By Ellis Brasch
When asked if they know what Oregon OSHA does, many will say that "OSHA" enforces safety regulations and writes citations. Of course, those answers are only partially correct. What most people do not know is that Oregon OSHA's effort to encourage voluntary compliance has been as important as its enforcement program in shaping occupational safety and health in Oregon for more than seven decades.
In 1941, the Oregon Legislature, "seeing the need for accident prevention," established the state's first workplace safety agency, the Accident Prevention Division. But the organization lasted less than a year as "able bodied men" enlisted to join the armed forces and the state shifted priorities to gear up for the war effort. However, it soon became apparent that there was still a need for accident prevention "because of hazards in the war industry." APD was reactivated in 1943 with a staff of 42 people, who worked in its education, engineering, and enforcement sections. Of those three E's – education, engineering, and enforcement – education would shape much of APD's activities well into the 1960s.
In 1962, Gov. Mark O. Hatfield reinforced the education message at the state's 10th industrial safety conference when he said that that APD's goal "is to accomplish its statewide safety program in a friendly and fair manner using the consultative approach, expanded educational activities, special industry programs, and emphasizing better public relations."
APD's goal is to accomplish its statewide safety program in a friendly and fair manner using the consultative approach, expanded educational activities, special industry programs, and emphasizing better public relations.
Four years later, Oregon's newly formed State Compensation Department – which would later become the State Accident Insurance Fund and then the SAIF Corporation – hired 23 safety consultants to conduct a "…safety survey of workplaces revealing the weak points and the strong points of a given firm's safety program." In touting the benefits of the survey, the department noted, "this consultative method…utilizes the best features of inspection, draws on the latest engineering and management theories, uses the most appropriate of education and promotional techniques, and blends them into a planned program based on specific conditions determined in advance by study and appraisal."
• Employers who receive a consultation from Oregon OSHA also receive a 60-day exemption from a regularly scheduled enforcement visit (30 days for mobile sites and agricultural labor housing consultations). The purpose of the exemption is to give employers time to implement a consultant's recommendations.
The consultative approach received another boost in 1973 when the Oregon Legislature created the Oregon Safe Employment Act to "assure as far as possible safe and healthful working conditions for every working man and woman in Oregon…" Among the six numbered objectives that the legislature entrusted to APD, the first two were "encourage employers and employees to reduce the number of occupational safety and health hazards…" and "establish a coordinated program of worker and employer education, health and safety consultative services, demonstration projects and research to assist workers and their employers in preventing occupational injury and disease, whatever the cause." (Italics added.)
The Oregon Safe Employment Act was landmark legislation but its enforcement provisions assumed that an employer knew the rules and would comply with them before an inspector arrived. However, many employers did not know what hazards they had in their workplaces or what they needed to do to correct them. In an attempt to remedy the matter, APD advertised "free consultation services to employers wanting to comply with work safety and health standards before the division's enforcement people inspect [them]." The service was aimed primarily at business owners who employed fewer than 100 workers.
At the federal level, OSHA also recognized that the "interpretation of complex standards and the recognition of hazards in the workplace can be difficult for employers." In response to the demand for consultations from states that did not have approved state plans, OSHA amended the OSHA Act in 1975 to allow federal funding of on-site consultation programs by states without approved state plans.
APD and federal OSHA now offered free consultation services, but there was still one untapped source of help for Oregon employers: workers' compensation carriers. In 1976, consultative services became mandatory for workers' compensation insurance carriers, too, when the Oregon Legislature passed a law that required carriers to provide the services to their policyholders. The legislation gave the state insurance commissioner the power to suspend or revoke the authority of carriers that did not provide the services.
Although APD offered consultative help to employers, it was still not mandatory as it was for insurance carriers. That changed in 1987 when the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 2900, which focused on improving the state's workers' compensation system. The legislation required APD to provide consultation services to "encourage voluntary compliance with occupational safety and health laws."
If you focus on achieving goals, monitoring performance, and evaluating outcomes, your workplace can progress along the path to higher levels of safety and health achievement.
In 1976, APD adopted rule 1-2-13.1, which required an employer to "take all reasonable means" to ensure that employees work in a safe manner. "All reasonable means" implied that employers needed to examine how they were managing safety at their workplaces. Preventing workplace injuries would not happen simply by finding and fixing hazards because the real causes of injuries went deeper – lapses in employee training, management supervision, and management's commitment to safety, for example.
Could employers manage workplace safety just as they managed other aspects of their business?
It was a new concept and, over the next six years, APD explored how Oregon business owners might make that happen. What evolved from that effort was a set of seven core elements – the essential parts of an effective safety and health program that could be adapted to any business. Business owners just needed to take the time and make the effort to implement them. The core elements were:
➺ Management leadership
➺ Accountability and supervision
➺ Employee participation
➺ Employee training
➺ Hazard identification
➺ Hazard prevention
➺ Planning and evaluation
APD consultants were largely responsible for teaching Oregon employers how to make these core elements part of their safety and health programs, but the number of employers who received help was still relatively small. Meanwhile, federal OSHA was moving along the same path. OSHA started a new initiative in 1984 called "Inspection Exemption Through Consultation." Employers with documented effective safety and health programs would be exempt from scheduled inspections for one year. APD also adopted the initiative in 1984, which would later become the Safety and Health Recognition Program (SHARP), in 1995.
By 1989, the concept of safety and health management had become a cornerstone of the OSHA and Oregon OSHA outreach efforts (APD was renamed Oregon OSHA in 1989) through consultative services, the SHARP program, and the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). The seven core elements became part of OSHA's Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines, drawing on its experience with VPP. In publishing the guidelines, OSHA acknowledged that employers could successfully manage their safety programs if they were conscientious and dedicated to the goal of continuous improvement.
OSHA recently revised the original guidelines and asked the public to comment on a draft document through Feb 22, 2016. (However, OSHA has not announced a publication date for the final document.) But the underlying concept of self-sufficiency – that conscientious employers can voluntarily comply with workplace safety and health requirements – did not change in the revision.
"The idea is to begin with a basic program and simple goals and grow from there," the draft guidelines note. "If you focus on achieving goals, monitoring performance, and evaluating outcomes, your workplace can progress along the path to higher levels of safety and health achievement."
If you want to receive the Resource Newsletter, sign up for future issues here.
Reprinting, excerpting, or plagiarizing any part of this publication is fine with us. Please send us a copy of your publication or inform the Resource editor as a courtesy. If you have questions about the information in Resource, please call 503-378-3272.
For general information, technical answers, or information about Oregon OSHA services, please call 503-378-3272 or toll-free within Oregon, 800-922-2689.