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Greater workplace safety and health targeted


The Hawaii State Department of Labor & Industrial Relations (DLIR) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have announced its agencies will sign an agreement designed to jointly rebuild and strengthen the safety and health regulatory environment in Hawaii.

In previous years, there was a significant reduction in force that raised federal concerns.

As the Abercrombie Administration works to improve those conditions, this procedural agreement provides a roadmap for how the OSHA and DLIR’s Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Division (HIOSH) will work together to meet safety and health goals and assure safe and healthful working conditions for Hawaii’s workers.

“By continuing to work together closely with OSHA, and in partnership with employers, we intend to rebuild HIOSH to create a stronger program. A strong HIOSH not only lowers injury and illness rates, but also improves the overall work environment and accountability,” Gov. Neil Abercrombie said. “This Administration is committed to restoring the state’s ability to assure workplace safety and health.”

The agreement will entail temporarily suspending HIOSH’s enforcement authority in specific industries where OSHA will assume responsibility for enforcement until the State is able to be “at least as effective” as OSHA.

HIOSH will progressively resume authority over industries as it rebuilds capacity during the three-year period outlined in the agreement.

The training and support provided by OSHA will enable HIOSH to reassume sole enforcement authority in the State in the same areas as it currently does at the end of the three years.

“One of my first and ongoing priorities in the department has been the restoration of HIOSH,” DLIR Director Dwight Takamine said. “Part of that effort has involved staff recruitment for the division and continuously seeking advice and help from our federal partners. To re-establish meaningful safety and health regulation, we need the help and leadership of OSHA to train and mentor our new staff and to provide resources.”

This partnership will allow OSHA to commit the resources and staff necessary for Hawaii to meet its lawful responsibility to ensure safe and healthful working conditions.

“Director Takamine requested our assistance, recognizing the inability of the State to restore capacity on its own after years of budget problems,” said Ken Nishiyama Atha, Regional Administrator for OSHA in San Francisco. “We look forward to continuing to work with the State to improve the situation and have decided to augment the effort by increasing the number of federal personnel and resources in Hawaii.”

“We will clearly divide enforcement responsibilities to ensure that no one in the employer community will be confused about which agency is regulating their industry during the agreement,” state HIOSH Administrator Diantha Goo. “We see a clear pathway back to full State responsibility by having HIOSH reassume enforcement in stages as we work with OSHA to train and mentor our employees, which will also supply employers with consistent regulatory expectations.”

The Lingle Administration eliminated 32 of 51 HIOSH positions during the 2009 Reduction-in-Force process. Sixteen of the 32 were benchmarked positions that contributed to meeting the necessary OSHA staffing requirements — OSHA requires HIOSH to have 22 specific positions in compliance and consultation.

In FY 2009, HIOSH completed only 426 inspections (51 percent) of its goal of 835 inspections.

Due to the Lingle Administration’s Reduction-in-Force in 2009, only 12 of the 22 benchmarked positions were authorized in the Executive Budget and only 10 of the 12 positions were filled.

OSHA released a Federal Annual Monitoring and Evaluation Report (FAME) covering federal fiscal year 2009 in September 2010 that raised numerous concerns about Hawaii’s program including the following:

* “Additional layoffs…occurred in the first quarter of FY10, and the staff was further reduced to nine compliance staff (50 percent below the benchmark) and one consultant (75 percent below the benchmark).”

* “In 24 of the 43 case files reviewed [in 2009], HIOSH did not appropriately classify the violations and/or cite all the hazards. Seven other-than-serious (OTS) should have been classified as serious (S). There were 19 case files where the narrative or a photo provided sufficient information to document a hazard which was not cited.”

* “The person designated as the HIOSH Administrator in the 23g Grant was not assigned to the duties of the Administrator as described by the HIOSH FOM [Field Operations Manual]. The Lingle Administration responded by stating, ‘In August of 2004, the HIOSH Administrator was placed on special assignment and the day-to-day management of operations was shifted to the Director’s office.’ ”

The 2010 Legislature restored 12 of the positions abolished during the Reduction–in-Force, though the department did not move to fill the positions until the start of the Abercrombie Administration.

Beginning in December 2010, the Abercrombie Administration initiated recruitment for the positions and the conversion of nine of the restored positions to meet the OSHA benchmark staffing requirements. The HIOSH Administrator was also assigned back to the management of the division.

To date, the department has filled both the restored positions and the 22 benchmarked positions required by OSHA.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act, signed by President Richard Nixon on Dec. 29, 1970, established OSHA under the U.S. Department of Labor.

OSHA’s mission is to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.”

The Act also encourages states to develop and operate their own job safety and health programs. OSHA approves and monitors state plans and provides up to 50 percent of an approved plan’s operating costs.

OSHA relinquishes enforcement authority in states that obtain approval for their own plans and Hawaii was the second jurisdiction granted approval on April 30, 1984.

Hawaii is one of 27 States and territories currently operating state plans. States must set job safety and health standards that are “at least as effective as” federal standards and may promulgate stricter standards or ones covering hazards not addressed by federal standards.

A state must conduct inspections to enforce its standards, cover both the private and public sectors, and operate occupational safety and health training and education programs.

In addition, most states including Hawaii, provide free on-site consultation to help employers identify and correct workplace hazards.

OSHA is set to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register this week. The public will have 35 days to review and comment on the proposed change in status of Hawaii’s program.

At the end of the public comment period, OSHA and HIOSH expect the change in status of Hawaii’s program to go into effect in late August.

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