The Occupational Safety and Health Administration(OSHA)
Purpose and organization
OSHA was created to encourage employers and workers to reduce workplace hazards and to implement effective safety and health programmes. This is accomplished by setting and enforcing standards, monitoring the performance of state OSHA programmes, requiring employers to maintain records of work-related injuries and illnesses, providing safety and health training for employers and employees and investigating complaints of workers who claim they have been discriminated against for reporting safety or health hazards.
OSHA is directed by an Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, who reports to the Secretary of Labor. The OSHA headquarters is in Washington, DC, with ten regional offices and about 85 area offices. About half of the states administer their own state safety and health programmes, with federal OSHA responsible for enforcement in states without approved state programmes. The Occupational Safety and Health Act also requires that each federal government agency maintain a safety and health programme consistent with OSHA standards.
Programme and services
Standards form the basis of OSHA’s enforcement programme, setting out the requirements employers must meet to be in compliance. Proposed standards are published in the Federal Register with opportunities for public comment and hearings. Final standards are also published in the Federal Register and may be challenged in a US Court of Appeals.
In areas where OSHA has not established a standard, employers are required to follow the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s general duty clause, which states that each employer shall furnish “a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees”.
OSHA has the right to enter the workplace to determine whether an employer is in compliance with requirements of the Act. OSHA places highest priority on investigating imminent danger situations, catastrophes and fatal accidents, employee complaints and scheduled inspections in highly hazardous industries.
If the employer refuses entry, the inspector can be required to obtain a search warrant from a US district judge or US magistrate. Both worker and employer representatives have a right to accompany OSHA inspectors on their plant visits. The inspector issues citations and proposed penalties for any violations found during the inspection and sets a deadline for correcting them.
The employer may contest the citation to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, an independent body established to hear challenges to OSHA citations and proposed fines. The employer may also appeal an unfavourable Review Commission decision to a federal court.
Consultation assistance is available at no cost to employers who agree to correct any serious hazards identified by the consultant. Assistance can be given in developing safety and health programmes and training workers. This service, which is targeted toward smaller employers, is largely funded by OSHA and provided by state government agencies or universities.
OSHA has a voluntary protection programme (VPP), which exempts workplaces from scheduled inspections if they meet certain criteria and agree to develop their own comprehensive safety and health programmes. Such workplaces must have lower than average accident rates and written safety programmes, make injury and exposure records available to OSHA and notify workers about their rights.
In 1995, the OSHA budget was $312 million, with about 2,300 employees. These resources are intended to provide coverage for more than 90 million workers throughout the United States.
State OSHA Programmes
Purpose and organization
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 gave state governments the option of regulating workplace safety and health.
States conduct their own programmes for setting and enforcing safety and health standards by submitting a state plan to OSHA for approval. The state plan details how the state proposes to set and enforce standards that are “at least as effective” as OSHA’s and to assume jurisdiction over state, city and other (non-federal) public employees whom OSHA itself does not otherwise cover. In these states, the federal government gives up direct regulatory responsibilities, and instead provides partial funding to the state programmes, and monitors the state activities for conformance with the national standards.
Programme and services
Approximately half of the states have chosen to administer their own programmes. Two other states, New York and Connecticut, have elected to keep the federal jurisdiction in their states, but to add a state workplace safety and health system that provides protection for public employees.
State-run OSHA programmes allow states to tailor resources and target regulatory efforts to match special needs in their states. For example, logging is done differently in the eastern and western United States. North Carolina, which runs its own OSHA programme, was able to target its logging regulations, outreach, training and enforcement programmes to address the safety and health needs of loggers in that state.
Washington State, which has a large agricultural economic base, developed agriculture safety requirements that exceed the mandated national minimums and translated safety information into Spanish to meet the needs of Spanish-speaking farm workers.
In addition to developing programmes that meet their special needs, states are able to develop programmes and enact regulations for which there might not be sufficient support at the federal level. California, Utah, Vermont and Washington have restrictions on workplace exposure to environmental tobacco smoke; Washington State and Oregon require that each employer develop worksite-specific injury and illness prevention plans; Utah’s standard for oil and gas drilling and the manufacture of explosives exceeds federal OSHA standards.
State programmes are permitted to conduct consultation programmes that provide free assistance to employers in identifying and correcting workplace hazards. These consultations, which are made only at the request of the employer, are kept separate from enforcement programmes.
In 1993, state-administered programmes had a total of about 1,170 enforcement personnel, according to the Occupational Safety and Health State Plan Association. In addition, they had about 300 safety and health consultants and nearly 60 training and education coordinators. The majority of these programmes are in state labour departments.
Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)
Purpose and organization
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) sets and enforces standards to reduce injuries, illnesses and deaths in mines and mineral processing operations regardless of size, number of employees or method of extraction. MSHA is required to inspect every underground mine at least four times a year and every surface mine at least twice a year.
In addition to enforcement programmes, the Mine Safety and Health Act requires that the agency establish regulations on safety and health training for miners, upgrade and strengthen mine safety and health laws and encourage the participation of miners and their representatives in safety activities. MSHA also works with the mine operators to solve safety and health problems through education and training programmes and the development of engineering controls to reduce injuries.
Like OSHA, MSHA is directed by an Assistant Secretary of Labor. The coal mine safety and health activities are administered through ten district offices in the coal mining regions. The metal and non-metal mine safety and health activities are administered through six district offices in the mining areas of the country.
