Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Worst Job: OSHA Alliances and the Washington Post

There must be no Purgatory more stressful than writing a column called "The Regulators" during the Bush administration. Due to the low level of regulatory activity, one is forced to write about creatures like OSHA Alliances, where
The Bush administration has stressed cooperation over confrontation and has tried to help companies comply with rules rather than play "gotcha" after an infringement.
In fact, it's gotten so bad, that Washington Post columnist Cindy Skrzicki is forced to interview me (probably because it's my birthday):
Critics say the efforts replace rulemaking and divert resources from enforcement.

"There is no substance to alliances. They have taken the place of standards and making rules," Jordan Barab , former OSHA special assistant who runs a blog on OSHA-related health and safety issues.
Unfortunately, those 16 words are the only part of the entire article that's critical of OSHA's Alliances. So, allow me to expand a bit here:
  1. There's nothing wrong with OSHA helping out regulated industries with technical assistance or even websites. But it's clear from OSHA's action and rhetoric, that these Alliances and other voluntary activities have become the essence of what they want OSHA to be: an advisory, rather than a regulatory body. Voluntary activities have been part of OSHA since the early 1980's, but if you take a look at current OSHA press releases, they've now become most of what the agency chooses to boast about (as opposed to rising fatality rates).

  2. There's nothing wrong with cooperative activities, but it is clear that Alliances have taken the place of rulemaking: witness the number of ergonomics-related alliances, or the reactive chemicals alliance, created as a response to the US Chemical Safety Board's request to modify the Process Safety Management Standard.

  3. It's not just "critics" that say that OSHA's voluntary activities (not just alliances, but also partnerships and Voluntary Protection Program), it's the US. Government Accountability Office that says that the voluntary activities are extremely resource intensive and if they exapnad at the rate that OSHA has planned, cannot help but cut into the enforcement budget.

  4. OSHA's Alliances almost never include labor unions, even in highly unionized industries, guaranteeing that they will miss out on the best and most knowledgeable resource: their workers.

  5. Finally, as I asked the other day, is it really a good use of OSHA's resources to be making alliances with itself?

More later. Gotta run.


OSHA Alliances: Meaningless Media or Bureaucratic Incest?, March 8, 2004