The New Administration is Walking the Walk When it Comes to OSHA

A good read this week for those interested in OSHA enforcement is “There’s a New Sheriff in Town – President Obama’s Enforcement-Driven OSHA”, look written by Edwin G. Foulke. It is interesting because, written a little over a year ago, it gives us a chance to review whether or not OSHA really is stepping up its game, and not just giving lip service to the concerned parties.

The article makes the argument that the Obama Administration is getting serious about OSHA; that enforcement would increase and new standards would be put into place. In regards to the latter, we talked on this blog just a couple of weeks ago about OSHA’s solicitation for suggestions of which chemicals to create or update permissible exposure limits for. This action is certainly a positive sign for employee safety in occupations that involve the risk of exposure to dangerous chemicals – such as toxic sterilant gases in the healthcare industry. As far as enforcement is concerned, OSHA received more funding focused on enforcement, hired more inspectors, and has increased the number of overall inspections. In addition, OSHA opened up four new regional offices earlier this month in Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego, and Oakland, CA.

As we’ve discussed on this blog before, OSHA enforcement is vital, especially in the healthcare industry. Our post dated July 21, 2010 entitled “Should OSHA Update Regulation of Chemical Sterilants?” cited a study that found decreased enforcement can lead to a decrease in measurement and monitoring by employers as well as an increased probability of exceeding the permissible exposure limit for Ethylene Oxide. The simple explanation here is that if OSHA is lax on enforcement, employers in turn lighten up their actions to keep employees safe, which leads to an increased probability that their workers will be exposed to harmful chemicals.

Only time will tell if this recent surge in OSHA enforcement will last. Regardless, it is encouraging to see the federal government taking employee safety more seriously across all industries. However, primary responsibility for employee safety will always fall on the employers themselves. Hopefully this recent step-up in enforcement by OSHA will remind all of us to put safety as a top priority and act accordingly.

Foulke’s article can be found here: http://www.martindale.com/legal-library/Article_Abstract.aspx?an=occupational-safety-health-law&id=747318