Magazine article Occupational Hazards

OSHA: 2005, 2006 and beyond; Hurricanes Put a Spin on 2005, but Jonathan Snare, Rich Fairfax and Paula White, Three of OSHA's Key Players, Are Looking Forward to Smoother Sailing in 2006

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

OSHA: 2005, 2006 and beyond; Hurricanes Put a Spin on 2005, but Jonathan Snare, Rich Fairfax and Paula White, Three of OSHA's Key Players, Are Looking Forward to Smoother Sailing in 2006

Article excerpt

Jonathan Snare has spent a year as acting OSHA administrator, weathering hurricanes and criticism in his quest to fulfill the agency's mission, which is "to assure the safety and health of America's workers by setting and enforcing standards; providing training, outreach and education; establishing partnerships; and encouraging continual process improvement in workplace safety and health."

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Noting that the day we spoke, Dec. 29, 2005, marked the 35th anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, Snare commented, "The relevant and important role this agency has played over the years was affirmed this year ... we have had a successful year meeting our mission, despite some challenges."

Those challenges include responding to hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma while still trying to conduct business as usual. OSHA was charged with offering traditional OSHA services such as technical assistance to workers and employers in the impacted counties that were declared disaster areas. In addition, the agency, as part of the National Response Plan, was responsible for providing technical support and assistance regarding worker safety and health to all the agencies--federal, state and local--responding to the hurricanes. OSHA staffers visited (and continue to visit) worksites throughout the area, providing guidance, passing out literature and fact sheets, conducting interventions and, when necessary, removing workers from situations the OSHA staffers feel are imminently dangerous. There have been 20,000 such situations, says Snare.

The agency has received some heat for not issuing citations to employers in the area who are violating occupational safety and health regulations. Snare says the agency will respond as usual to reports of fatalities and complaints, conducting full investigations and issuing citations where warranted. The agency has not gone soft on enforcement, he says; it is one part of the workplace safety picture.

ENFORCEMENT

Richard Fairfax, director of OSHA's enforcement programs, says that until the hurricane season of 2005 struck, the agency was on target to exceed its enforcement goals for FY 2006, which runs from Sept. 30 to Sept. 30. In FY 2005, the agency had a goal of conducting 37,700 inspections; the final tally was 38,714.

"The last few years, we've exceeded our goal. The only caution [for FY 2006] is the tremendous resources tied up with the hurricanes. We have people tied up in regions IV and VI who are still providing technical assistance," says Fairfax.

Fairfax says that as of Nov. 30, 2005, the agency had 960 workplaces that met the criteria for the agency's Enhanced Enforcement Program, designed to address employers who have been cited repeatedly but haven't corrected their problems, The initiative impacts establishments that received OSHA citations with the highest severity of willful violations, multiple serious violations at the highest level of severity, repeat violations at the originating establishment, failure-to-abate notices or a serious or willful violation associated with a fatality.

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Roughly half of the 960 workplaces in the program in 2005--52 percent--are construction-related, and 90 percent of the initial inspections were the result of a fatality. The program is doing so well that the plan is to write it into a compliance directive, which establishes policy and compliance procedures for OSHA and provides clarification for employers to comply with OSHA standards.

The Site-Specific Targeting Program, which targets companies with injury and illness rates generally twice the national average, remains a strong enforcement tool, says Fairfax. The agency sends out 13,000 to 14,000 letters each year to employers, and a certain percentage of those workplaces will receive a targeted inspection. The agency planned to conduct over 4,000 worksites last year and is finishing up 2005 inspections now. …

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