Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Industry Partners with OSHA

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Industry Partners with OSHA

Article excerpt

When it comes to partnering with industry, small has been beautiful for OSHA as it pursues a variety of targeted programs around the country.

When Jan Anderson realized that her workers compensation costs were higher than her payroll - $138 for every $100 she paid employees - she knew something had to be done.

The president of Anderson Steel Erectors in Wheat Ridge, Colo., had tried to train employees in proper safety and health techniques, but the "tough man" image was hard to crack and employees resisted. Yet, unless she could prevent the falls and other injuries, her business wouldn't survive.

Anderson joined with 37 other Colorado steel erectors and approached OSHA for help. Now known as the Steel Erectors' Safety Association of Colorado (SESAC), the group established criteria for member safety and health programs, including a hazard identification and abatement system, an accident investigation system, a system to record and track employee complaints, supervisory and employee training and 100 percent fall protection.

OSHA was with the group every step of the way. The agency helped draft the safety systems, provided assurance that future inspections would be more cooperative than adversarial to SESAC members, and created training and educational materials for use by steel erectors.

The results have been outstanding, Anderson said.

"Our workers' compensation costs have decreased significantly, we have had no accidents, and there is an awareness that we take safety seriously and if you work for us, you have to take it seriously, too," said Anderson. "In addition, the state offers a five percent reduction in workers' compensation costs to SESAC members."

Along with the Voluntary Protection Program, which recognizes companies with excellent safety records, OSHA's Cooperative Compliance Program was expected to be the centerpiece of the agency's efforts to encourage voluntary compliance. The program offered companies with above-average injury rates a chance to partner with the agency and create worksite safety and health programs which went beyond existing standards. The carrot in this program was a reduced chance of a wall-to-wall inspection and the attendant penalties. However, the program was delayed by a February 1998 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The lawsuit, which was brought by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and three other industry associations, is expected to be decided in March.

Despite the legal setback, the agency has pursued its partnering efforts through dozens of smaller, more focused programs across the country.

The agency hopes these programs will stretch its limited resources and spread the culture of safety, while simultaneously lessening industry's fear of the old enforcement-based OSHA. But it isn't always easy breaking old patterns.

Rockwell Turner, of L.P.R. Construction, Co., Inc., Loveland, Colo., said it took ages to convince his steel erectors to always wear fall protection.

"We had one guy fall a few stories a few times and he still wouldn't use the protection," he said. "It's difficult, but if you stay on them, they'll do it. Working with OSHA was great for us. They were very helpful, our injury rate went down and our workers' comp went down."

According to OSHA Administrator Charles Jeffress, these types of cooperative programs will dominate regional office agendas in 1999.

"We have limited resources and we have a widerange of places we have to visit," he said. "These kinds of focused programs will continue and expand in the coming year. It's the best, most effective way for us to improve our presence in the workplace."

At a recent conference on cooperative programs held in Washington, Labor Secretary Alexis Herman lauded the "common thread" running through these partnerships: "the commitment of each organization to work with OSHA to ensure that employees have safe and healthy environments. …

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