OSHA to adopt national illness, injury standard

OSHA promises a `flexible' reg

If your employer does not already have a comprehensive workplace safety program in place, one may soon be required.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has announced its intention to adopt an Illness and Injury Prevention Programs (I2P2) standard on a national level, which would require all employers to maintain a comprehensive workplace safety program.

According to OSHA spokesperson Richard De Angelis, workers will be better protected if each employer develops a proactive program to help them find hazards in their workplaces, and a process to fix those hazards so that employees don't get hurt.

"OSHA has learned much from the variety of approaches taken by the 15 states that have required such programs by some or all of their employers," he says. OSHA is basing its proposal on the real world experience of employers, and the substantial data on reductions in injuries and illnesses from employers who have implemented similar programs.

This includes the companies in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs, he says. "OSHA will develop a flexible proposal that is appropriate to large and small businesses," he adds.

DeAngelis says that occupational health professionals can aid employers in setting up the program, conducting hazard assessments, or performing medical surveillance to ensure that workers go home safely each day.

"No new health and safety standards will be developed under this initiative," he says, noting that OSHA's General Duty Clause (Section 5(a)(1)) already covers recognized hazards for which OSHA does not have standards.

"Since its creation 40 years ago, OSHA has cited employers under the General Duty Clause when workers are exposed to serious recognized hazards that have a feasible means of abatement," says DeAngelis.

The I2P2 standard is intended to help employers develop a systematic plan to find and fix workplace hazards that are currently covered under OSHA standards, or that are currently covered under the General Duty Clause, DeAngelis explains.

Active participation

A key component of successful I2P2 plans is thought to be active participation by employees, says Mary Hale, MSN, COHN-S, NP, an occupational health nurse practitioner at the Occupational Health Facility at University of California—Los Angeles (UCLA) Medical Center. "This is important both in the development of an effective I2P2, and participation in training and awareness programs at the worksite," she says.

T. Warner Hudson, MD FACOEM, FAAFP, medical director in the Occupational Health Facility at UCLA Health System, and the president of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, says, "For the 20 years safety reported to me—before, during, and after the I2P2 years—I have found the benefits of I2P2 to be significant."

This is because it requires employers to assess their hazards, and implement programs like training and medical surveillance, he says.

Employers also need to monitor whether these interventions make a difference in improving the situation, he emphasizes. "That step is the hardest, most important and the most often given short shrift," he says.

Hudson supports the I2P2 in California and would like to see it adopted nationally. However, a national I2P2 standard should strengthen the required roles of qualified licensed medical professionals in the medical surveillance, clearance and removal areas, he says.

In addition, he favors strengthening some of the requirements, including provisions to document hazards and assess the effectiveness of interventions. "This would prevent the problem of the written I2P2 program being just a binder on an employer's shelf," he says.

Sources

For more information on workplace safety programs, contact:

Mary Hale, M.S.N., COHN-S, NP, Occupational Health Nurse Practitioner, Occupational Health Facility, University of California--Los Angeles Medical Center. Phone: (310) 825-6771. Fax: (310) 206-4585. E-mail: mjhale@mednet.ucla.edu.

T. Warner Hudson, MD FACOEM, FAAFP, Medical Director, Occupational Health Facility, University of California—Los Angeles Medical Center. Phone: (310) 825-9146. Fax: (310) 206-4585. E-mail: twhudson@mednet.ucla.edu.

Paul Papanek, MD, MPH, Chairman of the Board, Western Occupational Environmental Medical Association, San Francisco. E-mail: latoxdoc@ca.rr.com.