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The New OSHA
Reinventing Worker Safety and Health

    "We have to recognize that, done right, regulation protects our workers from injury, and that when we fail, it can have disastrous consequences. I believe we can bring back common sense and reduce hassle without stripping away safeguards for our children, our workers, and our families."
President Clinton
February 21, 1995


A safe workplace is central to our ability to enjoy health, security, and the opportunity to achieve the American dream. Accordingly, assuring worker safety in a complex and sometimes dangerous modern economy is a vital function of our government. Since OSHA was created in 1970, the agency's mission has been clear and unwavering for nearly twenty-five years: "to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the nation safe and healthful working conditions." That mission--to save lives, prevent injuries and illnesses, and to protect the health of America's workers--remains vital today.

OSHA and its 25 State partners have had substantial success. Since 1970, the overall workplace death rate has been cut in half. OSHA's cotton dust standard virtually eliminated brown lung disease in the textile industry; deaths from trench cave-ins declined by 35%; OSHA's lead standard reduced blood poisoning in battery plant and smelter workers by two-thirds. Experience has also shown that OSHA inspections can have real, positive results: according to a recent study, in the three years following an OSHA inspection that results in penalties, injuries and illnesses drop on average by 22%. Overall injury and illness rates have declined in the industries where OSHA has concentrated its attention--yet have remained unchanged or have actually increased in the industries where OSHA has had less presence.

OSHA's pride in its accomplishments is tempered by two realities.

First, despite OSHA's efforts, every year over 6,000 Americans die from workplace injuries , an estimated 50,000 people die from illnesses caused by workplace chemical exposures, and 6 million people suffer non-fatal workplace injuries. Injuries alone cost the economy more than $110 billion a year. These numbers are too high, because many workplace injuries and illnesses are predictable and preventable. Workplaces must be encouraged to make breakthrough improvements in injury and illness rates.

Second, in the public's view, OSHA has been driven too often by numbers and rules, not by smart enforcement and results. Business complains about overzealous enforcement and burdensome rules. Many people see OSHA as an agency so enmeshed in its own red tape that it has lost sight of its own mission. And too often, a "one-size-fits-all" regulatory approach has treated conscientious employers no differently from those who put workers needlessly at risk.

Confronted by these two realities, in its next twenty-five years, OSHA must simultaneously do two things: increase the protection of worker health and safety, while decreasing red tape and paperwork. To do this, OSHA is committed to a reform of the way it does business, so that it can keep pace with the workforce and problems of the future. Above all else, the new OSHA will seek to ensure that safety is promoted and protected by those in the workplaces themselves--managers and workers at the worksite.

To this end, the Clinton Administration is announcing three sets of regulatory reform initiatives to enhance safety, trim paperwork, and transform OSHA.

    • The New OSHA: OSHA will change its fundamental operating paradigm from one of command and control to one that provides employers a real choice between a partnership and a traditional enforcement relationship.
    • Common Sense Regulation: OSHA will change its approach to regulations by identifying clear and sensible priorities, focusing on key building block rules, eliminating or fixing out of date and confusing standards, and emphasizing interaction with business and labor in the development of rules.
    • Results, Not Red Tape: OSHA will change the way it works on a day-to-day basis by focusing on the most serious hazards and the most dangerous workplaces and by insisting on results instead of red tape.

OSHA is not changing direction because it has changed its ultimate destination, but in order to reach this destination in a better way. That destination--an America whose workplaces, as far as possible, are free from hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or physical harm--must be kept in sight at all times. And employers who neglect safety and endanger their workers will continue to face strict, vigorous enforcement. Regulatory reform that endangers the lives of workers is no reform at all.

The regulatory reform initiatives that follow (The New OSHA and Common Sense Regulation) and OSHA's commitment to fundamental organizational changes (Results, Not Red Tape) are the tools to address these national safety and health problems.


Not all workplaces are alike; not all employers are equally responsible. Yet too often, today's regulatory scheme applies a "one-size-fits-all" approach that treats all workplaces and all hazards equally. In the most significant reform unveiled in this report, OSHA will take steps to treat employers with aggressive health and safety programs differently from employers who lack such efforts. In effect, employers will be offered a choice of how they will be regulated by OSHA. This approach has the potential to dramatically increase safety and ease the adversarial relationship between regulators and business, by putting primary responsibility for ensuring safety in the hands of managers and workers at worksites across the country.

