What’s Ahead From OSHA:
Regardless of who occupies the White House next, industrial metals companies shouldn’t expect any quick changes in the publicity-focused, aggressive Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforcement programs developed in the last seven years.
That’s the advice from one of the nation’s leading experts on OSHA, David Jones, the keynote speaker at MSCI’s Safety Conference in October in Anaheim, Calif. Jones, who chairs the Workplace Safety and Practices Group at the national law firm Ogletree Deakins has spent more than 35 years in and outside government on labor and employment issues.
“For the last seven and a half years OSHA has been quite aggressive in its enforcement efforts,” Jones said, and the maximum fines for a range of violations will be going up in August, by more than 50%. “But before this administration, the agency relied more on education and outreach to inform employers about their compliance obligations.”
Today, he said, the agency is “a lot more heavy handed in outing employers who are not in compliance and it has been quite successful in finding ways to publicize and attempting to shame employers into compliance.”
A good example, the OSHA expert cited, is its new regulation on electronic record keeping, the so-called 300 logs for reporting the most serious work related incidents. Soon, employers will be required to submit the data to OSHA, knowing the agency will publish it on its website, potentially creating publicity that could be harmful to a company’s reputation.
Even the environment in OSHA informal conferences has tightened, according to Jones said. “We used to be able to get better results from our negotiations with OSHA officials on citations they have issued. But now there is a rule in place that generally limits penalty reductions to no more than 30% of the original proposed penalty.”
The lesson here, he said, is that industrial metals companies must have aggressive, proactive and comprehensive safety programs in place now to avoid any incidents that can prompt OSHA inspections. “Employers must do everything they can to avoid accidents,” Jones said. “The agency does not have the staffing it would need to conduct many regularly scheduled inspections, so any accident becomes a red flag, and all but guarantees an inspection or other enforcement action.”
Jones will explore a variety of specific ways metals industry companies can minimize their exposure to OSHA compliance efforts in his MSCI keynote talk.
These days, he said, companies need to be looking first at the most common areas of compliance problems: lockout/tag out procedures for machinery, machine guarding, and a range of material handling issues, including training for truck and lift operators.
Naturally the upcoming presidential election has prompted considerable speculation about what changes any new administration might bring to OSHA. “In either case, Trump or Clinton, it is not at all clear,” he said. “But my experience has been that new agency career officials often don't have a lot of expertise in how their agencies are run, and it takes them a while to figure out how they can effect the change that they want to put in place. It might take a couple of years before we see substantial new directions. It takes time to turn the OSHA ship around.”