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Published: October, 2012; Vol 9, Num 5

 

What has the Obama Administration Done
On Occupational Safety and Health?

Appointments

Enforcement

  • This Administration came into office saying there was “a new sheriff” in town. More inspectors were hired. Under previous administrations OSHA fines were small and provided no incentives for employers. Through administrative changes, OSHA penalties doubled. A new easy way to search the website was created to access all enforcement data (including wage and hour complaints).
  • A new program was set up by OSHA to go after “severe violators" who continue to ignore the law. MSHA has a program to pursue "scofflaws" and those who have a pattern of violations.
  • Mine safety enforcement has also gotten much tougher and more targeted in the wake of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.
  • New OSHA policies were enacted to discourage company incentive programs which discourage and suppress injury reporting.
  • OSHA and MSHA also developed new policies to involve family members in all fatality investigations.
  • State OSHA plans came under scrutiny and new criteria were developed to evaluate them more fairly and consistently.
  • OSHA has also given closer scrutiny to “Voluntary Protection Programs”, those who get recognition for having exemplary programs, to ensure they truly deserve recognition.
  • OSHA beefed up whistleblower enforcement and created a new office to handle complaints.
  • OSHA initiated a new National Emphasis Program to protect workers at nursing homes.
  • OSHA created a new office to handle enforcement efforts at chemical facilities.

Outreach and Training

  • OSHA made a major effort after the BP oil spill to protect clean-up workers in the Gulf.
  • OSHA initiated a National campaign to prevent heat stress among workers.
  • OSHA sponsored a National and numerous regional conferences to reach out to Hispanic workers and address the high rate of injuries and fatalities among minority workers. They also developed relationships with Latin American consulates in the US to distribute OSHA information.
  • Training grants were given to numerous organizations to develop materials to highlight the rights of workers and train on relevant topics.
  • OSHA 10 hour courses on construction safety now have to include a focus on worker rights under OSHA.
  • OSHA joined NIOSH and the NIOSH Construction sector council in a national campaign to prevent falls in construction.
  • OSHA developed outreach to nail salon workers on the hazards they face.
  • NIOSH and OSHA developed joint guidance on nail gun safety.
  • OSHA cosponsored a historic meeting fostering collaboration with state public health agencies.
  • OSHA published a directive on preventing workplace violence and cited a string of employers under it using the general duty clause of the Act.
  • OSHA began a dialogue on how to prevent hearing loss and updated their noise and hearing loss web page as well as publishing new documents on noise (e.g in construction).
  • MSHA has a very active Workers’ Rights/Workers’ Voice initiative to educate workers about their rights to a safe workplace and encourge them to speak out.
  • MSHA also launched the Rules to Live By program to focus attention on the most common hazards and violations.
  • MSHA has also started an initiative to "End Black Lung Now."
  • The US Chemical Safety Board has been very aggressive in issuing reports about chemical explosions with tough recommendations.

Rule Making, Standards Setting

  • OSHA finalized the crane and derrick standard for construction and the new "globally harmonized" hazard communication standard. A comprehensive standard on silica was completed and submitted to the White House for clearance. Work has begun on a standard to address combustible dust hazards as well.
  • OSHA began rulemaking to develop a requirement for "injury and illness prevention programs."
  • OSHA held numerous stakeholder meetings on topics such as updating the OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits and on preventing hearing loss as well as safety in the oil and gas industry.
  • MSHA issued a new standard to prevent underground mine explosions from “rock dusting” and proposed rules on pre-shift mine examination, reducing coal dust and proximity detection.
  • OSHA issued an advance notice for a proposed rule on recordkeeping that requires reporting of one or more hospitalizations. The agency is also moving forward to require electronic recordkeeping for injury and illness records.
  • OSHA initiated a rulemaking on preventing infectious diseases in the workplace.
  • OSHA began a dialogue on how to update their Permissible Exposure Limits.

Research

  • NIOSH started a major initiative on Prevention through Design to help prevent injuries and illnesses at the design stage.
  • NIOSH has started a major research initiative to look at the potential hazards of nano materials.
  • NIOSH heads up a comprehensive effort to follow the health of individuals exposed to hazards doing clean-up of the World Trade Center site and Gulf oil spill clean-up.