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OSHA Working on Injury and Illness Prevention Rule
OSHA is working on what it calls the most fundamental change in workplace culture since the passage of the OSH Act. A coming rule would place more workplace safety responsibility on employers.

By DeAnna Stephens Baker
Date Posted: 3/1/2011

            The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is working on implementing a new regulation with far-reaching effects and the possibility of new requirements for employers in virtually every industry.

            Out of five final rules OSHA anticipates publishing this year its highest priority is the Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2) rule.

            Part of the U.S. Department of Labor’s new Plan, Prevent, Protect initiative, I2P2 would require employers to implement an injury and illness prevention plan.

            “Government can’t be the only watchdog for workers; there simply aren’t enough inspectors to cover the country,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “The burden of workplace safety and health must lie with employers.”

            He called it the most fundamental change in workplace culture since the passage of the OSH Act over 40 years ago.

            “With this change, employers would be required to take an active approach to ensuring safe and healthful conditions for their workers. There will be no more waiting for a worker to get sick, hurt or killed to address a problem; no waiting for OSHA to show up to do an inspection; no playing a deadly game of ‘catch me if you can’ with the government while risking the lives of workers,” said Dr. Michaels.

            Implementing I2P2 is a strategic decision by OSHA to produce a single standard that will have a large effect across many – possibly all – industries. OSHA believes that I2P2 is a universal intervention that can be used in a wide spectrum of workplaces to dramatically reduce the number and severity of workplace injuries, based on the effectiveness seen by such programs both in the United States and internationally. It would make developing a plan to find and fix all workplace hazards mandatory for employers, not just those hazards specifically covered by OSHA standards. This would include physical safety, health, biological and chemical hazards.

            “OSHA has limited resources and we have tried to focus our regulatory activities in ways that will produce standards with the greatest impact,” said an OSHA spokesman. “We recognize that we cannot have standards for all hazards. This is the reason we are moving toward requiring employers to have Injury and Illness Prevention Programs. We are also increasing our use of the general duty clause because the OSH Act makes it very clear that it is the obligation of employers to provide workplaces free of recognized hazards, whether or not there is an OSHA standard.”

            As part of this new approach, OSHA is also increasing its use of the general duty clause.

            According to OSHA’s regulatory agenda, the program would build on OSHA’s existing Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines as well lessons learned from successful approaches and best practices that have been applied by companies participating in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program and Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program, as well as similar industry and international initiatives. According to OSHA, twelve states already have similar rules.

            “Injury and Illness Prevention Programs are not new,” said Dr. Michaels. “This approach has been embraced by thousands of employers across the country, and this is similar to standards currently in place in California and several other states.”

            Possible exemptions that are being asked about include one for small businesses (those with 10 or fewer employees) and industries with relatively low aggregate injury rates. Currently, OSHA is still considering ways of setting the scope of the I2P2 rule and has not said what, if any, exemptions will be included in the I2P2 rule. However, an OSHA spokesman did say OSHA believes that small and medium sized employers will benefit the most from the I2P2 rule.

            OSHA first announced this regulatory effort last year. Since then it has held a series of stakeholder meetings and conducted critical research. The next step for the rule is the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) process, which is scheduled for June. Once initiated, the SBREFA process takes about 120 days to complete. At this point, OSHA has not determined when the proposed I2P2 rule will be published.

            Another issue included in OSHA’s agenda for this year that could significantly affect the forest products industry is the combustible dust regulations.

            Some have said that OSHA has moved slowly on publishing a combustible dust rule as the Chemical Safety Board first urged the agency to pursue a rulemaking over four years ago. Though OSHA has addressed aspects of this
risk by publishing Safety and Health Information Bulletins on the issue, the agency does not have a comprehensive standard that addresses combustible
dust hazards. OSHA has said that it is working as expeditiously as possible and that the slowness is due to the complexity of the rule that could affect a large number of industry sectors and the amount of research that is needed to ensure that the resulting standard effectively protects workers and meets legal standards. Currently the agency is considering a variety of ways to protect against combustible dust hazards including limiting accumulations of dust
in workplaces and available technology in preventing explosions and protecting employees from the effects of explosions.

            OSHA will be taking the next step in the rule making process for a combustible dust regulation this year when it initiates the SBREFA process in April but does not yet have a date for final issuance of the rule.

            More information on OSHA’s regulatory agenda for this year is available at www.osha.gov.

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