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OSHA: New proposal will help in our oversight of workplace safety

David Michaels, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, notes that, given his agency’s limited resources, it would take OSHA investigators about a century to conduct safety inspections at all the nation’s workplaces.

Here’s some of the math related to that assessment: 2,400 inspectors tasked with oversight of approximately eight million worksites across the country.

Clearly, that regulatory pace and level of scrutiny doesn’t exactly promote safety and protect workers who suffer high rates of on-the-job injuries in comparatively dangerous and high-risk industries.

Federal regulators recently announced a new proposal that they say will better enable OSHA to effectively marshal its resources. In other words, and with the new requirement in place that safety advocates suggest, inspectors will be able to more closely target enterprises with safety problems and cut back scrutiny of companies that have salutary safety records.

Here’s the proposal, announced earlier this month and requiring a three-month comment period and a public hearing prior to approval: Adjust current rules mandating that employers post annual summaries of work-related injuries in a common area available for employees’ scrutiny with quarterly reports filed electronically and made readily available to the general public.

The upside of that is clear enough for workers and safety advocates across the country, who will be better able to see areas where safety issues converge and to identify specific companies that can be pressured to reform.

Business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, aren’t so happy with the idea.

Full public disclosure on injuries “would be a major problem and would likely lead to companies being targeted by outside groups who want to characterize these employers as having bad safety records,” says chamber executive director Marc Freedman.

Celeste Monforton, a specialist in safety policy matters, doesn’t buy that, noting that a similar disclosure duty has been in place for many years in the mining industry.

“Mine operators have been doing this forever,” she says,” and the world did not come to an end.”

Source: ABC News, “OSHA plans to make workplace safety reports public,” Sam Hananel, Nov. 7, 2013