A number of staff offices that assist in administering the agency’s responsibilities are located at the headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. These include the Office of Standards, Regulations and Variances; the Office of Assessments; the Technical Support directorate; and the Office of Program Policy. In addition, the Educational Policy and Development Office oversees the agency’s training programme at the National Mine Health and Safety Academy in Beckley, West Virginia, which is the world’s largest institution devoted entirely to mine safety and health training.
Programme and services
Mining deaths and injuries have declined significantly during the last hundred years. From 1880 to 1910, thousands of coal miners were killed, with 3,242 dying in 1907 alone. Large numbers of miners were also killed in other sorts of mines. The average number of mining deaths has declined over the years to less than 100 per year today.
MSHA enforces the mine act provisions requiring mine operators to have an approved safety and health training plan which provides for 40 hours of basic training for new underground miners, 24 hours of training for new surface miners, 8 hours of annual refresher training for all miners and safety-related task training for miners assigned to new jobs. The National Mine Health and Safety Academy offers a wide variety of safety and health courses. MSHA provides special training programmes for managers and workers at small mining operations. MSHA training materials, including videotapes, films, publications and technical materials are available at the Academy and at district offices.
In 1995, MSHA had a budget of about $200 million and about 2,500 employees. These resources were responsible for ensuring the health and safety of about 113,000 coal miners and 197,000 miners in metal and non-metal mines.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
Purpose and organization
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is the federal agency responsible for conducting research on occupational injuries and illnesses and transmitting recommended standards to OSHA. NIOSH funds education programmes for occupational safety and health professionals through Educational Resource Centres (ERCs) and training projects at universities throughout the United States. Under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, NIOSH also conducts research and health hazard evaluations, and recommends mine health standards to the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
The Director of NIOSH reports to the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention within the Department of Health and Human Services. The NIOSH headquarters is in Washington, DC, with administrative offices in Atlanta, Georgia, and laboratories in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Morgantown, West Virginia.
Programme and services
NIOSH research is conducted both in the field and in the laboratory. Surveillance programmes identify the occurrence of work-related injury and disease. These include targeted data collection directed toward specific conditions, such as high blood lead levels in adults or injuries among adolescent workers. NIOSH also links data collected by states and other federal agencies to make it increasingly practicable to obtain a national picture of the effects of occupational hazards.
Field research is conducted at workplaces throughout the United States. These studies make it possible to identify hazards, evaluate the extent of exposures and determine the effectiveness of preventive measures. The right of entry into the workplace is essential to the ability of the Institute to conduct this research. This field research results in articles in the scientific literature as well as recommendations for preventing hazards at specific worksites.
Working with state health departments, NIOSH investigates on-the-job fatalities from specific causes, including electrocutions, falls, machine-related incidents and confined space entry accidents. NIOSH has a special programme to assist small businesses by developing inexpensive and effective technologies to control hazardous exposures at the source.
NIOSH conducts laboratory research to study workplace hazards under controlled conditions. This research assists NIOSH in determining the causes and mechanisms of workplace illnesses and injuries, developing tools for measuring and monitoring exposures, and developing and evaluating control technology and personal protective equipment.
About 17% of the NIOSH budget is devoted to funding service activities. Many of these service activities are also research-based, such as the health hazard evaluation programme. NIOSH conducts hundreds of health hazard evaluations each year when requested by employers, workers or federal and state agencies. After evaluating the worksite, NIOSH provides workers and employers with recommendations to reduce exposures.
NIOSH also responds to requests for information through a toll-free telephone number. Through this number, callers can obtain occupational safety and health information, request a health hazard evaluation or obtain a NIOSH publication. The NIOSH Home Page on the World Wide Web is also a good source of information about NIOSH.
NIOSH maintains a number of databases, including NIOSHTIC, a bibliographic database of occupational safety and health literature, and the Registry of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances (RTECS), which is a compendium of toxicological data extracted from the scientific literature which fulfils the NIOSH mandate to “list all known toxic substances and concentrations at which toxicity is known to occur”.
NIOSH also tests respirators and certifies that they meet established national standards. This assists employers and workers in choosing the most appropriate respirator for specific hazardous environments.
NIOSH funds programmes at universities throughout the United States to train occupational medicine physicians, occupational health nurses, industrial hygienists and safety professionals. NIOSH also funds programmes to introduce safety and health into business, engineering and vocational schools. These programmes, which are either multidisciplinary ERCs or single-discipline project training grants, have made a significant contribution to the development of occupational health as a discipline and to meeting the need for qualified safety and health professionals.
NIOSH had about 900 employees and a budget of $133 million in 1995. NIOSH is the only federal agency with statutory responsibility to conduct occupational safety and health research and professional training.
The Future of Occupational Safetyand Health Programmes
The future of these federal occupational safety and health programmes in the United States is very much in doubt in the anti-regulatory climate of the 1990s. There continue to be serious proposals from Congress that would drastically change how these programmes operate.
One proposal would require the regulatory agencies to focus more on education and consultation and less on standards setting and enforcement. Another would set up requirements for complex cost benefit analyses that must be conducted before standards could be established. NIOSH has been threatened with abolition or merger with OSHA. And all these agencies have been targeted for budget reductions.
If enacted, these proposals would greatly decrease the federal role in conducting research and in setting and enforcing uniform occupational safety and health standards throughout the United States.