Categorized | Business

Partnership to improve workplace health, safety enforcement

Federal and state officials formalize an agreement to facilitate restoration of Hawaii’s workplace health and safety enforcement capacity to federally compliant levels. The agreement outlines a plan to achieve full restoration in three years, while ensuring regulatory enforcement in the interim. (Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office)

MEDIA RELEASE

Federal and state officials have formalized an agreement to facilitate restoration of Hawaii’s workplace health and safety enforcement capacity back to federally compliant levels.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie joined U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Regional Administrator Ken Nishiyama Atha in signing an agreement that outlines how OSHA and the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations’ Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Division (HIOSH) will collaborate to meet safety and health goals and enforce safe and healthful working conditions for Hawaii’s workers.

HIOSH’s enforcement capacity was diminished when the Lingle Administration eliminated 32 of 51 HIOSH positions during the 2009 Reduction-in-Force (RIF) process. In fiscal year 2009, HIOSH completed only 426 inspections (51 percent) of its goal of 835 inspections.

“We reached out proactively to OSHA to identify a solution toward restoring these important enforcement positions, and the progress we have made since 2010 was reassuring to our federal counterparts and demonstrated that Hawaii is serious about workplace health and safety,” Abercrombie said. “Since I took office, my administration has achieved the minimum staffing required by OSHA.”

OSHA Regional Administrator Atha signed the agreement on behalf of federal OSHA.

Highlights of the agreement include:

* Supplementary financial support for HIOSH.

* Additional mandatory training opportunities, including bringing more training programs to Hawai’i and providing priority placement for HIOSH staff.

* Assistance from OSHA in developing a training plan for the HIOSH staff – including supervisory development.

* Additional mentoring opportunities for HIOSH staff from more experienced federal inspectors.

* OSHA assistance to develop compliance assistance programs.

Half of the 32 positions eliminated by the 2009 RIF were benchmarked positions that contributed to meeting necessary OSHA staffing requirements. OSHA requires the state to have 22 specific positions in compliance and consultation.

Furthermore, only 12 of the 22 benchmarked positions were authorized in the state’s Executive Budget, and only 10 of the 12 positions were filled.

The Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR) oversees HIOSH. DLIR Director Dwight Takamine has been working with federal officials since to ensure that the state meets federal standards.

“The Lingle Administration elimination of positions resulted in a failure to meet minimum staffing requirements,” Takamine said. “Gov. Abercrombie came into office and reaffirmed the state’s commitment to a strong and meaningful safety program for every Hawaii worker.”

“Let’s not forget, that safety is also good economics,” Abercrombie said. “When injuries and deaths are prevented, workers compensation costs and additional training costs for new employees go down for employers.”

In September 2010, OSHA released a Federal Annual Monitoring and Evaluation Report (FAME) covering federal fiscal year 2009 that raised numerous concerns about Hawaii’s program, including further reductions in staff and consultancies, inappropriate classifications of violations and/or hazards, and mis-assignment of administrator duties to the department director.

Although the 2010 Legislature restored 12 of the positions abolished during the 2009 RIF, the department did not move to fill the positions until the start of the Abercrombie Administration.

Beginning in December 2010, the state initiated recruitment. The HIOSH administrator was also assigned back to the management of the division.

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.”

States are required to 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.

Hawaii is one of 27 states and territories currently operating state plans. Most states, including Hawaii, provide free onsite consultation to help employers identify and correct workplace hazards.

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