OSHA Reform On Track

A key Labor Department official Tuesday said the administration's efforts to "reinvent" OSHA are on track through several initiatives to get employers to voluntarily comply with workplace safety standards instead of focusing on punitive enforcement.

"For years, OSHA's principal intervention tools were inspections, citations and penalties, and many complained that responsible employers were treated the same as neglectful ones," Assistant Labor Secretary for Occupational Health and Safety Gregory Watchman told the House Education and the Workforce Workforce Protections Subcommittee. "Today, the new OSHA offers employers a clear choice between traditional enforcement and other new and expanded intervention tools such as partnership, compliance assistance, outreach and training."

He said the agency is moving away from rewarding inspectors according to how many citations they issue to focusing on customer service, quicker abatement of potential hazards regardless of any penalties imposed, and promotion of voluntary efforts with employers.

Watchman said an OSHA pilot program is targeting employers and industries with the highest accident rates--and giving them a "choice" between traditional surprise inspections or voluntary inspections with advance notice.

Under Wisconsin's Cooperative Compliance Program, the 200 participating employers have reduced injury rates by an average of 29.5 percent, Watchman said.

Workforce Protections Subcommittee Chairman Cass Ballenger, R- N.C., said he is "encouraged" by the direction OSHA is going, but questioned whether the changes are actually being carried out, especially on the regulatory front.

"The promised regulatory relief has been a farce," Ballenger said, contending the 1,000 pages of regulations promised by the administration to be eliminated were actually cut "by cross referencing the same rules elsewhere, but no regulations have actually been eliminated."

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