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Nearly four decades after the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, it is difficult to find anyone who will argue that it has delivered on its promise to provide safe and healthful working conditions. In 2005 and 2006 I traveled across the country and met with people experienced in worker health and safety to share ideas about what we can do to protect workers better.
There was considerable agreement about the need to strengthen OSHA’s basic functions and use them more creatively – more inspections, stronger enforcement, renewed rulemaking, and a strategic focus on the protection of low wage, high risk, unorganized workers. There was also substantial agreement that the OSHAct itself needs some important changes, including coverage for all public employees. However, there was also a sense that while these steps are necessary, they will not be sufficient and that we can’t expect real success by simply trying harder to do more of the same.
Dr. Tony Robbins recent response to my draft on OSHA at 35 makes the important point that economic developments are often more powerful than public health initiatives as determinants of environmental and occupational illness. I agree with his thought that predictive models of exposure might facilitate anticipatory public health strategies rather than our more typical efforts to catch up after the fact. It is with this in mind that we need to focus on forward looking ideas rather than dwelling on the frustration that comes from a close look at worker protection in the OSHA years. Here are three. Read the rest of this entry »
There have been a number of thoughtful and challenging comments on the future of safety and health posted in the past week. I want to acknowledge some of these and also to suggest more discussion about the principles that might help choose which potential actions to increase worker protection should get priority attention. Read the rest of this entry »
Thanks to those of you who have responded so far to the draft paper, “Getting Home Safe and Sound? OSHA at Thirty Five,” which was posted here several days ago. Many people have agreed with the need for this dialogue and indicated the intent to contribute to it. Comments so far have supported the need for a generic safety and health program rule; raised cautions about what’s said in a public forum; urged stricter penalties when employers negligently violate OSHA rules; expressed the need to de-politicize OSHA; endorsed the idea of third party inspections and proposed examining the SEC audit system as a possible inspection model; offered suggestions for making the issue relevant to the broader public, activating workers’ families and journalists, and framing the issue differently for different groups; and questioned the differences between cultures in environmental health and occupational health. Thanks for the excellent start to this discussion. While I welcome comments and suggestions on all the themes and ideas in the paper I am especially interested in reactions to two sections.
By Michael Silverstein
Thirty-five years after the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the promise of worker protection remains substantially unfulfilled. Over the past several months, I have been traveling across the country and talking with people experienced in worker health and safety to gather ideas about what we can do to protect workers better. The more I hear, the more I am certain that we can’t achieve this by simply trying harder to do more of the same.
The draft paper “Getting Home Safe and Sound? OSHA at Thirty-Five” summarizes what I’ve learned and suggests three main areas for change: stronger and more creative implementation of the OSHAct; statutory improvements to the OSHAct; and a variety of measures outside the OSHA framework. I hope that this paper will touch off productive discussion and catalyze action to improve worker health and safety. Before completing the paper, though, I’d like to open it up to online readers for comment.