The good news is that since OSHA was created in 1971, the workplace fatality rate has declined 62 percent and occupational injury and illness rates have dropped 42 percent. This past December, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that injury and illness rates declined for the ninth year in a row to an all-time low of 5.7 per 100 workers.
Despite these gains, 16 workers die on the job and more than 14,000 experience an injury or illness every day.
America's workplaces still have work to do. And OSHA, along with its working partners, can continue to significantly reduce workplace fatalities, injuries, and illnesses.
The agency's new strategic management plan for 2003 to 2008 plots how OSHA will direct its efforts during the next five years to assure, to the extent possible, safe and healthful working conditions for every American. OSHA Administrator John L. Henshaw calls the plan "a carefully crafted blueprint that outlines what we need to do to get where we want to be."
Over the next five years, OSHA is committed to reducing workplace fatalities by at least 15 percent and workplace injuries and illnesses by 20 percent or greater.
In addition, the agency will focus on emergency preparedness and address longstanding safety and health issues-workplace violence and work-related motor vehicle accidents, among them-in a targeted way.
Toward that end, for Fiscal Year 2003-2004, the agency will focus on reducing amputations by 3 percent, ergonomics-related injuries by 4 percent, and elevated blood lead levels by 5 percent. OSHA also will work to help employers reduce silica-related disease at their worksites, although the agency did not set a specific reduction target because the diseasecan take so long to develop.
These targets are part of the Department of Labor's commitment to foster quality workplaces that are safe, healthful, and fair.
Achieving the targets is a tall order, and each year will build on the previous year's accomplishments. In fiscal 2003 to 2004, for example, OSHA will work to help employers achieve a 3-percent drop in fatalities in construction and a 1-percent reduction in general industry. Also in fiscal 2003 to 2004, according to Ruth McCully, director of OSHA's Directorate of Science, Technology, and Medicine and co-chair of the strategic planning committee, the agency will seek a 4-percent drop in injuries and illnesses for construction and general industry and for specific high incident/high severity industries: landscaping and horticultural services, oil and gas field services, fruit and vegetable processing, concrete gypsum and plaster products, blast furnace and basic steel products, ship and boat building and repair, and public warehousing and storage.
Mike Connors, regional administrator for OSHA's Chicago Regional Office and the other co-chair of the agency's strategic planning committee, said the new plan builds on the successes of the agency's initial five-year plan that spanned 1997 to 2002. During that period, OSHA met its goal of reducing injuries and illnesses by 20 percent in 100,000 workplaces through direct interventions. In addition, the agency exceeded many of its other goals: reducing amputations by 24 percent, lead exposures by 69 percent, and injuries and illnesses at worksites engaged in cooperative relationships by 47 percent-versus the goal of 15-percent reductions for each.
OSHA also helped reduce construction fatalities by 9.5 percent, short of the 11-percent goal, and will continue to focus on this important area in the next five-year plan. Another continuing focus will be reducing the severity of exposure to crystalline silica.
OSHA Deputy Assistant Secretary Davis Layne said that while addressing these issues, OSHA must be ready to respond to a multitude of changes-in America's workers themselves, the nature of the work they do, the worksites in which they work, and the hazards to which they may be exposed. Workplaces, industry, and the working population are becoming increasingly diverse, Layne said. They support an economy that is largely service-based and increasingly staffed by temporary, contract, immigrant, small business, and hard-to-reach workers. New safety and health issues continually emerge.
To address the safety and health challenges these factors present, Henshaw said OSHA will focus its resources on the areas that provide a maximum return on investment. He said the agency will continue to build on the strategies that have proven successful in the past: enforcement; standards and guidance; on-site consultation; compliance assistance; cooperative programs such as the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP), the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP), strategic partnerships, and alliances; and outreach, training, education, and information services.
"This plan emphasizes the importance of safety and health programs," said Connors. "We are building on already-established areas of emphasis and adding new areas of concentration for both enforcement and compliance assistance. There is also a continued emphasis on professional development and making OSHA a more effective agency.
"Fully implementing this plan," he said, "will allow us to further accomplish our mission of safer workplaces."
OSHA will help reduce occupational hazards by improving targeting to maximize the impact of one-on-one interactions with employers to address unsafe and unhealthful working conditions, intervening at targeted workplaces, and improving the effectiveness of targeting direct interventions.
Through better targeting and service and interventions based on data analysis, OSHA plans to reduce lost workdays due to injuries and illnesses by 5 percent while abating hazards such as lead, silica, amputations, and ergonomic-related injuries.
One of the most effective ways to ensure lasting solutions, Henshaw said, is to convince employers, workers, and others to recognize that safety and health add value to American businesses, workplaces, and workers' lives-and to encourage them to embrace a safe and healthful workplace culture.
To this end, OSHA will improve the way it collects and assesses data to better understand where compliance assistance, leadership, outreach, and cooperative programs have the most impact. The agency will improve safety and health promotion, analyze program effectiveness, and develop new training and target areas to improve consultation, compliance assistance, cooperative programs, and leadership activities.
In 2003, OSHA plans to add 125 new VPP and SHARP participants and 100 new partnerships and alliances and increase annual participation in outreach and training programs by 10 percent. Additionally, OSHA will complete an emergency preparedness homeland security plan.
OSHA will increase its effectiveness and efficiency in line with departmental and Presidential objectives by strengthening the agency's capabilities and infrastructure. OSHA will improve its intelligence-gathering, analytical, and evaluation tools and ensure that the agency's staff have the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities, and technology to support their efforts.
OSHA plans to accomplish this through timely and accurate data collection, improved monitoring of emergency issues, better program effectiveness measures, increased collaboration with partners, and enhanced customer communication.
In addition, OSHA will better manage its human capital by addressing skills gaps, implementing a leadership succession plan, and developing better technical competencies while it works to attract and retain talented staff.
During 2003, the agency will develop plans to improve its intelligence capabilities, increase the number of staff annually receiving certification training by 10 percent, and increase the percentage of Regulatory Agenda items reviewed.
By pursuing these goals, Henshaw said OSHA will ensure that it has the expertise and capabilities to be an effective and innovative leader in promoting safe and healthful workplaces. It's a mission that Henshaw said is well worth pursuing.
"There can be no work more rewarding, no job more fulfilling than protecting the lives and well-being of the working men and women who keep our nation strong," he said. JSHQ