The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is going on the offensive.
OSHA's new assistant secretary, David Michaels, has made it clear that the agency will step up its enforcement actions against employers. The OSHA budget for Fiscal Year 2010 increased 10 percent and the agency plans to hire 100 compliance officers nationwide. Meanwhile, OSHA is de-emphasizing cooperative initiatives such as the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) and alliances promoted under the two previous assistant secretaries.
Region 1, which encompasses the New England States, will hire a dozen new compliance officers. Regular inspections will be directed towards employers with an elevated Days Away Restricted Transfer or DART rate. DART is an accident/illness incident rate that OSHA uses to evaluate a company's safety performance. All injuries or illnesses that result in lost time, restricted duty or job transfer are counted and the total multiplied by 200,000 and divided by the number of hours worked.
OSHA also plans to target specific hazards under the National Emphasis Program (NEP). NEP inspections will focus on chemical exposures, lead, combustible dusts, hexavalent chrome, silica, and others. In addition, OSHA plans to conduct comprehensive record keeping inspections in an effort to catch employers who are underreporting injuries and illnesses.
Inspection activity has already increased in Massachusetts, and penalties are at higher levels than they were several years ago. The acceleration in enforcement is the most significant I have seen in my 40 years of helping companies develop health and safety programs.
When I teach the AIM OSHA/Safety Certificate series, I find that many employers do not fully understand the OSHA standards, nor what their rights are when OSHA shows up at their door. Employers need to become familiar with how OSHA operates, focus on correcting deficiencies, and reducing their DART rate. If not, they will be at risk for an inspection and costly penalties.
Tom Crupi is Vice President of Loss Control for A.I.M. Mutual Insurance Company, a workers compensation insurance company based in Burlington