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Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century

futurework: Chapter 5 - Box 5.2
Cooperation: A new kind of enforcement

The collective efforts of government, employers, workers, unions, safety engineers, safety and health professional groups, trade associations, insurance companies, academia, and others are central to sustaining the safety and health success of the past and effecting continued improvements in the future. Creating partnerships among these groups is part of the strategic approach that the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has used successfully to address workplace conditions that may endanger worker safety and health.

One such initiative in Alabama’s Bayou LaBatre area shipyards led to a 47- percent reduction in eye injuries and illnesses. A Calumet City, Illinois scrapyard operator reduced injuries, illnesses, and workers’ compensation premiums by 90 percent over two years after working with OSHA. The Steel Erectors’ Safety Association of Colorado saw dramatic improvements in safety and health: one member company reduced its workers’ compensation costs by almost two-thirds and reduced its rate of injuries and illnesses by over 80 percent.

OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) recognizes private companies with outstanding records in worker safety and health. VPP worksites achieve injury and illness rates as much as 60 percent lower than other firms in their industry because they implement safety and health programs--self-sustaining systems that are fully integrated into the day-to-day operations of their facility. Countless companies have succeeded with this approach, and 32 states have recognized its value by instituting some form of safety and health program provisions.

Education and outreach play an important role in protecting the American worker, in forms ranging from compliance assistance materials to help employers and workers understand new requirements, to state consultation programs, to electronic media that offer instant assistance in complying with standards. Partnership alone, however, is not enough--experience shows it must be balanced with a targeted enforcement program. Research has shown that injuries and illnesses generally decline by about 22 percent during the three years after an OSHA inspection. OSHA’s current enforcement strategy is to focus on the most dangerous workplaces. The agency is also rewriting standards in "plain language" to make them easier to understand.

Bringing all of these strategic approaches to bear can reduce the number of worker injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. Each approach can help focus nationwide attention on the most prevalent types of workplace injuries and illnesses--problems such as lead and silica exposures. These approaches are also being directed at selected industries and geographic areas where there are significant risks to workers, high rates of lost workdays, and high fatality rates--industries like food processing, nursing homes, logging, shipyards, and construction.

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