OSHA’s Directorate of Cooperative and State Programs hosted an informational session for small businesses titled Green Jobs: Safety and Health Outlook for Workers and Small Employers on April 1st at the Department of Labor. The purpose of the session was to describe OSHA’s green job efforts, discuss workplace hazards associated with green jobs, present opportunities and challenges posed by green jobs, and review best practices and strategies for small businesses in reducing safety and health hazards associated with green jobs.
Despite the informative, professional, and bright presentations made by the three panel members invited to present on construction, wind energy, and waste-to-energy industries, the gestalt of the session was lackluster.
I left the session without a good understanding of what OSHA is doing to address occupational safety and health hazards of green jobs. I was troubled by their apparent uncertainty as to their stake in this issue.
The session’s panelists provided several examples of best practices for anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, preventing, and controlling green job health and safety hazards. With each example provided, it appeared that the OSHA session moderator slipped lower in the seat. His opening remarks didn’t seem to have to have been well rehearsed, and he didn’t signal much interest in or familiarity with the issues the speakers raised. I was glad to see OSHA hosting this session and to see industry making efforts, but embarrassed for OSHA and their poor performance in presenting their goals and their initiatives for green job safety and health.
Most importantly, I didn’t learn anything new that would help me to help my green industry workers stay safe on the job. I know that if I was an industrial hygienist for one of these industries, I would turn to my industry association for guidance. It was apparent that OSHA was not the pack leader.
What can OSHA do better when it comes to Green Jobs?
1) Frame the issue within an economical, social, and environmental/ occupational health context. Define what is meant by the terms “green job,” “green industry,” and “green manufacturing” in terms of worker health and safety, environmental health and safety, economic drivers, politics and policy, quality of life for consumers, social well-being for workers, and social equity.
2) Determine the occupational health risks (hazards and exposures) common to “green industry” and link these with existing Federal and state policies, programs, and regulations. Risks unique to “green industry” should be highlighted and a strategic plan to address these risks should be clearly described.
3) Use the freshness of “green industry” as a platform to revitalize existing Federal and state worker safety and health policies, programs, and regulations. Many of the risks are not new: lockout/tagout, confined space, heat stress, hazard communication, crane and derricks, machine guarding, powered industrial trucks, and fall safety. Leverage this opportunity to rejuvenate outreach programs, web sites, and data collection efforts for hazards and exposures of “green industry” and other industries.
4) Continue to sponsor small business sessions and use them to launch efforts such as the OSHA Green Jobs Safety Web Page, OSHAPedia, and training classes available through the Occupational Safety Training Institute. However, wait to sponsor the session until these initiatives are ready to be launched real time.
5) Ask and attempt to answer the hard questions. Be a thought leader. Do not wait for industry to contact you to establish training and outreach materials. Reach out to them, first. Use as many forms of media as needed and interactive information sharing to publish the latest and greatest happenings as they are happening.
Spring to it, OSHA.
Kas is an industrial hygienist studying public health in the DC metro area.