Lesson 1: Introduction to Compliance Versus Prevention

Lesson 1: Introduction to Compliance Versus Prevention

A key point many companies miss is whether they are practicing Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compliance or using OSHA information as a minimum reference for establishing programs to prevent injury and illness. The mission of OSHA is “ to promote the safety and health of America ’ s workers by setting and enforcing standards; providing training, outreach, and education; establishing partnerships; and encouraging continual improvement in workplace safety and health ” (OSHA, 2006). This is quite a change from OSHA ’ s original focus, which was understood by most organizations and people to be solely to reduce workplace deaths. The injury statistics shown in Figures 5.1 and 5.2 illustrate the magnitude of the need for prevention and the reason for compliance with the minimal OSHA standards is not enough.

As OSHA got started in the 1970s, it began to develop standards and adopted some national consensus standards as ones it would enforce. In those early years, OSHA was renowned for its ability to identify minor infractions and turn them into citations and fines. Because a large number of these citations related more to administrative lapses than to actual employee hazards, an adversarial relationship developed between businesses and OSHA.

As OSHA has evolved over the last fifteen years, some of its focus has been on cooperation with employers, at least those who actually try to prevent and reduce workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths. As OSHA has taken on lessons from the nation, fewer of its efforts are concentrated on telling employers in detail how to achieve a safe workplace, and more are going to telling them what they need to accomplish.

Standards developed and promulgated by OSHA until the late 1980s spelled out exactly what the agency expected every employer to do and how to do it. This was a one – size – fits – all approach that failed to take into account the varied needs, designs, processes, and the like, of the millions of workplaces. After much critiquing by many sources, OSHA started to issue standards that told employers what they must accomplish ( performance-based standards ) rather than exactly what they must do (specification – based standards). From the employers ’ viewpoint, this has been a mixed blessing. The employer can use creativity to meet the requirement but the occurrence
of an event such as an injury is judged an obvious failure to meet the requirement. A few employers have lobbied for a return to the old system, but the huge majority prefer the performance approach.

As it has matured, OSHA has also developed cooperative processes, ranging from the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) to alliances with various local, state, and national organizations. These are intended to allow OSHA to use its limited resources to concentrate on the “ bad actors. ” Another part of this evolution has been an increased effort to find bad actors and hold them accountable. Joining the VPP or an alliance offers some advantages to employers: improvement in safety and health results (which usually means reduced workers ’ compensation costs), removal from the programmed inspection process, and good publicity. From many employers ’ perspectives, however, the cooperative process requires too much paperwork and also opens them up to the annual detailed inspections needed to maintain their VPP or alliance status.


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