At its core, this new approach seeks to encourage the development of worksite health and safety programs. With a health and safety program, employers and employees work together to find the best solutions to the particular problems of their workplace. OSHA will be looking for programs with these features: management commitment, meaningful participation of employees, a systematic effort to find safety and health hazards whether they are covered by existing standards or not, documentation that the identified hazards are fixed, training for employees and supervisors, and ultimately a reduction in injuries and illnesses.

To spur the spread of these programs, employers will be offered a clear choice:

    For firms with strong and effective health and safety programs: partnership. We recognize that many, if not most, employers are interested in protecting the safety of their workers. Those who choose to work with their employees and with OSHA in reducing injuries and illnesses will find OSHA to be a willing partner. For fully committed employers who are truly exceptional in eliminating hazards and reducing injuries and illnesses, OSHA will provide special recognition including: the lowest priority for enforcement inspections (which, given remaining priorities, means that inspections will be quite rare), the highest priority for assistance, appropriate regulatory relief, and penalty reductions of up to 100%. For those firms that are well intentioned but have room for improvement, OSHA will offer a sliding scale of incentives depending upon the degree to which the employer demonstrates real effort to find and fix hazards.

    For firms that do not implement strong and effective health and safety programs: traditional OSHA enforcement. In contrast, firms that do not step up their efforts to ensure safety in the workplace will continue to face strong and traditional OSHA enforcement procedures. (In time, the spread of health and safety programs will allow OSHA to devote greater enforcement resources to these firms.) In short, for those who have a history of endangering their employees and are unwilling to change, OSHA will rigorously enforce the law without compromise to assure that there are serious consequences for serious violators.


  • Nationalize the "Maine 200" Concept

    OSHA's Maine 200 program offers a real choice for employers who seriously want to work with OSHA to reduce injuries and illnesses. In the Maine 200 program, instituted in 1993, the 200 Maine companies with the highest number of injuries were offered a choice: work in partnership to improve safety or face stepped-up enforcement. (All but two firms chose partnership.) The firms received assistance in developing strong health and safety programs. At the same time, they were given the lowest priority for inspection (in other words, inspections generally occurred only if there were complaints about serious accidents). The key to success is encouraging employers to work with their employees in hazard identification and safety awareness, rather than have those workers depend solely on OSHA inspectors.

    The Maine program is extremely promising. In two years, the employers self-identified more than fourteen times as many hazards as could have been cited by OSHA inspectors (in part, because OSHA's small staff could never have visited all 1300 worksites involved). Nearly six out of ten employers in the program have already reduced their injury and illness rates, even as inspections and fines are significantly diminished.

    OSHA will expand the most successful features of this program nationwide. These successful elements include: using worksite specific data to help identify high hazard workplaces, providing information to employers about effective safety and health programs, offering employers a choice in how they want to work with OSHA, ensuring management commitment and worker involvement, and modifying enforcement policies for high-performance employers.

  • Focused Inspections for Employers with Strong and Effective Safety and Health Programs

    Construction is a high-hazard industry. Yet here, too, a strong health and safety program can protect workers without unduly burdensome federal inspections. Where OSHA finds an effective program, the agency conducts an inspection limited to the top four hazards which kill workers in the construction industry--falls from heights, electrocution, crushing injuries (e.g., trench cave-ins) and being struck by material or equipment. If these hazards are well controlled, the inspector closes the inspection promptly and leaves the site. Conversely, where a safety and health program has not been established or is ineffective, OSHA conducts a complete site inspection, with full citations.

    OSHA will be expanding the focused inspection concept to other employment sectors and will work with targeted industries--chosen based on their injury and illness rates and other data--to (1) encourage the adoption of effective safety and health programs and (2) identify the most serious hazards in those industries for focused attention during inspections. Development of recommendations for the Assistant Secretary will be made by the Enforcement/ Litigation Strategy Standing Committee in July with implementation of a focused inspection program in selected industry sectors targeted for August 1995.

  • Incentives for Employers with Safety and Health Programs

    To encourage employers to reduce death and injury by implementing safety and health programs on a continuing basis, OSHA will grant an array of penalty adjustments based on the vigor and effectiveness of the program.

