are management leadership, worker participation, hazard identification and assessment, hazard prevention and control, education and training, program evaluation and improvement, and coordination and improvement on multi-employer worksites.

Under the management leadership category, for example, action items include communicating management’s commitment to a safety and health program, defining program goals and expectations, allocating resources to the program and expecting performance, according to the guidelines.

The updated guidelines should be particularly helpful to small and medium-sized businesses, with the agency offering free and confidential on-site consultation to these businesses — chiefly those with high-hazard worksites — that is separate from enforcement and does not result in penalties and citations, according to the proposed guidelines. The consultation includes helping employers identify hazards such as chemical exposures, excessive noise levels and confined spaces.

The proposal also describes new safety steps that should be taken at multi-employer worksites — those where host employers, contractors, subcontractors and temporary staffing agencies may all have responsibility for workplace health and safety. This includes clarifying each of these employers’ specific obligations prior to starting work on the site such as training workers, selecting and maintaining the necessary personal protective equipment, providing any required medical surveillance and assessments, and recording and reporting any injuries or illnesses, according to the proposal.