OSHA officials discuss the agency’s current activities during Tech Session

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San Diego — Increases of various workplace hazards have spurred OSHA to update several National Emphasis Programs in recent years, the latest being its trenching and excavation program in October 2018.

Several other NEPs will be updated and rereleased, said Patrick Kapust, deputy director of OSHA’s Directorate of Enforcement Programs, during Wednesday’s “OSHA Current Activities Update” Technical Session at the National Safety Council 2019 Congress & Expo.

“The agency targets a specific industry or hazards (with NEPs),” Kapust said. “We want to have hazards reduced in the trenching industry, so it’s become an agency priority.”

An NEP on amputations is set to expire at the end of the fiscal year, and OSHA is planning to release a revised version.

“It will probably involve different industries than what was in the last NEP,” Kapust said.

The agency also is revising its combustible dust NEP for future release, along with a silica emphasis program that is “in the development phase,” Kapust said.

“All of our emphasis programs – national, regional and local ones – have a 90-day outreach [period] before any inspection activity starts,” Kapust said. “We get out the information on whatever that program is emphasizing. The programs are very thoughtfully and thoroughly developed by OSHA. All the emphasis programs go through multiple layers of review, all the way to Congress.”

Kapust was joined by Doug Kalinowski, director of OSHA’s Directorate of Cooperative and State Programs, during the session.

Using injury-tracking data from employers, the agency also has retooled its Site-Specific Targeting Program to include high-hazard rate worksites, nonresponders and a small sample of low-rate establishments. This allows OSHA to most effectively use its inspection resources.

“We felt that, ‘Why should an employer who was using good faith efforts to comply with the standard be more subject to an inspection than those who didn’t comply?’” Kalinowski said.

Other current OSHA activities shared:

  • An online application form for Voluntary Protection Programs is in the developmental stage. A 2018 analysis, Kalinowski said, showed that 63% of the applications the agency received needed “a significant amount of work” from its staff. The new form is expected to make the process simpler.
  • Early phase rulemaking includes workplace violence in health care and social assistance – planned for late this year – along with tree care. The latter is scheduled to be initiated this fall, Kapust said.
  • A stakeholder meeting on recent guidance the agency published on leading indicators of safety performance is being planned. OSHA is encouraging its use among small and medium-sized businesses.
  • Kapust noted that feedback on the agency’s Rapid Response Investigation program, in which it reaches out to an employer after a report of a severe injury to discuss that organization’s response, has been positive. “If that response is adequate and the employer has abated the condition, we’ll close it and not do an inspection,” he said. Amputations, however, do trigger an inspection, he added.