Walberg misconstrues the facts of I2P2

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A recent editorial from Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) suggests an OSHA Injury and Illness Prevention Program Standard would do more harm than good, but his argument misconstrues the facts.

The general idea behind such a standard would be to require employers to institute some sort of program for identifying and eliminating worksite hazards. Virtually every stakeholder agrees that a program in and of itself is a good idea; the controversy lies in whether the programs should be a requirement.

This is Walberg’s contention:

“The moment this regulation gets issued, safety and health programs will go from being a good idea to a legal requirement, which means employers will have to meet the OSHA’s standards rather than what works best for them.”

Respiratory protection is a legal requirement, and it’s still a good idea. Fall protection is a legal requirement, and it’s still a good idea. Machine guarding is a legal requirement, and … well, you get the idea. I understand the concern here – maybe the regulation will require employers to do something that isn’t as effective as the way the employer would prefer. That’s certainly possible, but two things should be considered: Employers would be allowed to apply for variances (.pdf file) if they can prove their way is more effective than a standard, and OSHA has previously stressed that an employer who is already operating an effective program would probably not be affected by the proposed I2P2 standard. Walberg brings up a concern about OSHA citing an employer for violating a safety standard and violating I2P2 for the same hazard – or “double-dipping.” However, OSHA has previously addressed this issue. From the agency’s FAQ page on the proposed rule:

Will a violation of an OSHA standard also be cited as a violation of the Injury and Illness Prevention Program or vice versa?

No.

To back up his claims that I2P2 wouldn’t greatly improve safety, Walberg brings up a recent study from the RAND Center for Health and Safety in the Workplace that examined workplace fatalities and injuries under California’s I2P2 standard (known in the state as IIPP). As the congressman put it, the study found IIPP has not prevented workplace fatalities and “barely made a dent” in injury prevention.

What the study actually found is a bit more nuanced – employers who had been cited by Cal/OSHA for failing to comply with safety provisions in IIPP saw a 20 percent reduction in injury rates – much more than a small dent. But such citations only occurred in 5 percent of all Cal/OSHA inspections, making it difficult to conclude what effect the rule has on injuries and illnesses in the state. Indeed, most inspections and citations related to IIPP focused on whether or not an employer had a written program, which would not necessarily translate into an effectively run program in real life.

“We think that the most important reason for the limited impact of this program is that inspectors often did not go beyond a review of the employer’s written document,” study author and RAND Center director John Mendeloff said.

Possible limitations of the rule are not due to it somehow being ineffective or tying employers’ hands. We don’t know the full limitations or effectiveness of the rule because it wasn’t enforced properly. But what we do know is that the rule is effective in some situations.

In addition to California, 14 states require employers to have an injury and illness prevention program. To be eligible for the Voluntary Protection Programs, employers must have a program. Even some insurance companies require it. I2P2 is not a new idea.

Lastly, it’s important to remember most arguments about the specifics of OSHA’s proposed rule are moot – the rule hasn’t been released yet in any form. Few outside of OSHA know what the rule looks like or what it will require or how it will address the majority of issues opponents are warning about.

According to OSHA’s latest regulatory agenda, OSHA anticipates completing its Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act review of the proposed rule sometime early this year. Afterward, the public will be able to see the proposal – and submit comments on it.


The opinions expressed in "Washington Wire" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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