    If, for example, OSHA finds, during the course of a workplace inspection, that an employer has implemented a superior safety and health program, it will grant large reductions--up to 100%--in the penalties that would otherwise be assessed for violations found. For employers who have less effective programs in place but are making good-faith efforts, OSHA will grant a sliding scale of incentives. To qualify, the employer's program must include each of the recognized elements of a good safety and health program, which must be effective in practice and not just on paper. As evidence of a program's effectiveness, OSHA will expect to find that the workplace has a low injury and illness rate, that the employer has in fact found and fixed most hazards, that the workplace has not been cited in the past three years for the gravest types of violations, that the inspection was not prompted by an employee fatality or catastrophic accident, that any violations found in the current inspection are comparatively minor, and that the employer is prepared to correct any violations found.

  • Employee Participation in Safety and Health Efforts

    OSHA will promote worker participation in efforts to achieve safe and healthful workplaces. Employers have an obvious interest in working with their employers to improve safety and health at their own establishments. Workers possess a keen awareness of hazards to which they are exposed. Many workplaces have tapped into this important resource and achieved successful results with innovative approaches that involve safety and health programs and cooperative efforts between management and workers.


A second set of initiatives seeks to streamline and rationalize the body of regulations on OSHA's books. Such reform will provide needed clarity for employers and workers. For example, to this day many of OSHA's rules date from voluntary industry standards that were adopted wholesale at the time the agency was created in 1970--ironically, many of the standards that today are most criticized for complexity and verbosity. OSHA has already used focus group methods to assess problems with the readability and format of its rules and will continue to improve in this area.

To develop standards that make sense, OSHA has established a four-point regulatory strategy: identify clear and sensible priorities, focus on key building block rules, eliminate or fix out of date or confusing standards, and emphasize interaction with business and labor in the development of rules.


  • Priority Planning Process

    OSHA has been working together with more than 200 stakeholders in business, labor, professional associations, and State government to identify the most pressing new priorities for agency action. Some of these will be scheduled for rulemaking, but the majority will be addressed through workplans developed following consultations with labor and industry. Some of the issues suggested for priority attention include occupational asthma, reproductive hazards, metalworking fluids, asphalt fumes, commercial diving, welding hazards, workplace violence, and motor vehicle accidents.

  • A Logical Framework of Basic Building Blocks

    OSHA is working together with business and labor to develop an approach for employer safety and health programs that will establish provisions for finding and fixing workplace hazards in order to reduce injuries and illnesses on the job. For the first time, this will provide employers who want to understand and comply with OSHA regulations a clear starting place and a roadmap through the rest of the rules. It will be a flexible, performance-based approach developed through partnership with business and labor. It will, however, be sufficiently specific so that employers will understand OSHA's basic expectations and will know how to meet them.

    Some of the basic building blocks are now scattered throughout many standards in an uncoordinated fashion and need to be consolidated. Among these are training programs, maintenance of records, monitoring of risk exposure, and medical surveillance. In addition to consolidating such provisions in its safety and health program, OSHA will undertake a general consolidation of duplicative elements across current standards.

  • Improve, Update, and Eliminate Confusing and Out of Date Standards

    At the direction of the President, OSHA is in the process of reviewing all of its 695 separate rules to identify those which need to be revoked or revised because they are obsolete, confusing, inconsistent, or duplicative. While the full report will be not be ready until June, several promising actions can be announced at this time.

      Repair of Problem Rules: OSHA will act to fix numerous regulatory provisions that are most obviously in need of repair and can be handled quickly. For example:

      • Today, plastic gas cans are allowed in manufacturing work sites but are not allowed on construction sites, even if they have been approved by local fire marshals.

      • OSHA allows only radiation signs with purple letters on a yellow background, while DOT allows only those that are black on yellow.

      • OSHA needlessly requires that worksite first aid kits be approved by a physician.

As part of its effort to bring common sense to its rulemaking activities, OSHA also will review its standards to determine which should be rewritten in plain English. OSHA also will maximize use of performance standards that set outcome goals for regulated workplaces and minimize the use of design standards that mandate the process by which employers must meet their obligations.

