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Reform blueprint urges OSHA to focus on risk reduction

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The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration should rescind its electronic recordkeeping rule, according to a reform blueprint published by the American Society of Safety Engineers.

The Park Ridge, Illinois-based organization has recommended the agency shift from solely managing compliance to also reducing risk, including moving toward a risk-based approach that would require all employers to implement a safety and health program, according to the reform blueprint published on Thursday.

One of the organization’s recommendations is for OSHA to rescind the electronic recordkeeping rule, which requires certain employers to annually electronically submit injury and illness data that they are already required to record on their on-site OSHA Injury and Illness forms. The rule is the subject of ongoing litigation, with employers objecting to its limitations on incident-based employer safety incentive programs and/or routine mandatory post-accident drug testing programs. They were also troubled by the anti-retaliation provisions in the rule, which established a new, citation-based pathway for employee complaints.

“This rule is needlessly complex and has resulted in a great deal of confusion, particularly over the whistleblowing protection section and reference to drug-testing in the preamble,” ASSE said in its report. “Rather than advance worker safety, this rule adds another layer of complexity to OSHA.”

“The rule's emphasis on data collected after injuries and fatalities occur incentivizes employers to focus energies only on these so-called lagging indicators,” the report continued. “This is a step backward. ASSE advocates a comprehensive risk-based approach that measures leading as well as lagging indicators. Leading indicators provide critical information about an organization’s true commitment to safety and health, at times acting as a better gauge of a system’s vulnerabilities or effectiveness than lagging indicators.”

ASSE also recommended OSHA move away from the “name-and-shame model of enforcement” advanced under the Obama administration, with the agency previously releasing nearly 40 press releases a month publicizing proposed fines and enforcement actions taken against companies. This shift has already begun under the Trump administration as only a handful of press releases of this type have been issued since inauguration day Jan. 20. 

“Many times, these press releases have been based merely on allegations of violations and are published prior to companies being afforded a hearing,” ASSE said in its report, advocating that OSHA instead showcase exemplary companies.

OSHA should also focus on safety and health, which should be the simplest recommendation, according to ASSE.

“At times OSHA has used their authority to weigh in on various social issues (du jour),” the organization said. “For example, OSHA recently set policies regarding gendered restroom use. ASSE views such forays into social policy as beyond the scope of OSHA’s proper authority. Likewise, OSHA should not be delving into issues of labor management. Other offices within the Department of Labor are better suited for addressing those questions.

“OSHA’s limited resources should be focused on occupational safety and health, nothing more and nothing less,” the organization continued. “An OSHA with a clearer focus is both pro-worker and pro-business.”