Federal OSHA officials efforts to come up with effective measures for state-run Occupational Safety & Health (OSH) programs keep coming up short, according to several reports which have examined how state-run programs are assessed. These measures are needed to ensure that state-run programs meet, if not exceed, standards and performance levels of the federally-run OSHA program which is applied in states without self-run programs.
Concerns about OSH programs in a number of states now include a report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Labor which has criticized the federal agency's ability to develop effective state OSH program measures. More bad news came in an August report from the Federal Annual Monitoring Evaluation (FAME), which criticized a number of states for the poor quality of whistle-blower programs.
These criticisms present major concerns for the quality and effectiveness of workplace safety and enforcement as the federal agency delegates the enforcement of workplace safety in many states, thus relying upon those states to develop effective safety programs that balance promoting safety with proper and effective enforcement.
As a number of states have been known for lax enforcement and many state agencies across the nation saw major budget cuts in response to recession-related revenue drop-offs, perhaps it shouldn't be surprising to find problems with the effectiveness of the state-run OSH programs. But the attention being placed upon the issue suggests this is a situation that won't be allowed to continue.
The OIG's report recommended four steps OSHA should take to improve its monitoring of state OSHA programs:
- Define effectiveness
- Design measures to quantify impact
- Establish a baseline using Federal OSH programs to evaluate State Plans
- Revise monitoring processes to include assessments about whether State Plans are at least as effective as Federal OSHA programs.
According to the OSHA website, twenty-seven states run their own OSH programs, covering either all workers or just public employees:
Five of these states run OSH compliance programs just for public-sector employees: Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and the Virgin Islands.
In responding to the OIG report, OSHA Chief David Michaels agreed with much of the report's recommendations, he claimed that relying solely upon outcome measures to determine effectiveness could be problematic for the agency. However, OSHA submitted an invitation for interested stakeholders to attend a meeting to help develop effective measures for determining the effectiveness for state programs. While the June meeting is likely just the first step in a long process, it seems reasonable to expect the agency will be planning and implementing changes down the road.
It seems likely that the end result of these changes will be more inspections and more enforcement actions. While it's hard to determine the full scope of changes that may result from these concerns, employers should keep informed and adjust their workplace safety programs to keep compliant, improve safety and reduce exposure to potential OSH enforcement actions.