The following three initiatives focus on increasing interaction with business and labor in addressing challenging workplace health and safety issues:

  • Hazard Communication and the Right to Know

    OSHA will request its National Advisory Committee on Safety and Health to convene a working group to identify ways to improve hazard communication in the workplace. The committee will be asked to provide OSHA with recommendations in six months that will enable OSHA to focus on the most serious hazards, simplify material safety data sheets, reduce the amount of required paperwork, and improve the effectiveness of worker training.

  • New Approaches to New Hazards

    Work-related musculoskeletal disorders--such as tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and low back pain--are leading causes of suffering and disability in the workplace today. The average cost to business is $29,000 per musculoskeletal disorder. The number of ergonomically-related disorders is increasing dramatically: six out of ten new occupational illnesses reported to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1992 were disorders associated with repeated trauma. Ergonomics, the science of designing jobs to fit people, provides tools to address these problems.

    Once, OSHA might have promulgated a detailed, lengthy specification standard to address ergonomics, resulting in rigid and inflexible requirements. Today, using a new "common sense" approach, OSHA instead is seeking to address the issues of ergonomics by working with business and labor on ergonomics initiatives, including training and education, technical assistance, and regulatory approaches. OSHA's effort will reward high-performance employers, support employers requesting assistance, and address employers who fail to keep workplaces free of recognized and serious ergonomically-related hazards.

  • OSHA's Involvement in Non-Traditional Sectors

    It makes sense for OSHA to pay most attention to the places where most people are working. The rapidly growing service sector poses new safety and health challenges for industry, labor, and government. For example, BLS reported that in 1993 six of the ten industries with the largest numbers of workplace injuries were in the service sector. Employees in health care, fast food, temporary service companies, and automobile repair facilities experience injury and illness rates equaling or exceeding those in high-hazard manufacturing industries such as steel, textiles, and paper. OSHA intends to work strategically with industry and labor leaders to develop cooperative programs, collaborative training and education, focused enforcement, and meaningful regulatory approaches to address these problems.


As important as the content of the rules OSHA enforces is the way it enforces them -- the way that the agency's 900 inspectors and other employees do their business. While maintaining its commitment to worker safety, OSHA is developing new ways to meet those goals that result in less red tape and more flexibility in dealing with those in the private sector. These changes are occurring throughout OSHA on a number of fronts.

In the past, OSHA inspectors were measured not on the basis of safety at the workplace, but on the basis of violations found. Employers were cited not only for genuine safety hazards, but also for minor or paperwork violations. In the past two years, the agency has sought to inject some simple common sense into the enforcement process:

  • Citations for violations of paperwork requirements are declining.

  • OSHA inspectors no longer penalize employers who have not put up the required OSHA poster if the employer agrees to post it right away.

  • OSHA has issued new inspection guidelines that will better assure that employers are not fined for failure to have a material safety data sheet for a common consumer product that is used as it would be used in the home.

  • OSHA inspectors have been told clearly that there are no numeric inspection goals and that their performance will not be judged by the number of citations and fines they issue but by their success in finding and reducing hazards associated with injuries and illnesses.

This transformation in the agency's organizational culture must accelerate. To this end, OSHA's management and employees are working with outside management consultants to continue the process of change, so that in years to come, the agency's employees feel empowered to use judgment and common sense to protect workers. In addition, several reinvention initiatives will inject common sense in the way OSHA front-line workers interact with both the private sector and the States.


  • Field Office Redesign -- Getting Results and Improving Performance (GRIP)

    OSHA understands that real change will result only from reinventing the way its own staff performs. OSHA is redesigning the structure and operation of its area offices to provide better public service and to increase its ability to reduce injuries, illnesses, and deaths in the workplace. A team of agency workers and managers has developed a model area office that is now being tested in seven pilot offices and will soon be expanded to all of OSHA's 67 area offices--at the rate of five offices every quarter.

    The model redesign has four main components: 1) use of problem-solving techniques and data analysis to identify and address the leading causes of death, injury, and illness; 2) use of technologies such as computers and video cameras to streamline work processes; 3) organizing the staff into specialized Response Teams that will respond to requests for agency services and Strategic Intervention Teams that will target agency initiatives and problem-solving strategies; and 4) evaluating performance on the basis of data and actual results achieved, not just the number of agency activities.

