As 2023 begins, it is important to start the year reflecting on recent progress made. In the field of health and safety, this takes the form of reviewing changes imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Looking back over 2022, a clear focus for regulatory changes emerges. The 3 main points that developments in health and safety centered around were standard consolidation and rule enforcement, funding, and COVID measures.
1. Standard Consolidation and Rule Enforcement
Toward the end of each year, OSHA utilizes data collected from the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) to release a statement on the annual census of fatal occupational injuries. This statistic determines the key focus areas for OSHA initiatives in the upcoming year. The 2022 statement revealed that there was a nine percent increase in fatal work-related injuries in the previous 12 months. In this document, OSHA’s Assistant Secretary called upon OSHA, employers, and stakeholders to double down on efforts to improve safety in American workplaces.
The US Department of Labor (DOL) has revised the prescribed instruction concerning the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) to amplify the effectiveness of efforts to reduce workplace incidents and illnesses. These revisions are expected to better enforce OSHA requirements from employers that repeatedly receive or fail to correct violations that are viewed as negligent and willful and influence the necessary improvements to their safety culture. Such instruction will continue to be a regular recommendation for implementing proactive safety and health programs.
Finally, beginning January 15th, the maximum penalty for willful or repeated violations will be raised to $145,027, representing a $10,000 increase from 2022’s maximum penalty for the same violations. The DOL also announced annual adjustments to civil penalties. Fines will now be $14,502 (an inflation-adjusted increase of almost $1,000 per violation).
2. Funding OHS Programs
Over $11.7 million in grant money was allotted to enhance hazard awareness and provide training for workers and employers to create safe and healthy workplaces in America. These grants, the result of the annual Susan Harwood Training Grant Program, will be distributed to non-profit organizations to serve small-business employers and vulnerable workers in high-hazard industries. $1.9 million of the 2022 Susan Harwood funds will be specifically allocated to 14 various non-profits that provide workplace programs to teach others how to recognize and prevent infectious diseases.
In August, Massachusetts rolled out the latest OSHA-approved Workplace Safety and Health Program (WSHP) with the objective to prevent workplace injury and illnesses for public sector workers. This initiative is to be affected in addition to federal OSHA jurisdiction for the private sector and federally employed workers in Massachusetts.
In response to BLS statistical reports from 2020 that indicated that injury rates in some mid-Atlantic states’ warehousing and storage industries were nearly double that of the national average, OSHA launched a focused initiative in three Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia to reduce worker injuries and illnesses within warehousing, storage, and distribution facilities. The Regional Emphasis Program for Warehousing Operation reinforces OSHA’s efforts to promote healthy and safe workplaces while mitigating injuries and illnesses in sectors that have demonstrated higher incident rates.
3. COVID Measures
The Department of Labor and OSHA continued their emphasis on the prevention of communicable diseases in the workplace by doubling down on measures related to COVID-19. At the beginning of 2022, OSHA’s attempt to regulate COVID-19 vaccination and testing was withdrawn, however, throughout the year several extensions were made for the remaining COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS). In June, OSHA released a communication extending its revised National Emphasis Program (NEP) for COVID-19 until further notice. This program incorporates new measures for protecting workers in healthcare against SARS-CoV-2 (the respiratory syndrome that causes COVID-19). To supplement the changes to the NEP, OSHA announced an enforcement memorandum for a short-term increase in inspections at hospitals and hospice centers that manage COVID-19 patients.
All these changes and new initiatives from governing agencies indicate one thing: safety is being structured to ensure EH&S legislation is followed and sustainable, even in unpredicted conditions. This indicates a compulsion for employers to follow suit and strengthen their regulatory compliance processes. While many EH&S professionals find that these increased regulatory attentions can be overwhelming, companies can capitalize on advancements in modern technology by enlisting tools such as customizable EH&S software solutions to help them follow through with this need to enhance EH&S compliance practices.
The SafetyStratus Research Advisory Group (RAG) brings together thought leaders from the global environmental, health, and safety community to promote best practices and provide key insights in the profession and the industries they serve. The Research Advisory Group also advocates, where practical, the intersection of and advances with the use of technology, such as the SafetyStratus enterprise EHS software platform. Group membership consists of representatives from across varied disciplines and market sectors as well as select members of the SafetyStratus team.
The primary objectives of the SafetyStratus RAG partnership are to:
- Build a strategic partnership between EHS practitioners and the SafetyStratus team.
- Provide engaging and practical content to the global EHS community.
- Provide discipline and market feedback specific to SafetyStratus products and services.
While the objectives of the RAG are varied, the primary public-facing outcome will be available through engaging and practical content found on the SafetyStratus resource pages. Various articles, papers, and other valuable resources will be produced and shared as part of an ongoing effort to cultivate a robust community. Ultimately, the SafetyStratus RAG will expand to have a broader reach and provide opportunities for more inclusion by all interested EHS professionals in a collaborative community environment.