On Safety

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States stepping up?

February 21, 2014
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Due to recent budgetary shortfalls and the length of time it takes federal OSHA to promulgate new rules, is it time for state occupational safety plans to step up their efforts to improve occupational safety?

We will see just that, according to the American Industrial Hygiene Association. Earlier this month, the association outlined several issues that may be addressed at the state level later this year – everything from safe patient handling to mold abatement.

This is one of the benefits of state-run occupational safety and health programs – they are able to react a bit quicker and put in place greater worker protections than federal OSHA. If an issue is unique to a particular state, that state doesn’t have to wait for the federal government to take action. Likewise, a state legislature is a bit more nimble than federal counterparts.

But that doesn’t mean every State Plan program or state legislature will take progressive action. Michigan is in the process of rescinding hundreds of rules that are unique to the state but exceed federal OSHA standards. The state says the rules are burdensome, and removing them would help reduce business costs. But such a move is not exactly advancing the safety frontier.

California’s state program finds itself in a different bind, if recent reports are accurate. Garrett Brown, former employee of Cal/OSHA, alleges the agency is underfunded and understaffed. This puts the state, widely known for advancing safety and health standards, in a somewhat ironic position, according to Brown.

“If you don’t have the enforcement personnel to actually enforce your newer better regulations, then it sort of becomes moot,” he told me in a recent interview.

I have no doubt that states will introduce legislation aimed at advancing occupational safety and health. And I don’t doubt some state programs will continue to make greater strides than federal OSHA.

But the examples from the states I listed earlier give me pause. To truly advance safety throughout the country, a piecemeal approach won’t work. Federal OSHA and Congress need to address the issues holding back the advancement of occupational safety and set an example for every state to follow.

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

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