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Ex-OSHA head testifies to value of enforcement

Workers in Pennsylvania and throughout the country are kept safer through programs from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that emphasize standards, inspections and enforcement than they are through the agency's employer voluntary program. This was the gist of the testimony of the former OSHA head David Michaels at a hearing on Feb. 27 before the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.

Michaels focused on several weaknesses in the agency's Voluntary Protection Program. One was that the initiative lacks a strategic focus and concentrates on individual companies instead of multiple employers. Another is that the companies involved in the VPP are already compliant, so focusing on them does not tend to increase worker safety. The VPP program is costly to administer and takes up agency resources that could be directed toward safety elsewhere. Furthermore, there is a lack of research as to whether the VPP is even effective, unlike other approaches such as enforcement. Finally, the companies that participate in VPP tend to be large and wealthy, meaning they have the resources to create their own safety and health programs.

Michaels said OSHA's most effective tool was standards. He said these tend to improve safety in the workplace and that most companies strive to meet standards issued by OSHA even without inspections.

Workplace injuries may still occur whether a workplace is observing safety standards or not. In most cases, workers who are injured on the job or who become ill because of exposure to toxic substances are eligible for workers' compensation. They might want to consult an attorney to discuss their rights, how to file for compensation and what benefits they might be entitled to.

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