Washington Update

Washington Update: I2P2 no longer a priority?

When David Michaels took over at OSHA in 2009, and for several years following, he repeatedly called an Injury and Illness Prevention Program Standard his “No. 1 priority.”

It seems priorities have changed.

OSHA’s fall regulatory agenda, issued late last year, listed September 2014 as the publication date for a notice of proposed rulemaking on the standard, known as I2P2. But the latest agenda – released May 23 – places the standard in the “long-term action” category. Rules in this category remain in development, but the agency does not anticipate any regulatory action within 12 months of the agenda’s publication date.

So instead of a proposed rule being published shortly after you read this column, OSHA has placed the rule on the back burner for another year.

“It’s very disappointing, and hopefully not a historical moment that has been lost,” said Dave Heidorn, manager of government affairs and policy for the Des Plaines, IL-based American Society of Safety Engineers.

An I2P2 standard would require employers to develop and implement a plan to identify and abate hazards. It’s a risk-management approach, one used by the safest and best companies in the country, according to Heidorn. A rule requiring every employer – not only the best – to take this approach has the potential to further drive down injuries, illnesses and fatalities at a time when those figures have been essentially plateauing, he claims.

Jim Johnson, vice president of workplace safety initiatives at the National Safety Council, shares this view. Johnson said he is disappointed in the rulemaking’s delay, but stressed that the council would continue working with OSHA on educating employers on the value of safety management systems in reducing workplace injuries and illnesses. “The adoption of safety management systems makes good business and good safety sense,” Johnson said.

However, John Mendeloff isn’t fully sold on the idea that mandating these programs would be effective. Based in Pittsburgh as nonprofit research institute RAND’s director of the Center for Health and Safety in the Workplace, Mendeloff conducted a study a couple of years ago on the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s standard requiring employers to have an injury and illness prevention program. He found mixed results.

The question posed in the study was whether workplace safety in California had improved since the standard was adopted in 1992. Firms cited under the rule for not having a written program were, in general, not getting better. Employers identified for failure to carry out training under the rule, however, did see improvements after being cited.

Mendeloff suggested some employers might do things differently if faced with an I2P2 regulation, but said many others wouldn’t. And whether the latter group of employers eventually changes its mind would depend on how the rule is enforced.

“If it’s just, ‘Do you have a piece of paper?’ I don’t think it’s going to make much of a difference,” Mendeloff said, referencing a potential standard’s written program requirement. “If it becomes a tool that’s used, I think there is a potential to have some impact, particularly on the training side of the ledger.”

Such conjectures are a long way from being verified, given OSHA’s delay on the rulemaking. An OSHA spokesperson did not respond by press time to questions about why the rule has been placed into long-term action status, but politics or a full agenda are possible explanations.

Heidorn isn’t willing to call the I2P2 standard dead, and he still hopes it will soon be promulgated. But given the amount of time it can take for some standards to be issued (decades), he admitted it will probably not occur until the next administration takes the helm in 2017.

Even if a rule never comes about, Heidorn suggests that all is not lost when it comes to I2P2’s risk management approach.

“If there’s not a standard, hopefully OSHA will continue to push this as a really effective way for companies to look at how they do their safety,” he said.

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

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