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Hawaii’s Manufacturing Safety Oversight Returned to State

By Roy Maurer  9/20/2013
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Hawaii will reclaim oversight of manufacturers’ workplace-safety regulations effective Oct. 1, 2013, after a year of temporary enforcement under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The Hawaii State Department of Labor & Industrial Relations announced Sept. 13, 2013, that it would reassume jurisdiction over the state’s manufacturing industries after a 2012 operational status agreement  was put in place to reform the state’s safety and health program (HIOSH).

Although Hawaii is a state-plan state, which means it operates its own occupational safety and health program, federal OSHA stepped in to oversee safety in manufacturing and other sectors after it claimed that HIOSH failed to meet OSHA’s minimum standards for staffing and enforcement. State-plan states must set job-safety and health standards that are at least as effective as federal standards. They’re also required to conduct inspections to enforce standards and provide free onsite consultation to help businesses identify and correct workplace hazards, as federal OSHA does.
In a September 2012 agreement, OSHA and HIOSH shifted workplace-safety oversight to OSHA in all industry sectors except construction, transportation, warehousing, and state and local government, and the federal agency promised to assist the state in rebuilding its workplace-safety program. The agreement set a three-year timetable for HIOSH to reclaim its role as the sole enforcement authority in Hawaii.

“One of my first and ongoing priorities in the department has been the restoration of HIOSH,” said Hawaii Department of Labor & Industrial Relations Director Dwight Takamine. “Much of that effort has involved staff recruitment for the division and continuously seeking advice and help from our federal partners. The return of the manufacturing sector to our jurisdiction recognizes that we are hitting those milestones necessary to re-establish meaningful safety and health regulation, although the work is not finished.”

The agreement stemmed from several years of HIOSH’s failing to meet required benchmarks after facing major budgetary and staffing cutbacks that affected its program significantly, according to OSHA. Thirty-two of 51 HIOSH positions were eliminated during the state’s 2009 layoffs. During the 2009 fiscal year, HIOSH completed only 426 of 835 intended inspections. The following year there were further staff reductions and cases that were not appropriately classified, OSHA reported in its annual state-plan-monitoring report.

HIOSH will resume its oversight of accommodations and food service by October 2014 and the remainder of general industry businesses by 2015 if the department continues to meet federal requirements.

Stronger inspection efforts are already under way, according to state labor department spokesman Bill Kunstman, who said the agency is on target to complete 500 workplace inspections this year.

Notably, a Honolulu refrigeration warehouse was fined $251,330 in August 2013 after federal and state investigators discovered 63 health and safety violations, including locked and sealed exit doors.

“Our goal is not only to restore the capacity we once had but to become even stronger and more effective than we have ever been,” Takamine said.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.

Related Articles:

Hawaii’s OSH Plan Status Suspended Until 2015, SHRM Online Safety & Security, October 2012

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