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Is occupational safety and health ‘dying on the vine’?

June 13, 2014

OSHA temporarily sidelined its pursuit of an Injury and Illness Prevention Program Standard. Is this a reflection of an agency having to pick and choose its priorities, or is it an indication of a larger trend?

I last wrote about I2P2 a couple of weeks ago, but while working on a column on the matter, another issue emerged.

Dave Heidorn, manager of government affairs and policy for the Des Plaines, IL-based American Society of Safety Engineers, recently spoke with me for the column. Heidorn said relegating OSHA’s proposed I2P2 standard to “long-term action” could be a bigger issue.

“You got to wonder if occupational safety and health is dying on the vine as a public policy issue,” he said.

This is a bold – and potentially overblown – statement. After all, OSHA is still getting funding, and injuries and illnesses and fatalities are, for the most part, declining.

But Heidorn may be on to something.

An I2P2 standard would arguably become one of the most important standards OSHA has issued in a long time. It could have the potential to alter the safety and health landscape – instead of companies reacting to hazards, they would be required to be proactive about establishing a plan and mechanism to identify hazards and correct them.

Mandating this kind of regulation is a bold move, and the Obama administration is not afraid of making bold moves; think health care reform or the targeting of Osama bin Laden.

But bold moves are not being made in the occupational safety and health world. OSHA’s budget is improving a bit, but it remains a fraction of a percent and far too small to thoroughly oversee America’s workplaces. While injuries, illnesses and fatalities are mostly in a decline, that decline has started plateauing.

Public uproar is frequent (and often justified) for all kinds of things, but rarely for occupational safety and health issues. Except after a tragedy, when was the last time the 10 o’clock news ran a segment about the need for occupational safety?

I can’t recall the last time a politician running for office spoke on the stump about workplace safety outside of a tragedy, such as a mine disaster or manufacturing explosion. I suppose it may be because occupational safety and health isn’t an “easy” topic like war or taxes.

You think it would be – practically everyone either works or cares about someone who does work.

Maybe I’m misreading things, and maybe Heidorn’s concerns are misplaced. Maybe occupational safety and health isn’t fading away at all.

I’m interested to know your thoughts. Let me know in the comments below, or you can email me at [email protected].

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

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