WASHINGTON-Common sense, partnership and flexibility will be the watchwords of the new Occupational Safety and Health Administration, President Clinton said May 16. The president announced his administration's plan to reorganize OSHA while touring a sheet metal plant in Washington. Essentially, the functions of OSHA will be changed from ``command-and-control,'' the White House said, to building consensus and partnership with industry in developing workplace safety programs.
``We think anything that can be done to bring OSHA back to reality is a step in the right direction,'' said a spokesman for the National Federation of Independent Business. But a representative of the United Rubber Workers union said his union endorses the position of the AFL-CIO, ``which is that it is not OSHA's duty to cooperate with business.''
Every year in the U.S., some 6,000 people die of workplace injuries and 50,000 of workplace-caused disease, according to the administration report on OSHA. At the same time, most Americans think of OSHA as ``driven too often by numbers and rules, not by smart enforcement and results.
``Confronted by these two realities . . .(OSHA must) increase the protection of worker health and safety while decreasing red tape and paperwork,'' the report said.
Among the changes industry can expect, administration officials said, are:
Rewarding safety inspectors for the number of injuries they prevent, not the number of citations they write;
Giving inspectors authority to waive or reduce fines if workplace safety problems are corrected on the spot; and
Eliminating or revising regulations which do little or nothing to enhance worker safety.
The cornerstone of the administration plan is the ``Maine 200'' concept. In 1993, the OSHA field office in Maine approached the 200 companies in the state with the highest injury rates and told them either to accept a workplace safety partnership with the agency or face tougher enforcement.
Of those companies, 198 chose partnership, the report said. Those companies have since self-identified 14 times as many hazards as OSHA's small staff could have, and about 60 percent of them have cut their accident rates appreciably.
OSHA will reorganize its field offices nationwide to incorporate the most successful features of the Maine 200 program, including offering employers a choice on how they work with OSHA and reducing citations and fines for companies with aggressive workplace safety programs.
The changes will be implemented throughout the year, the administration said.