More than 30 registered stakeholders gathered June 29 to discuss OSHA’s proposal to issue an injury and illness prevention program (I2P2) rule, the first of two such meetings to be held in the nation’s capital.
ORC Senior Vice President Frank White attended the meeting and praised OSHA for promoting the widespread adoption of injury and illness prevention programs. “ORC members are strong believers in the importance of management systems, and while the devil is in the details, ORC remains supportive of the potential benefits of this proposed rule,” said Mr. White.
The agenda divided discussion of the proposal into four parts:
- Possible regulatory approaches, such as state standards, ANSI/AIHA Z9.10-2005, and OSHA’s 1989 Guidelines;
- Scope and application of the rule;
- Organization of a rule – regulatory text, core elements, mandatory or voluntary appendices;
- Economic impacts.
During the first part of the discussion, there was general agreement that the rule should require employers to implement a system that would identify hazards, assess and abate risks, but stakeholders had differing opinions as to whether the rule should focus on all major hazards or only those that lead to serious injuries and fatalities. Several labor representatives emphasized the importance of promulgating a rule that would require employers not only to implement a system, but to take actions to mitigate risks and hazards.
Mr. White, along with other industry representatives, called on OSHA to provide guidance and support to help employers comply with the new rule and to ensure that it is more than a piece of paper, but really affects workplace conditions. “The success of the standard hinges on OSHA becoming more than an enforcer,” explained Mr. White. “OSHA needs to provide employers, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, with educational resources such as checklists, tool kits, and appendices.”
Several representatives pointed out that many foreign countries have already implemented risk-based rules similar to OSHA’s proposed I2P2, and called on the agency to learn from their experience, rather than relying only on the twelve states in the U.S. with rules similar to the OSHA proposal. The importance of engaging workers in the process of identifying hazards was also raised by several stakeholders, and OSHA representative Michael Seymour asked for suggestions on how OSHA could encourage worker participation.
A primary issue that surfaced during the discussion of the rule’s scope and application was whether the rule should include small businesses. Labor representatives insisted that it should, as many worker injuries and illnesses occur in the nation’s small businesses and these organizations are the very ones that often lack injury and illness prevention programs. Other representatives pointed out, however, that small companies would be unable to comply with a 70-page rule, would require a good deal of assistance from OSHA, and would need more time to comply than larger organizations. Several stakeholders agreed that OSHA should establish “tiers” based on company size to determine when they must comply with the rule.
OSHA asked if the rule should apply only to high-hazard industries, raising the issue of whether injury and illness rates should be used to determine which industries should be covered. Stakeholders generally agreed that OSHA injury and illness rates should not be used, as they may not be accurate and this would only be another inducement for companies to under-record injuries and illnesses. Covering contingent and contract workers was another issue that arose during the discussion of the rule’s scope.
A variety of views surfaced as the discussion turned to applying and enforcing the rule. Industry representatives feared the rule could be used to cite employers twice for the same issue: once for violating an OSHA hazard-based standard and a second time for failing to address the hazard in the process required by the I2P2 rule. Mr. White, as well as other industry representatives, worried that during I2P2 inspections OSHA could unfairly use company audits as the basis for citations of hazard-specific standards. The use of company audits to find violations outside of the I2P2 rule could undermine a company’s good-faith effort to identify and abate workplace risks.
“OSHA should make clear it will not use the information it needs to enforce I2P2 as the basis for enforcement of its other hazard-based standards,” said Mr. White.
Labor representatives countered that employers should be cited if they identify hazards and then don’t address them in a reasonable period of time. In addition, one major reason to promulgate the I2P2 rule, they said, was to cover hazards not currently covered by OSHA hazard standards.