Authored by: Linda Otaigbe
On December 9, 2015 OSHA held a public meeting at the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. to discuss its revised Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines, which are voluntary guidelines for employers. Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, led the meeting and sought input on the guidelines, which are currently in draft form. In addition to seeking general input and guidance from stakeholders, Dr. Michaels explained that OSHA was seeking answers to five key questions as well:
- What is your experience with safety and health programs or management systems?
- How well do they work?
- What were the challenges?
- What factors made them succeed?
- How can OSHA’s guidelines be an instrument of change in the culture of the U.S. workplace?
Dr. Michaels also asked stakeholders to let him know if OSHA needs one broad document that addresses all employers or different guidelines that are more specific to different employers. Dr. Michaels introduced Bill Perry, the Director of OSHA’s Standards and Guidance Directorate, as the key person who spearheaded the efforts to revise and update the guidelines, which were originally published in 1989. Mr. Perry explained that the new guidelines use straightforward and direct language that will be easier for employers to understand. Mr. Perry also explained that the new guidelines take into consideration what OSHA has learned from worker’s compensation injuries and that the guidelines are meant to convince employers to take a proactive approach to reducing hazards. Mr. Perry also discussed how the new guidelines emphasize better communication on multi-employer worksites (in order to better protect temporary employees, contractor employees, and subcontractor employees). He also emphasized that OSHA attempted to identify specific action items that employers can take when using the guidelines.
Several meeting stakeholders expressed support for the guidelines and offered their suggestions on how employers can better implement safety and health programs and on what OSHA can do to make the guidelines better. For example, one attendee explained that safety and health programs do work but require an employer to have a comprehensive safety and health management system in place. He said that selling management is the challenge since senior management must be involved in implementing the safety and health program at the company. He explained that a successful safety and health program needs a qualified champion that can sell it to senior management. Another stakeholder explained that, “Safety and health programs have to engage the workforce.”
During the question and answer portion of the meeting, an attendee asked Dr. Michaels how OSHA plans to promote the guidelines to interested parties who may not be aware of them. Dr. Michaels said that he hoped that the trade associations in attendance would promote the guidelines to their members. He also said that OSHA plans to put the guidelines into the alliance agreements it enters into with trade associations and that OSHA may ask companies to implement safety and health programs at their workplaces as part of settlement agreements.
All interested parties can review the proposed guidelines on OSHA’s website. OSHA is seeking feedback from the public until February 14, 2016 on the guidelines. Interested parties can provide their comments at http://www.regulations.gov, using Docket #OSHA-2015-0018. OSHA will hold a second public meeting in March 2016, which will provide another opportunity for stakeholders to be heard.