In my June 2010 column (“OSHA goes on the offensive”), I provided an overview of the administrative enhancements to OSHA’s penalty policy and the new OSHA Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP). The implementation of these new programs is now beginning.
Other OSHA initiatives are also having an impact on operating procedures. Last year, OSHA started a National Emphasis Program (NEP) on Recordkeeping. The results after the first year are somewhat alarming. Of the 187 inspections directly related to the NEP, almost half of the inspections found problems with how records were being kept. (There were other recordkeeping citations for the year; these figures relate only to those who were inspected directly for recordkeeping issues.) This NEP is scheduled to run into 2012. Just a few weeks ago, OSHA fined an employer $1.2 million in 83 willful citations for failing to record and for improperly recording work-related injuries and illnesses. However, this case is an exception; it takes a lot of wrongdoing to generate a citation this large, and strong evidence is needed that it was done in a willful manner.
OSHA is now on the warpath against many of the safety incentive plans that have been popular for a number of years. The administration believes many of these contests tend to cause workers to under-report incidents and injuries and even to avoid reporting them at all. I have to admit that I have never been a great fan of this type of incentive plan. Not getting treatment for an injury just because a jacket, dinner or sports tickets are offered doesn’t seem like a good trade-off. I have even heard stories about workers being pressured by their peers not to get medical treatment when a department or division was about to receive a major safety award. I would be very careful initiating any direct safety incentive program that is tied to injury records.
Keep in mind that awards for training classes completed or other creative topics can be beneficial and might be a substitute for “no injury” programs. Also, let’s be realistic--in high-hazard industries, having absolutely no injuries may be setting the goal too high. Your office personnel may go years without an injury, but if you have several field crews, there could occasionally be a minor cut or scrape that needs attention. It would be better to get a doctor to examine the injury immediately than to take a chance and have it develop into something serious later on.
For the fiscal government year ending Sept. 30, OSHA conducted more than 40,600 inspections throughout the country, a number that surpassed the agency’s original goals for the year. Administration officials seem to be patting themselves on the back because they reached this level of enforcement activity even though they had thousands of hours of compliance officer time tied up with the Gulf oil spill.