By Michael Wood
"We know that a presence in the workplace is a key part of our success and is likely to determine our future success as well."
As we enter 2017, those of us in workplace health and safety throughout the United States are looking toward Washington, D.C., with an increased sense of curiosity … and even uncertainty. Based on past experience, it is likely to be several months before a new person is named to run federal OSHA – it may even take most of the year to get new leadership in place. In the meantime, several initiatives move forward, while others have uncertain futures. Such a transition – particularly coming after the longest tenure of any OSHA assistant secretary – obviously raises a number of questions.
But here in Oregon, that uncertainty is more a matter of curiosity, because with a state program such as ours, we have the freedom to chart our own course to a large extent. Much of what we do here at Oregon OSHA and in the broader workplace health and safety committee will move forward without regard to changes and shifting perspectives on the national level.
As I've written before, that is because we have a good sense of what works. The fundamentals of workplace health and safety – the need for robust hazard recognition, the need for a supportive system, and the importance of the hierarchy of controls – do not change simply because an old year has passed and a new year has begun. And we know that the balanced approach to workplace health and safety that has marked Oregon's course for decades continues to pay dividends; indeed, the average Oregon workers' compensation premium saw a significant decrease again this year. We understand that the best way to control claims costs is to prevent the injuries from happening in the first place.
In the immediate future, we see the 2017 GOSH Conference. Like our other, smaller conferences, it provides a case study in the value of effective partnerships. GOSH is possible only because of Oregon OSHA's collaboration with the Columbia-Willamette Chapter of the American Society of Safety Engineers, as well as through the support of the many GOSH sponsors and other partners.
As we look toward the 2017 legislative session, we will be pursuing funding for additional "boots on the ground" in both enforcement and consultation. We know that a presence in the workplace is a key part of our past success and is likely to determine our future success as well. While we are also seeking to increase the maximum penalties to remain aligned with federal law, we have no plans to deviate from our approach of relying primarily upon modest penalties and a relatively high presence in the workplace as the best approach to encouraging compliance in Oregon workplaces.
While some of our current rulemaking activity takes its cue from federal changes, we have learned the value of bringing a particular Oregon perspective as we seek the most effective and workable responses to such federal rules. Other rulemaking initiatives are entirely state-initiated, such as our ongoing effort to identify and tackle the most relevant out-of-date exposure limits.
The changes in our nation's capital are important ones, of course. But when it comes to charting the course of workplace health and safety in Oregon, those of use who live and work here – employers, workers, and government – are the ones who truly control our future. And that's as it should be.
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