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Strong, Effective, Fair Enforcement... Emphasis Programs
OSHA has six national emphasis programs (NEPs): amputations, lead, nursing and personal care facilities, shipbreaking, silica, and trenching and excavation.

What isn't as well known or recognized is that the agency's regional and area offices operate about 135 local emphasis programs (LEPs), developed and conducted locally to address specific regional hazards or high-hazard industries.

Some programs, like the food processing LEP run by OSHA's Buffalo and Syracuse Area Offices, tailor NEPs to local needs. Others, such as the oil and gas industry LEPs at OSHA's Corpus Christi, Lubbock, and El Paso Area Offices, increase emphasis on local industries or hazards.

Like their national counterparts, LEPs put heavy emphasis on outreach and education. Compliance officers work with local employers, educating them about the hazards being addressed and ways to reduce or eliminate them. Only after this initial outreach is finished do compliance officers begin random, unannounced LEP inspections.

The success stories behind these LEPs could fill volumes. Here are four examples of the positive change these programs are creating.

workover rig

OSHA's Wichita Area Office inspected oil drilling operations, oil well services, and workover rigs like the one pictured to help reduce fatalities.

Concord Area Office: Ergonomics

Dave May, director for OSHA's Concord Area Office, is a firm believer that LEPs are making a difference in workplace safety and health. His office ran an LEP on ergonomics from 1992 to 1995.

The office's compliance officers conducted 19 inspections at sites of 14 New Hampshire employers with multiple workers' compensation claims involving carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis. The compliance safety and health officers who visited the sites identified ergonomic stressors and suggested feasible controls, and, as appropriate, issued citations.

As a result, carpal tunnel syndrome claims dropped significantly among these employers. Their worksites accounted for 17 percent of all carpal tunnel syndrome claims in New Hampshire in 1992, but less than 5 percent by 1997-a rate that continued through 1999. Overall, the incidence rate of carpal tunnel syndrome at these employers' worksites dropped by 90 percent during this period.

Wichita Area Office: Oil Fields

Historically, the Kansas oil and gas extraction industry has had a high fatality incident rate, accounting for 15 percent of all work-related fatalities in the state. In 1995, when the number of workers killed in oil and gas extraction operations spiked to six, OSHA's Wichita Area Office launched a problem-solving initiative, which included a local emphasis program to eliminate hazards in the industry. According to Area Office Director Judy Freeman, the office approached the problem on two fronts. In addition to kicking off an aggressive inspection program, the group formed a partnership with the Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association to provide training, disseminate information on fatalities, and encourage voluntary compliance. The Engineering Extension Service of Texas A&M University developed a petroleum safety training program based on training needs identified by the Wichita Area Office. After extensive outreach and training, the office initiated LEP inspections. All employers inspected under the LEP said they improved their safety and health programs in response to the outreach efforts, and 50 percent of the inspections resulted in no violations observed. Only three employers had more than one serious violation, and all employers who received citations entered into OSHA settlement agreements that included a commitment of improving their safety and health programs. In the two years after the initiative began, the state's oil and gas industry experienced no fatalities.

Boston Regional Office: Fall Protection

Another successful LEP, coordinated by OSHA's Boston Regional Office, is bucking the national trend and causing a steady decline in fatal falls in the region. The region put the LEP into effect in April 1999 in response to yearly increases in the number of workers who had fallen to their deaths, regionally as well as nationally. The program began with extensive outreach activities to inform employers and employees about the LEP and to raise their awareness of common fall hazards, employer compliance responsibilities, and possible abatement approaches. In addition, the program targets specific construction sites based on referrals, usually from OSHA compliance officers, and also calls on inspectors to put greater emphasis on fall hazards during general industry inspections. According to Robert Hooper, assistant regional administrator for federal-state operations, the numbers show that the effort is working. In 1999, fatal falls in the region numbered 20; in 2000, 15; in 2001, 12; and by the end of November 2002, nine.

Bellevue Area Office: Commercial Diving

Similarly, OSHA's Bellevue Area Office, in partnership with state regulatory agencies, initiated an LEP in 1990 following a series of incidents on Puget Sound in which commercial divers died while harvesting shellfish, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers.

According to Dean Ikeda, assistant regional administrator for federal-state operations at the Seattle Regional Office, OSHA compliance safety and health officers began inspecting commercial seafood harvesting operations, identifying hazards that contribute to serious injury and death and compelling employers to take corrective actions.

Some of the more common violations involved lack of proper diver training and experience, inadequate or defective equipment, and deficiencies in conducting and monitoring dive operations. As a result, no diving-related fatalities occurred in Washington waters between May 1990 and November 1995.

In late 1995, shortly after Native American tribes began harvesting Washington waters commercially, two tribal divers died in separate diving-related incidents, and a third was seriously injured. The divers involved had little or no dive training and experience. In response, the Bellevue Area Office refocused its enforcement and outreach activities to target the tribes, and no other incidents occurred.

The office continued its LEP through 2001, declaring it a success after inspections showed high levels of compliance with OSHA's diving standard. As a result, the office conducted no commercial diving inspections last year, but is committed to reinstating the LEP in the unlikely event of a resurgence in dive mishaps or complaints. JSHQ