What Will OSHA Do in 2008?

Joe O’Connor

December 2007

What’s happening at OSHA? Inspections and citations are down, little activity has occurred on the advancement of new regulations and at the time of this article, no movement has been made on the appointments for the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health. In addition, if we look at the proposed budget for 2008, funding doesn’t seem appropriate to keep pace with rising costs. In fact, the budget again calls for the elimination of the Susan Harwood Training Grants. However, for those affected by a given standard or a target of enforcement, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is alive, well and will continue to be so in 2008. In order to get a better perspective on where OSHA’s at for 2008, it will be necessary to take a closer look at their goals, strategies and budget.

The obvious goal for OSHA is to reduce injuries, illnesses and fatalities. They have four basic strategies. Number one on the list is "strong, fair and effective enforcement.” Second is setting safety and health standards and providing guidance. Third and fourth are training and education and cooperative programs, compliance assistance and outreach.

Enforcement
Since 2003 federal inspection rates have decreased steadily from 39,817 to 36,500 in 2007. The violations issued over the same period decreased as well with the exception of 2003 and 2004. In 2003 there were 83,539 citations issued. In 2004 this increased to 86,708. After that, the steady decrease brought the number down to 83,913. Looking at the figures available for inspections performed in State Plan states, the numbers show a similar decrease. In 2006 there were 58,058 inspections and 54,500 in 2007.

This decrease is inconsistent with the numbers observed for wall and ceiling construction. During the period Oct. 1, 2005, to Sept. 30, 2006,

645 federal inspections were performed with 2,279 citations issued for employers classified as Plastering, Drywall, Acoustical, and Insulation Work (Standard Industrial Code 1742). The total penalties amounted to $1,684,554. For the same period from 2006 to 2007, the number of inspections increased 13 percent to 730, citations 11 percent to 2,635 and penalties 15 percent to $1,877,995.

Looking forward to 2008, it appears the general trend of decreasing inspections won’t change. Funding for federal enforcement in 2007 amounted to $172.6 million. The budget request in 2008 calls for $183 million, an increase of $10.4 million. This matches the proposed increase in the number of inspections proposed for 2008 of 37,700. However, if increase in funding is adjusted for inflation, the amount is reduced to just a $2 million increase. When State Plan states are included, there is actually a decrease. OSHA 2008 budget keeps state enforcement funding flat; only $91.1 million was offered for 2007 and 2008. The number of state inspections in 2008 would be reduced by 2,500 to 52,000. Therefore, the combined number of inspections proposed for 2008 would be 1,300 fewer than in 2007. For the same change (i.e., a decrease) to occur in the wall and ceiling industry, contractors will need to become less of a target. One way is to improve safety.

In looking at the type of citations issued, there appears to be no change in what OSHA seems to find when looking at wall and ceiling construction. The top 10 citations found during the 2005–2006 and 2006–2007 years remain the same. With one exception and a slight variation in their order, the top 10 most frequently cited standards remain the same. They are 1926.452 Additional requirements applicable to specific types of scaffolds, 1926.453 Aerial lifts, 1926.403 General requirements, 1926.501 Duty to have fall protection, 1926.404 Wiring design and protection, 1926.454 Training requirements (scaffolding), 1926.1200 Hazard Communication, 1926.100 Head protection, and 1926.20 General safety and health provisions1. The exception is 1926.405 Wiring Methods components and equipment for general use. It moved to the number 14 spot. It was replaced by 1926.503 Training requirements for fall protection.

In defense of OSHA, they are not becoming less effective. As mentioned earlier, their strategy must be considered. OSHA has implemented a number of programs that attempt to focus on those employers presenting the greatest risk to their employees. These programs include the Site-Specific Targeting Program, Enhanced Enforcement Program and national and local emphasis programs.

SST identifies worksites with the highest rates of injury and illness and directs that inspections be performed at these sites. It is based on the incident and Days Away, Restricted or Transferred rates. OSHA recently lowered the threshold for primary targets from a DART rate of 11 to those with 9 or higher.

