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Will OSHA follow CA model on new rule?
Flexibility allowed in injury prevention
Identify hazards. Take steps to address them. Train employees in safety measures. Evaluate your program and make improvements.
For some 20 years, California hospitals and other employers have followed those basic tenets to comply with the state's Injury and Illness Prevention Program standard. Now the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is considering a new rule that would require all employers to implement a similar program to address workplace hazards.
The California standard has been well-received because of the flexibility it gives employers, says Gail Blanchard-Saiger, vice president of labor and employment for the California Hospital Association in Sacramento.
"Workplaces are different and unique and they've got different issues and different resources," she says. "What we've seen recently is the workplace is changing either because of the workforce or technology or hazards. To put prescribed rules in place is really problematic."
The California standard requires employers to have "procedures for identifying and evaluating work place hazards, including scheduled periodic inspections to identify unsafe conditions and work practices."
"It's a goal-oriented tool – preventing injury and illnesses," says Steve Smith, CIH, principal safety engineer at Cal-OSHA in Sacramento. "It leaves it up to the employer to develop the program that works best for them."
The standard ensures that employers are addressing hazards even if there isn't a specific requirement, says Smith. "It is our number one [element] inspectors look at when we go into a place of employment," he says. "Is there an IIPP program? Is it covering the unique hazards of the workplace? Are employees being trained on those hazards?"
Complying with the regulation is a team effort involving safety, employee health, infection control, facilities management, and others, says Sandra Domeracki, RN, FNP, COHN-S, executive president of the Association of Occupational Health Professionals in Healthcare.
A safety committee meets at least monthly, and other task forces meet to address specific issues, she says. California hospitals often have an annual action plan to address their highest frequency or most serious injuries, with specific target goals, she says. They also may conduct weekly safety rounds that include hazard analysis.
OSHA administrator David Michaels, PhD, MPH, has said that it is his top priority to create a rule requiring employers to have a robust injury and illness prevention program. The agency's regulatory agenda states that a review of the potential impact on small businessesa required first step that includes an early draft version of the new regulationwill begin in June.
At stakeholder meetings held by OSHA last year, occupational health professionals, union officials, employer representatives and others posed some questions about the upcoming proposal, including:
Will the standard be prescriptive or performance-based? Employers often prefer performance-based standards because they provide the most latitude to fit the specific needs of the workplace. However, some stakeholders said they wanted specifics so they would know what could lead to a citation. "One participant emphasized the need for OSHA to clearly and consistently define the term "effective," noting that program effectiveness cannot be left to interpretation by individual OSHA inspectors," OSHA said in an online summary of a stakeholder meeting.
Will existing programs be grandfathered? Employers with existing injury prevention programs are concerned that a standard would force them to alter or rebuild, even if the program has been successful. According to a summary of a stakeholder meeting, "OSHA indicated that it is considering grandfathering existing programs that are demonstrated as effective, but also added that no decisions have been made yet on what would constitute a comparable or effective program."
How will the program affect reporting and recordkeeping? The California standard requires employers to maintain records of "scheduled and periodic inspections...to identify unsafe conditions and work practices, including person(s) conducting the inspection, the unsafe conditions and work practices that have been identified and action taken to correct the identified unsafe conditions and work practices." Employers also must document safety and health training "for each employee." OSHA noted that in the stakeholders' meeting, "Many participants provided anecdotes about employers whose policies directly or indirectly reward employees for lowering or avoiding workplace incidents. There was a consensus among stakeholders that these policies discourage reporting of incidents and near-misses. These participants agreed that the OSHA rule should prohibit employers from implementing any program or practice that would discourage reporting of injury or illness."