In 1990, workplace injury and illness rates in Maine were startlingly high. The number of injuries and illnesses exceeded the national average by 63 percent; the number of injuries resulting in lost work time exceeded the average by 71 percent. When the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) examined state workers' compensation data in an attempt to determine the causes for this imbalance, it discovered that enforcement policies were the same across the board: efforts were not targeted to those firms with the highest worker compensation claims. The area director of OSHA in Maine was determined to reduce escalating injury and illness claims, and in doing so, reorganized and re-energized the agency as a whole.
OSHA focused its efforts on the 200 Maine companies with the highest volume of worker injury claims. This Top 200 list included many of the state's most well-known firms, which employed nearly 127,000 workers at 1,245 locations across Maine. Although these firms represented only 1 percent of the state's employers, they employed 30 percent of the state workforce and accounted for 45 percent of workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. OSHA officials quickly realized, however, that in order to effect a rapid reduction in workplace hazards, they would have to develop new methods: it would take far too long were they to rely on traditional inspection methods. To address this problem, the Area Director--with input from the regional office, area office staff, and the national office--proposed the development of primary and secondary targeting lists.
OSHA offered each high-risk employer two options: The employer could choose either to work with OSHA and be granted a measure of control in its safety reforms, or it could work against OSHA and subject itself to lengthy and comprehensive inspections. Employers on the primary list--those who chose not to collaborate--would be slated for immediate and comprehensive inspections. Employers on the secondary list, however, would be allowed to conduct their own surveys of workplace hazards and draw up action plans that outline the steps they would take to correct these hazards over a 12-month period. They would also be required to file quarterly progress reports with OSHA, with the understanding that they might be subject to a random inspection. Employers who failed to fulfill these obligations at any time would be moved to the primary targeting list.
Since the program was formally established in 1993, it has proven to be a great success. In the eight years before the establishment of the Top 200 list, OSHA had discovered only 37,000 hazards at 1,316 work sites. In the first two years after the establishment of the program, however, OSHA was able to identify 174,331 workplace hazards and, with the help of employers, to correct 118,671. More than half of the employers saw reductions in lost work time, injury, and illness.
By not treating employers in a uniformly adversarial manner, the Top 200 Program has allowed OSHA to identify and take advantage of cooperative firms and to concentrate its resources and manpower on uncooperative firms. Furthermore, the program has been able to encourage even greater cooperation, as most firms are eager to avoid large-scale and long-term inspection processes: in fact, nearly all firms on the Top 200 list choose to work with OSHA. As a result, OSHA is more efficient and more effective, able to concentrate its resources and capitalize on the specialized skills and knowledge at each firm. The program also allows OSHA to focus on proactive measures and real results as opposed to reactive activities. OSHA officials no longer seek to maximize the number of inspections, citations, and fines, but rather to minimize hazards, injuries, and illnesses, and provide a strong model for future regulatory reform.