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Why the Trump Era Shouldn’t matter for Industrial Health & Safety

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Feb 4, 2017trump, health and safety, osha
Jim Schuster
CEO – Martin Technical

There have been a few recent and well written articles on the expected impact of the Trump administration on OSHA and industrial health and safety.  The consensus has been that the Trump administration may roll back recent rules such as the new silica exposure rule or rules that are heavily regulatory in nature such as the the electronic OSHA recordkeeping rule, but that in general, OSHA is not a high target priority for any administration, and is only something that is addressed somewhere down the road.  Now, given the speed that the Trump administration has moved in the first month, “somewhere down the road” might be a lot sooner than expected, but in the end, it shouldn’t matter.  Here’s why:

OSHA provides the minimum rules for safety compliance, but companies that have strong safety programs aren’t built on compliance, but rather built on safety culture and protecting their workers as a high priority. 

Even if parts of OSHA were rolled back, this would not change those companies with strong safety cultures, as these companies would still choose to provide a safe work environment and would not suddenly stop using hard hats, fall protection equipment, bump tests for confined spaces and lockout for machines.  On the other hand, you have companies that put forth an effort to have a program on paper for the sake of compliance, but aren’t necessarily implementing or enforcing the program to create a safe work environment.  Many of these companies perform basic OSHA training, fill in the paperwork and then turn their backs, so a rollback on regulations for these companies doesn’t really impact safety as much as it does the paperwork they might fill out.  On the far end of the spectrum, you have companies that aren’t following OSHA regulations today because they already think it’s too burdensome (that is, until there is an accident).  Making the rules more or less strict for this group has no impact on these companies as they aren’t going to participate in safety related practices anyways.

Another matter for consideration is state laws and voluntary compliance.  Many states have their own OSH programs, which are at least as strict as federal OSHA, and it would be hard to imagine state OSH programs taking the time or interest to roll back their standards simply because there was a temporary roll back by one administration.  All but 5 states adopt the National Electrical Code as their electrical code as it is more relevant than OSHA, and stricter, so a roll-back in areas like OSHA electrical equipment design and installation and other similar areas would have virtually no impact.  You also have successful organizations like VPPPA which encourages building stronger safety environments that extend beyond OSHA compliance.  A rollback in OSHA regulations would most likely strengthen organizations like VPPPA as the safety community at large has an interest in improving, not decreasing safety, and they would put more value into these organizations.

The OSHA general duty clause states that “employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.”  The real threat to companies here has never been from OSHA fines, but rather from third party lawyers representing those who have been injured or killed.  The courts have a long history of legal precedent interpreting this rule, which keeps any company or organization on the hook for identifying hazards and protecting the workers from the hazards.  Once a hazard is known, it’s hard to put back in the box, and if someone gets injured or killed on the known hazards, the general duty clause will come into effect, even if there are some rollbacks on compliance regulations. Making a meaningful change here would require striking out the general duty clause from OSHA in favor for economic growth, which is a bit extreme, even for the likes of Trump.

Finally, you have the global inertia of companies that make manufacturing equipment, safety products and provide safety services.  Due to insurance and legal concerns, and an increasing global market place with standards that expand beyond the US, there is a continuous push by manufacturers to make equipment and products safer in the workplace and meet global standards, not just US standards.  Those who make safety products are focused on making them more user friendly or comfortable, eliminating one of the bigger challenges on safety compliance.  Those who provide safety services, with exception of a few dubious characters, seek to provide companies with the best possible answer for implementing safety programs as the alternative could result in an injury or death, would obviously be bad for business, and could potentially end up in a lawsuit.  Certainly, safety consultants and safety professionals are not going to choose a path that they know is less safe.

The reality is that the Trump administration may change OSHA recordkeeping regulations, fine amounts, or decrease funding for OSHA that impacts the number of OSHA inspections that can be completed, but if you care about safety for your companies or organization, none of that should matter to you as you should always be looking to do what is “safe” for you workers, and not just what is “compliant.”  It’s truly the work of individuals or small organizations that have driven safety measures to where it is today, and if anything, OSHA struggles to keep up, which is why they reference other standards or organizations, and there is no reason to suspect this will change.  

While OSHA is certainly important to safety, they are not in the driver’s seat for the safety of your company;  you are.


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