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The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s top 10 list for the most frequently cited workplace safety violations has remained remarkably consistent in recent years. But the agency’s regulatory and enforcement actions in 2018, particularly in the absence of a confirmed head of the agency, continued to puzzle and often frustrate the employer community.
Fall protection was once again named the top violation, its fifth straight year at the top, with 7,270 violations, according to the agency. There was one newcomer to the list — eye and face protection — while violations in the electrical, wiring methods, components and equipment category were bumped from the top 10 list in 2018.
Meanwhile, the agency is contemplating revisions to its silica standard for the construction industry while potential standards to prevent workplace violence in the health care sector, improve emergency response and preparedness and prevent fatalities in the communication tower and tree care sectors remain on OSHA’s regulatory radar. The agency did complete a proposed rule to revise and clarify the beryllium standard for general industry with the goal of improving compliance in December, according to OSHA.
But the agency was maddeningly inconsistent in its regulatory and enforcement activities, according to employers and their representatives. In particular, they were frustrated by the agency’s proposal to roll back parts of its electronic record-keeping rule to protect sensitive employee information. The proposed rule does not rescind the agency’s plan to publish employer information, nor does it reconsider controversial language dissuading employers from implementing employee incentive programs and post-incident drug testing requirements that OSHA has argued could constitute retaliation against injured workers or discourage these employees from reporting their injuries. The agency did issue a memorandum in October clarifying that the rule does not prohibit employers from establishing workplace safety incentive programs, which can reward employees with prizes such as pizza parties for no injuries over set periods of time, or post-incident drug testing. But many in the employer community felt the memorandum added to the confusion over the validity of such programs and wanted the agency to formally repeal the provisions.
Many experts have attributed this inconsistency largely to the stalled nomination of Scott Mugno as assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, creating a leadership void that has left the agency unable to embark on or advance major regulatory initiatives. But while OSHA rule-making has essentially stalled due to the leadership vacuum, the agency’s regional offices have continued to aggressively enforce existing workplace safety standards and likely will continue to do so in the absence of political leadership directing them otherwise, they say.
Employers will still be vulnerable to having their injury and illness data used against them despite the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s proposal to roll back parts of its electronic record-keeping rule to protect sensitive employee information.