OSHA Says GHS Coming Shortly, Dr. Michaels Talks 2013 Budget

On February 13, OSHA participated in the Department of Labor’s (DOL) annual budget Webchat  for the upcoming year. Dr. David Michaels fielded questions for OSHA and in the course of two hours addressed 17 questions on topics ranging from GHS to I2P2.

Because it was a DOL wide Webchat, not every question pertained to OSHA and safety. To help bring OSHA’s responses into greater relief, we’ve compiled all of the questions directed to Dr. Michaels below. The first question asked, not surprisingly, was when we could expect GHS adoption. Dr. Michaels described the timeframe as soon and shortly.

Additional standards OSHA expects to see in 2012 include regulatory action on electric power, consultation agreements and confined spaces in construction. I2P2 remains outside the named budgetary considerations, however, combustible dust is high on the list for the next budgetary cycle.

OSHA'S QUESTIONS FROM 2012 WEBCHAT

Question 1: When is the final rule regarding GHS in the US expected to be adopted?

David Michaels, OSHA: Thank you for your interest in OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). We expect this rule to be published soon. This is a very important rule, which OSHA looks forward to publishing shortly. This rulemaking will align OSHA’s HCS with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), which was developed by the United Nations. As discussed in the proposal, this rule will establish a uniform system of labeling and layout for safety data sheets. The training required in the current HCS will be retained.

Question 2: The President's budget proposes consolidating six OSHA regional offices into three (Boston and New York, Kansas City and Denver, and San Francisco and Seattle). What is the rationale for that action? How would it affect worker safety in those regions?

David Michaels, OSHA: In an attempt to save money, we are proposing to streamline agency operations in the regions similar to other government agencies. This is not expected to affect worker safety and health.

Question 3: Could you please explain how the proposal for OSHA whistleblower funding plays into the current ongoing program changes and is this amount in line with completing the planned changes?

David Michaels, OSHA: The significant increase in OSHA whistleblower funding will help the agency address persistent backlogs and heavy and increasing caseloads for its whistleblower investigators.

These increased resources are critical, since many whistleblower provisions, including those related to food safety, health care reform, finance reform, airlines, and railroad safety -- all of which have the potential for a large volume of complaints - have shorter deadlines for respons than the 90-day deadline governing section 11 (c) complaints.

Question 4: While the DOL's Budget brief pints out a drive to boost small businesses, will OSHA change its attitude from "gotcha" to perhaps take a softer approach, such as giving companies a grace period, or levying fines based on employee count as opposed to fixed numbers--so as not to close down small businesses?

David Michaels, OSHA: We always try to work with small businesses to protect employees and our enforcement policies include a reduction of fines, and OSHA also offers free on-site consultation specifically targeted to small businesses.

Question 5: Is VPP being impacted by this budget?

David Michaels, OSHA: In FY 2013, OSHA will continue to recognize worksites that demonstrate safety and health excellence through its Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) and will continue to implement initiatives targeting federal agencies, Fortune 500 companies, and the construction industry for VPP participation. The agency anticipates approving 60 new VPPs in FY 2013 and recertifying 280. The agency also plans 18 new partnerships in FY 2013 in high-hazard industries with a focus on safety and health topics that are common causes of injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.

The Department places great importance on providing compliance assistance for small businesses even in times of austerity. The agency will therefore continue to maintain critical funding support for state compliance assistance which provides direct assistance and consultation services to small businesses. In order to preserve funding for these services targeted to small business, the agency will decrease funding for other outreach and assistance funded through the Federal Compliance Assistance activity.

Question 6: The budget says combustible dust and beryllium NPRMs will come out in FY 2013. If that's the plan, why were those items placed on long-term actions in the most recent Regulatory Agenda?

David Michaels, OSHA: For combustible dust and beryllium the next major action planned will occur after the period covered by the current regulatory agenda.

Question 7: The budget request calls for a $4.9 million increase for OSHA's whistleblower program, and a $3.2 million decrease for its federal compliance assistance program. Can you comment on these proposals?

David Michaels, OSHA: Although our compliance assistance activities are divided into three budget categories, we view it as a whole, and overall, FY 2013 compliance assistance is 2% above FY 2011. Because of the severe budget constraints we’re facing throughout the federal government, we are tightening our belts in a number of areas and we had to choose among many priorities. In this case, our priority is maintaining the 2012 increases for small business assistance through our state consultation program.

Question 8: Could you elaborate on this line in OSHA's budget? "savings of $2,482,000 and 33 FTE due to reduced federal compliance assistance activity from the consolidation of personnel in geographically dense regions."

David Michaels, OSHA: OSHA has a compliance assistance specialist in every one of its more than 70 area offices. Many of these are situated very close to each other. In order to save money and streamline resources we will be asking some compliance assistance staff to cover a slightly larger area.

Question 9: How can around 1,000 OSHA compliance officers effectively inspect and regulate over 7,000,000 workplaces (conservative estimate)? What is the long term plan to level the playing field, the math just does not compute?

David Michaels, OSHA: First of all 27 state plans have an additional 1,000 inspectors to cover about half the states. OSHA uses an inspection targeting formula, national and local emphasis programs, partnerships and cooperative programs like VPP to focus attention to where the highest hazards exist.

Question 10: Will the current budget changes have any effect on the state consultation programs

David Michaels, OSHA: OSHA's free on-site consultation program is OSHA's premiere small business compliance assistance program. OSHA's FY 2013 request is equal to the funding for programs in FY 2012 which is a $3.2 million increase over FY 2011.

Question 11: How does this budget effect OSHA? Will you be hiring more Compliance Officers?

David Michaels, OSHA: Under this budget, OSHA will not be hiring more compliance officers however the budget requests funding to hire 37 new whistleblower investigators.

Question 12: Could you please explain the increase for regulatory support and also, does OSHA expect to receive clearance to publish any new final rules other than GHS this year?

David Michaels, OSHA: OSHA is scheduled to publish three final standards in FY 2012 that include electric power, consultation agreements and confined spaces in construction.

Question 13: How will the 2013 Budget Proposal effect the State Plan States?

David Michaels, OSHA: The FY 2013 budget request for State Plan States maintains the level of funding provided in FY 2012.

Question 14: I would like to work for OSHA as an Inspector. What are the requirements needed for training?

David Michaels, OSHA: There are different requirements for industrial hygiene or safety specialist. You can go to http://www.dol.gov/dol/jobs.htm to see the job postings. Good luck!

Question 15: With the reduction of 33 OSHA Compliance Assistant how will OSHA service our vulnerable workforce

David Michaels, OSHA: Good question. OSHA is maintaining its emphasis on reaching out to vulnerable and hard to reach workers in high risk jobs, as well as small businesses. OSHA will continue its award-winning outreach efforts around such hazards as heat exposure, hearing protection and fall prevention. The cuts outlined in our FY 2013 budget request focus primarily on employer compliance assistance.

Question 16: David Michaels indicated that OSHA would continue work on, among other things, injury and illness prevention plans. Does the 2013 Budget contain specific funding for I2P2 or is this referenced work to be done without specific funding?

David Michaels, OSHA: No, there is no standard-specific funding in the FY 2013 budget. OSHA's standards budget request contained $1 million increase for overall standards work.

Question 17: Do we know which OSHA regional offices will be eliminated (e.g., will it be Boston or New York)? Also, will OSHA institute sub-regional offices to serve the areas where the offices are being consolidated?

David Michaels, OSHA: No, there are no specific plans on how the regional consolidations will be implemented. OSHA will maintain offices as needed to ensure that safety and health coverage is maintained.

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