Several factors support the contention that Democrats of the 110th Congress will promote many new workplace safety and health regulations. Chief among
Several factors support the contention that Democrats of the 110th Congress will promote many new workplace safety and health regulations. Chief among them is an end to the lengthy Republican tenure that rather restricted safety and health regulatory promotion. Additionally, the new Chairman of the Health, Educational, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), authored the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act and is a leading advocate of workplace safety through regulatory restriction. Moreover, Representative George Miller (D-CA) will take over the chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee from Representative Howard McKeon (R-CA).
Senator Kennedy may be expected to reintroduce his Protecting America’s Workers Act Û stymied by the recent Republican Congress Û to increase worker regulatory coverage, provide families with a role in safety investigations, strengthen protection for whistleblowers, and boost penalties for safety infractions. Furthermore, Kennedy announced he would seek expansion of the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act of 2006.
According to the January 2007 issue of Safety and Health, the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) met for the first time in 18 months. At the meeting, NACOSH recommended that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) carve out a stronger role on the panel. NACOSH advises the Secretaries of Labor and Health and Human Services on occupational safety and health programs through OSHA and NIOSH.
Among various items affecting concrete producers on OSHA’s anticipated agenda are the following:
- By strengthening the National Emphasis Program on Amputations, OSHA has already revised its internal amputation prevention program. The agency is expected to increase its focus on enforcement activities with Control of Hazardous Energy, or Lockout Tagout (1910.147) and Mechanical Power-Transmission Apparatus (1910.219).
- Hearing conservation programs for construction workers similar to the general industry standard are predicted.
- Personal fall-protection systems for general industry on OSHA’s long-term agenda could become a higher priority, now that Democrats are in the majority. Exactly what that would entail remains unclear.
- A crystalline silica standard, now in the prerule stage, is expected to gain momentum. Similar to other programs, the standard may include a written protocol that includes training, monitoring, exposure-reduction plans, and medical surveillance.
- Hazard communication will be revised to meet the United Nations Global Harmonization System for Hazard Communication. (Last month’s Compliance Matters addressed the revision in greater detail.)
- Confined space in construction will probably be revised to match the terms for confined space entry of the general industry standard.
EHS MANAGERS FACE OVERWHELMING CHALLENGE
Regardless of the acronym assigned Û any one of six possible combinations, including EHS, ESH, HSE, HES, SHE, SEH Û the Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) manager faces a massive regulatory burden. Most staff personnel responsible for recommending company policy, programs, and compliance actions encounter the same problem as they struggle to maintain up-to-date knowledge of the issues, while remembering all relevant variables. Besides an estimated 6,000 regulations applicable to general industry, similarly far-reaching standards pertain to manufacturing facilities in specific domains.
A plethora of additional data as well is critical to thoroughgoing EHS management: procedures issued by organizations such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), water chemistry, air emissions information, health monitoring complexities, fleet safety peculiarities, and company policies such as drug testing programs; OSHA, EPA, DOT and other regulations; plus, training procedures, recordkeeping, and various site-safety rules. So overwhelming is the situation that even larger companies able to afford specialists in the separate areas of environment, safety, and health are finding these experts lacking in complete knowledge of their specific fields.
The tsunami of facts and directives leaves the staff manager and his company in the precarious position of noncompliance, bearing the onus of unreasonable expectations. Although every company includes within its corporate policies a commitment to satisfy all government requirements Û a corporate statement tested by courts and regulators Û full compliance is simply not achievable. In addition, corporate management, typically ignorant of the volume of necessary information, tends to whitewash its role at the expense of middle management, which is given sole responsibility for achieving full compliance within an assigned budget or severe financial constraints.
A punitive game demanding unreasonable compliance goads many companies to a defensive position and the dangerous posture of complying only with ÎmajorÌ requirements. In effect, what is considered ÎmajorÌ is the result of an ebb and flow of public knowledge, compounded by emotional opinions reinforced by regulatory enforcement: little regard is given to actual worker safety. That fluidity is further fueled by the actions of a single employee when worker error causes or contributes to a serious incident at the plant.
The cost involved to maintain compliance is so extreme that companies and regulators are forced into denial of the facts regarding regulatory expense. While cost justifications are often presented for proposed regulations, such evaluations are insufficient insofar as they disregard the existing regulatory burden or fail to incorporate the various interpretations and standards that later arise from a new ruling. No manufacturing or construction company today can maintain compliance with all regulations, as a single safety inspection can readily verify.
With intensification, the danger of an overwhelming burden of knowledge is also becoming more pervasive. Worldwide, some countries prosecute company personnel as criminals when a fatality or catastrophe occurs due a major regulatory infraction. Accordingly, the Environmental Safety and Health manager, burdened with advising upper management regarding compliance matters, holds an increasingly hazardous position, not unlike the workers whose safety is at risk.
WORKPLACE SAFETY MANAGEMENT MODIFIES POLICIES, PRACTICES
As previously reported in past Compliance Matters columns, long-held myths and questionable safety practices are now being widely questioned in the U.S. and elsewhere. Some of these myths include:
The accident pyramid
No longer accepted verbatim is Heinrich’s 1932 accident pyramid (Fig. 1), comprising an equilateral triangle with three horizontal bands: the pyramid’s lowest, broadest part represents unsafe acts; the middle band identifies near misses (minor injuries); and, the top of the pyramid denotes an incident (major injury). When incident data are evaluated in terms of the pyramid theory, the configuration changes to a taller or flatter isosceles pyramid, a rectangle, or even an inverted triangle (Fig. 2). While the theory sounded too reasonable to question, actual data often tell a different story, i.e., diverse results dependent on varying safety cultures among companies.
Providing personnel with money or prizes for avoiding injury does not work, according to well-known safety and behavioral experts. What the incentive system does accomplish, however, is coaxing personnel to refrain from reporting incidents, if the prize is deemed worthy or peer pressure is a factor. Today, fewer companies are using the old incentive programs: first of all, they don’t work; and secondly, as the incentive program becomes an income system, it cannot be easily eliminated without repercussions.
Injured employees make good safety managers
Traditional Û and twisted Û logic suggested that the most safety-conscious individual would be someone who had survived a serious, mangling injury. These survivors would be expected to spontaneously relay the message that working safe is a good thing to do. The whole concept was supported by the idea that incidents are caused by employee stupidity Û management control or influence being negligible Û and that anyone could learn the relatively simple safety rules and regulations. By contrast, most companies today are hiring qualified safety managers with degrees in safety, and upper-management safety personnel are usually Certified Safety Professionals recognized by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals.
Employee attitudes are the sole cause of accidents
Most of the old posters now are gone, but some still linger, bearing such slogans as Accident Prevention is a State of Mind, or Adopt a Safe Attitude, and Work Safe Û Your Family Depends on it. Signs thus entreated workers to take the interpersonal and mystical step that would prevent injury. Moreover, incident reports citing the employee as the cause of an incident were standard, thereby sidestepping political issues regarding management and financial inadequacies underlying the accident. In contemporary practice, companies recognize that incidents are caused by myriad contributing factors: fatigue caused by workplace discomfort and strenuous performance; ergonomic issues; and, management willingness to devote the time and resources necessary to develop a legitimate safety program as well as adequate equipment and process designs.