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OSHA Could Be More Flexible About Safety Compliance

Perhaps OSHA Does More Than They Need To

The types and numbers of hazards that can show up in any given industry, let alone workplace, can be vast. The data shows that there are indeed dangers present that need control. But, does it need to be the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that needs to write the prescription for all that may ail a given workplace? I'd say no.

Instead, they could use their resources to evaluate the general hazards and create a general standard. That standard, or standards depending on the type of hazards, would be more of an identification that given hazards and risk exist in certain types or workplaces. But, rather than write what amounts to prescriptive regulation in an attempt to set a minimum set of requirements to ensure a safe workplace, they could be more open to doing at least one of two things.

  1. They do a lot more incorporation by reference of various consensus standards that already exist as acceptable to address workplace hazards.

  2. They allow for the company to develop it's own methods of protecting against the recognized hazards and anticipated hazards.

OSHA Can Spend More Time Checking Safety Compliance

There are a few consensus standards that come to mind. They are the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and ASTM International (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials). OSHA doe sometimes incorporate portions of standards from the above bodies in the regulations. This effectively makes those standards regulations and can be enforced as such. But much of the regulations differ at least slightly from a consensus standard.

Going the route of more standards incorporated as regulation could mean that OSHA would need less resources in regulatory standard development and more in ensuring workplaces are safe in the field. This is not to say that there couldn't be some deviation from the consensus standards if they are particularly hard for some companies. But more people are likely to respect the rules if the rules are enforced roughly evenly. It's likely more probable that car drivers will respect speed limits if they are actually routinely enforced. Similar principle here.

The Business Might Actually Know Its Process Better

Yep, I said it. The business might actually know what it does better than a regulatory body. This may be more so in the case of particularly innovative business. So, should they be constrained to a single prescription that might hamper them unnecessarily? I would say no, with a very big caveat. The regulators, and perhaps consensus standard bodies, should be able to evaluate the general process such that they can reasonably figure out what the obvious and potential hazards are.

After that, if the business didn't want to go the route of complying with a consensus standard, they would have the opportunity to propose their own methods. They could write their own operating permit as it were. It would be subject to review by the regulators of course. But in the end, a business that justified its methods through licensed engineers, demonstration, etc. would be allowed to operate in that manner. It also meant that it would be a company's own rule book that would be held against them if they failed to follow it. I'd think that would make things easier on the regulators for enforcement as well.

Safety Compliance Should Be Practical

The point of having enforceable standards for safety compliance is because processes can be very dangerous. They might be potentially deadly. However, it might be a bit arrogant to think that an outside agency will always know what's best for safety. So, this approach keeps them involved in the regulating process, while utilizing entities that already focus on how to achieve safety in the workplace.

This is not to say that OSHA can't be helpful in achieving a safe workplace. Sure, they absolutely can research on their own and come up with solutions. But when it comes to governance, I see their role as being less about figuring out how to solve workplace problems and more about they are addressed. Perhaps earlier on in the creation of the administration they needed to be more directly involved in figuring things out. But, there are significantly more resources to take advantage of for solving safety in a practical, effective way. In light of this, OSHA can review what exists more than coming up with new stuff. The rules should not be designed as to unduly hamper innovation. The rules just need to address the real hazards. As long as the solutions take care of the hazard without causing other serious problems or breaking the law, it generally should be fine to do.

It also makes a lot of sense for the success of business and industry sectors with this approach. It would be perfectly OK for companies that have their own self-made operating permits to have them revoked if they don't take reasonable steps to upkeep them. This would include improvement. Sometime new, unforeseen issues can arise. There always will be some level of risk associated with doing anything. After all, cars run on controlled explosions if they are fuel based. But monitoring and continuous improvement should be at the forefront. A healthy balance between governance rules and practical safety should help encourage businesses to have safe workplaces that are also profitable.

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