OSHA’s EEP focuses on employers who repeatedly ignore their safety and health obligations. EEP cases may involve follow-up inspections of the cited workplace, inspections of other worksites of the same employer, more stringent settlement terms, and even federal summary enforcement orders.

National and local special emphasis programs target high-risk hazards and industries. These programs allow immediate inspections when safety and health hazards are observed at a worksite. There are currently five national emphasis programs. They include a focus on amputations, lead, silica, shipbuilding and trenching. OSHA sees the trenching program as a success for the emphasis program. This program was implemented in 2003 and reduced trenching fatalities by more than 15 percent in the first two years.

Standards and Guidance
Small progress has been made on the establishment of new regulations. There were four standards finalized last year. They included a new Hexavalent Chromium standard, updates to the fire protection rules for shipyards, addition of assigned protection factors for selecting the appropriate respiratory protection, and revised installation standards for Subpart S Electrical.

In addition, only a few standards have moved forward slightly in the process. The changes to the Hazard Communication Standard to adopt the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, which will make material safety sheets and hazard warning labels consistent with other countries, has made it to the proposed rule stage on the agenda. The same is true of OSHA’s Standards Improvement Project, the removal or revision of duplicative, unnecessary, and inconsistent requirements.

Factoring in the budget on what’s ahead for 2008, little is expected to change. The 2008 budget for Safety and Health Standards is $16.9 million. This is only a $400,000 increase. Adjusted for inflation, it is a decrease of $363,000.

Again, the true impact on future business, however, may be in OSHA’s target or strategy. Edwin G. Foulke Jr., Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, expects to issue a final rule on Employer Payment for Personal Protective Equipment this year. Although the vast majority of employers already pay for most kinds of PPE, the standard would mandate what types must be purchased by the employer.

The other rule Foulke plans to push forward is for emergency response and preparedness. With the lessons learned and experienced with 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, Foulke would like to publish a consolidated rule to ensure employers are prepared for disasters.

Training/Education and Compliance Assistance, Cooperative Programs, and Information
When it comes to programs to train and assist employers, looking strictly at the budget, there doesn’t appear to be much new to offer. The only true increase is in Federal Compliance Assistance programs. The figure in the 2008 budget for State Compliance Assistance is $54.5 million, an increase of $2.1 million. Adjusted for inflation it becomes $1.4 million. The Federal Compliance Assistance budget is $79.6 million, an increase of $7.1 million. Adjusted for inflation, it is reduced to a $3.5 million increase. Funding for Training Grants has been eliminated. The remaining budget areas—Technical Support, Statistics and Administration—all have reductions in funding when inflation is factored in.

However, as presented earlier, budget alone doesn’t tell the whole story. OSHA has been very successful with the Voluntary Protection Programs, Strategic Partnerships and Alliances. VPP sites achieve injury and illness rates that are more than 50 percent below the national average. OSHA has 1,300 VPP sites and anticipates 216 more in 2008. There are similar success stories with Partnership and Alliance groups.

With regard to compliance assistance materials, the OSHA Web site (www.osha.gov) has become the resource for safety and health. OSHA expects to get approximately one billion "hits” this year. OSHA’s training strategy of using the OSHA Training Institute or outreach education centers has proven very effective. Almost 500,000 people were trained through these centers, many of whom became instructors themselves, training even more workers in safety.

OSHA believes they have budgeted "wisely.” Their strategies will allow them to be most effective in achieving their "mission of saving lives and reducing injuries and illnesses.” Regardless of whether one feels the investment is appropriate or not, it may be of interest to note that of the net budget increase of $17.9 million ($20.5 million minus the $2.6 million grant elimination), 58 percent has been dedicated to enforcement. The $8.4 million increase in compliance assistance represents 46 percent. It is clear OSHA plans to focus on enforcement with a relatively balanced effort on compliance assistance. Employers would be wise to take advantage of OSHA’s offer to help and avoid the wrath of an inspection.

1 Number indicates the standard reference in the Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) 29 construction industry standard.

About the Author
Joe O’Connor is with Intec, Inc., Waverly, Pa. He can be reached at (800) 745.4818.
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