Oregon OSHA Administrator
By Michael Wood
As 2015 draws to a close (which included my 10-year anniversary as administrator of Oregon OSHA), I find myself looking ahead to 2016 with considerable anticipation. For a variety of reasons, we here in Oregon will be tackling several challenges in the year ahead – and I am sure that we will prove ourselves up to each of them.
I have written before about the challenge of the outdated permissible exposure limits (PELs). Oregon OSHA will be tackling that problem using two distinct, but interrelated, approaches.
First, we will be identifying ways that we can better encourage employers to consider more up-to-date and protective reference levels – using our consultation and educational resources, but also reinforcing the important role of education even as part of our enforcement visits. It is clear that federal OSHA will never be able to keep the regulatory levels sufficiently up to date, at least until a completely new approach is developed and adopted. But that does not mean that Oregon workers need to go unprotected. The levels published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the American Conference of Government and Industrial Hygienists are based on much more current exposure and health information, and even where they cannot be used for enforcement purposes, employers can be encouraged to consider them seriously as they make decisions about the protective measures they can put in place.
We will continue to seek new approaches and new strategies, both to tackle new challenges and to address unresolved issues of the past.
The second approach will be to tackle four to six of the most significant and outdated PELs on a state level. While we cannot address them all, that should not prevent us from dealing with at least some of the problems. To do so, we will be bringing together a group of toxicologists, industrial hygienists, and others to advise us about which chemicals represent the most significant unregulated – or under-regulated – risks, as well as to identify any existing state-initiated PELs that are unnecessarily restrictive. It won't be easy, but the work is important.
In addition to the PELs, of course, we still plan to complete rulemaking that addresses the issue of employer knowledge and the role of reasonable diligence in determining whether an employer has "constructive knowledge" of a violation in the worksite. We will begin those conversations again early in the year.
Of course, we will also be finalizing rules to resolve federal OSHA's concerns regarding our standards addressing fall protection in construction. Those rules have been formally proposed, and we will be holding a series of hearings next month.
All of this activity will occur amid the "normal" business of the agency – and that business is perhaps our most important activity. We will continue to tackle workplace hazards – particularly those that create a meaningful risk of death – as we find them. Our consultation, education, and enforcement activities will continue to build upon our past successes. At the same time, we will continue to seek new approaches and new strategies, both to tackle new challenges and to address unresolved issues of the past.
In short, we have a busy year. But the work matters, because the workers we protect matter.
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