OSHA and CONN-OSHA are relying less on traditional “wall-to-wall” inspections and more on proactive compliance assistance and the agency’s consultation program.
That was the message from OSHA officials to business leaders and safety professionals at CBIA’s 2017 Safety & Health conference, May 19 in Cromwell.
“Back in the day, we used to do what I called a wall-to-wall inspection,” said Dale Varney, area director at OSHA’s Hartford office.
“It would be a two-, three-, four-, or five-day window; you’d have a compliance officer go from left to right, all the way across.
“You don’t see that a lot anymore. Why? We just don’t have the resources…OSHA enforcement staff is smaller than the Boston Police Department, and we’re regulating agriculture, maritime, general industry, construction—everything, across the board.”
Steve Biasi, acting area director at OSHA’s Bridgeport office, described a similar situation in his region.
“With fewer staff, we are not spending a lot of time knocking on folk’s doors doing the wall to wall inspections,” he said.
Less 'Gotcha,' More Help Ya
Biasi added that despite a lot of experience in the enforcement side of OSHA activities, he is “a heavy proponent of the consultation [program] and compliance assistance.”
It is in this vein that CBIA, OSHA, and CONN-OSHA entered into an Alliance in February to promote safe workplaces.
OSHA’s reliance on cooperative efforts dates back to the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, said Ken Tucker, CONN-OSHA director at the state Department of Labor.
“What they wanted was a mechanism for employers—particularly small employers in high-hazard industries—to be able to have a way to say I need help,” said Tucker.
“I need help either fixing the [problems] the feds have cited, or I need help proactively to make sure we’re in compliance so that we don’t have to worry about the feds coming in, and—more importantly—I need help so my employees don’t get hurt.”
Tucker noted that the CONN-OSHA consultation program is confidential and separate from the agency’s enforcement activity.
“We come out at an employer’s request,” he said. “We refine our visit to what that employer wants.”
All three officials lamented the fact that despite their desire to work with employers to prevent accidents, much of their work remains reactive—responding to incidents that have already occurred.
One of the best ways employers can act proactively to prevent accidents is by having a system in place that analyzes “near misses,” said Varney.
“A near miss doesn’t have to be a 2,000-pound block that came down and slammed next to you; it could be little things along the way.
“So look at your near-miss program. Do you have a system in place that captures near misses, and how does it go? I think that will give you a good read on where you are in your company for eliminating safety and health hazards.”