  • Strengthen OSHA's Partnership With State Programs

    OSHA will establish a new relationship with its State plan partners, encouraging them to experiment with innovative ways to prevent injuries and illnesses. Instead of monitoring the States by comparing federal and State activities, OSHA will assess results in each State and will encourage innovations by States that increase the effectiveness of their programs in ways that may differ from the federal practice if they are as likely to reduce injuries and illnesses.

  • "Quick Fix": Incentives for Fixing Hazards Quickly

    Today, after an OSHA inspector finds a violation, the employer can contest the citation for months, resulting in cost and confrontation--and no increased safety. As an incentive to abate hazards immediately, OSHA has successfully experimented with a "quick fix" program. Using this model, compliance officers reduce penalties for violations that are abated during the inspection. This policy encourages employers to increase employee protection immediately, while freeing OSHA employees from monitoring abatement and follow-up paperwork.

  • Improvements in Inspection Targeting System

    OSHA will improve the system it uses to identify and target agency inspections to those employers who have serious workplace problems and refuse to correct them. OSHA's current industry-based targeting system treats all employers in an industry group alike, regardless of their individual safety and health performance. However, in every industry some workplaces are more hazardous than others, and it is these unsafe worksites that should be targeted for strong inspection. Relying on data that the agency will begin collecting in Fiscal Year 1995 from a variety of internal and external sources, including data from State workers' compensation agencies, the agency will focus its enforcement activities on employers with unusually high rates of workplace injury and illness and a record of serious and repeated OSHA violations. This will vastly improve OSHA's ability to focus its resources on employers who ignore safety and health rules and put their employees at risk.

  • Compliance Assistance Through Information Technology

    The agency has implemented a number of information-dissemination projects and plans to undertake new initiatives to improve the availability of safety and health data to the public through a variety of electronic means. These actions are needed in response to an increasing demand for safety and health information from employers, employees, and others who are attempting to provide working men and women with safe and healthful workplaces. OSHA recognizes that an informed safety and health community is better able to recognize and protect itself from workplace hazards.

    To address this need, OSHA introduced in 1992 the OSHA CD-ROM, which provides in one convenient format a wealth of information about occupational safety and health and OSHA regulations. This CD-ROM has been one of the top-selling items offered by the Government Printing Office. OSHA also will encourage more public involvement and input in the regulatory process by routinely disseminating the text of proposed and final standards through the OSHA CD-ROM and the Department of Labor Electronic Bulletin Board. To promote public awareness and analysis of OSHA's enforcement activities, OSHA is compiling its 20 years of enforcement data on a 2-disk CD-ROM set. To promote easy public access to OSHA standards and interpretations, OSHA is developing, in coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency, the OSHA System for Compliance Assistance and Referral (OSCAR). And, to provide special assistance to small businesses, OSHA is working with the National Performance Review to provide electronic access to regulatory information and services through the Internet.

  • Measuring OSHA's Performance

    To help the agency accurately gauge the success of its endeavors, OSHA is developing a comprehensive performance measurement system that will shift the focus from tracking activities to monitoring results. In the past, OSHA used enforcement statistics, such as the number of inspections, to assess its effectiveness, even though these numbers do not directly relate to OSHA's goal of reducing fatalities, injuries, and illnesses. Under the revised system, which will be phased in over the next several years, OSHA will have information that will improve the agency's ability to quantify its successes, identify the most efficient and effective program mix, and promote the development of programs and policies based on solid, objective information.


  1. OSHA's purpose is to save lives, prevent workplace injuries and illnesses, and protect the health of all America's workers. This includes efforts to protect groups of workers who are small and unorganized but who are particularly vulnerable or who face special hazards.

  2. Whenever possible, OSHA will seek and expect implementation of hazard control strategies based upon primary prevention, i.e., strategies which focus on fixing the underlying causes of problems and reducing hazardous exposures at their source.

  3. OSHA will initiate strategic, public-private partnerships to identify and encourage the spread of industry best practices to solve national problems.

  4. Employer commitment and meaningful employee participation and involvement in safety and health is a key ingredient in effective programs.

  5. All safety and health services, resources, rules, and information must be readily accessible and understandable to employees, employers, and OSHA's staff.

  6. OSHA intends to be a performance-oriented, data-driven organization that places the highest premium on real results rather than activities and processes. OSHA's programs must be judged according to their success at eliminating hazards and reducing injuries and illnesses.

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