New strategic plan for OSHA

Aug. 1, 2003
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) mission is to promote and assure workplace safety and health and to reduce workplace fatalities, injuries, and illnesses.

By Charles John Palenik

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) mission is to promote and assure workplace safety and health and to reduce workplace fatalities, injuries, and illnesses. Currently, OSHA covers more than 114 million workers at seven million worksites, which is twice the number under the agency's jurisdiction when it began in 1971. This means that both workplaces and the American working population are becoming increasingly diverse. OSHA also now plays an important role assisting with emergency preparedness and national security concerns.

Over the last 30 years, workplace fatalities have declined 62 percent, and the rates of occupational injury and illness have dropped 42 percent. In fact, injury and illness rates decreased in 2001 for the ninth consecutive year to an all-time low of 5.7 per 100 workers. Despite significant gains, each day 16 workers die on the job and more than 14,000 experience an injury or illness.

It is OSHA's vision that "Every employer in the nation recognizes that occupational safety and health adds value to American businesses, workplaces, and workers' lives." The agency has just released a new five-year Strategic Management Plan, which is designed to support this objective and to bolster the Department of Labor's goal of fostering quality workplaces that are safe, healthy, and fair.

There are three specific supporting goals for the OSHA plan. These include reduction in occupational hazards through direct intervention, promotion of a safety and health culture through compliance assistance, cooperative programs, and strong leadership, and maximization of OSHA effectiveness and efficiency by strengthening its capabilities and infrastructure.

OSHA plans to increase the number of one-on-one contacts with employers to address unsafe and unhealthful working conditions. OSHA will become more proactive in this area by identifying targets and developing innovative interventions. The abatement of specific hazards, such as environmentally present toxins and carcinogens and ergonomically related injuries, will be key. It is estimated that full application of Goal One could reduce the rate of workday injuries and illnesses by at least five percent annually.

Goal Two will be to motivate employers, employees, and others to embrace a safe and healthful workplace culture. Goal Two will involve the application of multiple outreach and cooperative programs, including several emergency preparedness plans. The hope is to increase participation in training programs by 10 percent.

Goal Three will require OSHA to improve its information-gathering and analytical and evaluation tools within an improved technological infrastructure. This objective will result in a timely and more accurate collection of data, as well as improved monitoring of emerging issues and program effectiveness. OSHA also desires to increase collaboration with partners and to enhance customer communications. OSHA will need to improve its technological skills and capabilities in order to achieve the agency's goals.

OSHA recognizes that prevention efforts must be directed toward the root causes of persistent occupational safety and health problems. Thus, over the next five years, OSHA is committed to reducing the rate of workplace fatalities by at least 15 percent and to decreasing the rate of workplace injuries and illnesses by at least 20 percent.

In order to achieve these goals, OSHA is focusing on incremental improvements in specific areas each year. Two subjects important to dentistry are levels of lead in blood and ergonomics.

The Organization for Safety and Asepsis Procedures (OSAP) is the leading source for infection control and safety information in dentistry. There are more than 50 links to OSHA related information available on the OSAP web site. All are available by using the search function found on the OSAP homepage (www.osap.org).

Dr. Charles John Palenik is an assistant director of Infection Control Research and Services at the Indiana University School of Dentistry. Dr. Palenik has authored numerous articles, book chapters, and monographs, and is the co-author of the popular Infection Control and Management of Hazardous Materials for the Dental Team. He serves on the Executive Board of OSAP, dentistry's resource for infection control and safety.Questions about this article or any infection-control issue may be directed to [email protected].

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