Business Owners and Employers Be Warned

I am starting to feel like a broken record, and there is probably more than one person out there thinking I am the “Little Boy Who Cried Wolf.” But people I am telling you, I am watching OSHA grow longer and stronger teeth by the day. A few months ago I wrote an article about the potential of a Perfect Storm when it comes to OSHA and the state of occupational safety in this country. Every day I become more convinced that this storm is going to hit. This is not an attempt on my part to generate more clients; rather, it is truly an effort to forewarn business and employers that this new form of OSHA is not to be taken lightly.

In late June, both Hilda Solis (Secretary of Labor) and Jordan Barab (acting Director of OSHA) spoke at the American Society of Safety Engineers conference in San Antonio, TX. There were simple, recurring themes in both speeches: more aggressive enforcement, more regulations, and a take no prisoners attitude. In addition, they fully expect the state programs to follow lock in step with the federal approach to safety.

Here is what we can expect over the next two years:

1. A more aggressive, confrontational OSHA. We have heard the following words several times from Ms. Solis: “fight,” “vigorous,” “protect,” and “negligent.” It is clear to me that she sees this as a war.

2. An increase in inspectors and inspections. Federal OSHA will add 175 individuals to their ranks, namely more inspectors. They plan to increase the number of annual inspections by nearly 17% to 44,000 inspections a year.

3. Higher penalties for violations. This has already started. We have seen a significant increase in Willful and Repeat violations at the federal level in the past six months. Just the other day, Dana Containers was hit with over $300,000 in fines with three Willful citations and one Repeat. In January, Milk Specialties in Wisconsin got nailed for over $1 million. The list goes on and on.

4. New standards will be pumped out of Washington like we haven’t seen in the past 20 years. Combustible Dust, Cranes and Derricks, Confined Space in Construction, a rewritten Hazard Communication Program, Diacetyl, and Ergonomics are just for starters.

5. Every employer who uses incentive programs to promote safety – be warned. This administration, in conjunction with the labor unions, feels that incentive programs promote non-reporting of injuries and focus more on behaviors rather than correcting unsafe conditions. I encourage all employers to reevaluate any of their current safety incentive programs. The question needs to be “could my program be seen as encouraging the non-reporting of injuries?”

6. From a total OSHA reform perspective, expect to see legislation passed and signed into law under the Protecting America’s Workers Act. This bill will allow the Justice Department to seek felony criminal penalties for cases involving serious bodily injury or death. It will not be necessary to prove it was a “willful act” under this new law. In addition, employers will have to “immediately” fix problems identified by OSHA rather than being able to go through the current appeals process.

I will leave you with a quote from Ms. Solis: “Make no mistake about it, the Department of Labor is back in the enforcement business.” It would be prudent for all to take her at her word.

By: Dwayne Towles – Vice President of Advanced Safety & Health, LLC