Michaels reflects on OSHA’s past accomplishments, future directions for 2013

February 18th, 2013

On February 4, 2013, Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health spoke at an OSHA Employees All-Hands Meeting where he recognized some of the agency's successes over the past several years, and discussed its future directions for 2013. This past December marked Michaels' third anniversary of becoming Assistant Secretary of OSHA.

The significant accomplishments Michaels highlighted were:

  • Launching the new Severe Violator Enforcement Program to target the worst of the worst violators.
  • Issuing a record number of significant and egregious enforcement cases — including the largest fine in OSHA history.
  • Issuing three major standards — one of which was an important new rule aligning OSHA's Hazard Communication standard with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS).
  • Playing an influential role in protecting clean up and recovery workers in national disasters.
  • Conducting unprecedented outreach and education to vulnerable workers — including Latinos, members of the Asian American Pacific Islander community, and others with limited English proficiency.
  • Conducting a vigorous compliance assistance program to help employers and workers — including two national outreach campaigns.</li
  • Approving hundreds of new Voluntary Protection Program sites and enhanced the integrity of the program.
  • Strengthening protection of whistleblowers.
  • Launching several new National, Regional and Local Emphasis inspection programs.

In addition, Michaels stated that last year, OSHA removed 685,000 workers from job hazards. It also conducted nearly 41,000 federal OSHA inspections and another 51,000 with its state plan partners.

Although Michaels expressed his gratitude for the solid foundation that Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis put in place to protect workers, with the support of the Deputy Secretary at the Department of Labor, Seth Harris, who is now Acting Secretary, Michaels' acknowledges that there is much more work to be done.

The number one priority that Michaels identified for the future that he believes is critical to driving injury, illness, and fatality rates down is the injury and illness prevention program initiative.

"One of my main objectives is to educate our country's employers about moving beyond reactive compliance to embrace a culture of safety. Many workplaces have already adopted injury and illness prevention programs, where employers develop a process to find and fix workplace hazards before workers are hurt," said Michaels. "Employers in our terrific VPP and SHARP recognition programs recognize that higher profits are the welcome byproducts of safety management. These employers experience dramatic decreases in workplace injuries, accompanied by a transformed workplace culture that leads to higher productivity and quality, reduced turnover, reduced costs, and greater employee satisfaction. Now it's time to take this message from the best to the rest."

Other initiatives include continuing to:

  • Address the problem of systems that undermine a workplace culture of safety. These include incentive programs based on injury rates or reports that can discourage workers from reporting injuries and programs that punish workers for reporting injuries.
  • Provide swift assistance and direct resources to those most in need of our help. As tornados tore through the middle of the country, historic floods plagued North Dakota, as oil spilled into the Yellowstone River, OSHA responded with boots on the ground to bring life-saving guidance to responders and cleanup crews. It drew lessons from these hardships, devising original and effective strategies to provide swift assistance and direct resources to those most in need of the agency's help.
  • Protect vulnerable and hard-to-reach workers . OSHA is continuing to translate its publications and webpages into Spanish and other languages. And, it plans to re-launch the Campaign to Prevent Fatal Falls in Construction this spring-with signs on buses and billboards, new training guides, and more.
  • Strengthen the whistleblower program. As the number of whistleblower statutes under its jurisdiction continues to expand, OSHA will continue to strengthen its whistleblower protection program
  • Address the alarmingly high rate of worker injuries and illnesses in hospitals and health care. OSHA is developing guidance products.
  • Work closely with industries like the oil and gas sector to protect workers. Due to the success of the safety stand down in Oklahoma, additional events have been planned in Texas, Montana, and North Dakota.
  • Develop new ways to approach dangerously outdated chemical standards. The GAO recently reported, the current complexity of the rulemaking process makes it prohibitively difficult to issue new standards in a reasonable amount of time. One challenge is to develop news ways to approach the issue of Permissible Exposure Limits, both from the enforcement and standard setting perspectives.
  • Protect temporary and contingent workers. OSHA is working with Wage and Hour — its sister agency — on protecting these workers. It has begun reaching out to temporary workers through day labor and construction groups, and as the agency moves forward it plans to amplify its efforts to ensure that temporary workers are getting the training and information they need to be safe at work.