Sunday, September 11, 2005

Charlie Norwood: Still A Nutcase After All These Years

I often ridicule Congressman Charlie Norwood (R-GA) for coining the notion that OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard "outlawed the tooth fairy." Sometimes I'd feel a bit bad about it because anyone can say dumb things and, through the miracle of the web (and politically photographic memories like mine), those fateful words can haunt you until the end of time (and beyond).

But it turns out that not only does Norwood not regret those words, he's still saying the same dumb things in an article that just appeared this week:
As a private-practice dentist for 25 years before coming to Congress, I know firsthand just how ridiculous the regulatory excesses of OSHA can become.

In 1991, dentists across America discovered that OSHA had “outlawed the tooth fairy.” In a fit of regulatory zeal to combat the spread of AIDS and other communicable diseases through blood-borne pathogens, the rule-writers at OSHA had determined to make it a violation to allow any item that had been in contact with bodily fluids to leave a medical facility except in a biohazards container.

So the old tradition of dentists pulling stubborn baby teeth and giving them to the children in little plastic boxes to put under their pillows for the tooth fairy was suddenly in violation of federal law. OSHA later argued that it didn’t mean to include baby teeth in the banned materials list, after it made a stink in the press. But if you’re a private-practice dentist who risks paying fines running in the thousands for even minor OSHA violations, you are forced to take the most stringent view of any OSHA dictate.

Incidents such as the tooth-fairy nightmare are among the events that inspired me to sell my practice and run for Congress in 1994. I don’t know of any other member who initially ran for the House on a platform of OSHA reform, but that is just how strongly I felt about it.
Actually, OSHA doesn't have any jurisdiction over public exposures, and never has. A dentist could actually drench a poor innocent child with contaminated blood and OSHA couldn't touch him. (The regular law would fry his ass.) And if you really want to, you can still take home your appendix, tonsils, and gall bladder as far as OSHA is concerned. And it has nothing whatsoever to do with the stink he made in the press. Norwood knows this. He always has (or at least would have if he had bothered to ask a question.)

And speaking of stink, this little anecdote appears in an article Norwood has written in The Hill defending the OSHA-weakening bills his committee passed out of the House of Representatives in July. Norwood, who was first elected in the 1994 "Contract On America" election, chairs the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protection. His bills, as you may recall, would force OSHA to pay all legal expenses of cases it lost against small businesses, stack the OSHA Review Commission with more Republican appointees, weaken OSHA's regulatory interpretation authority and give more power to the OSHA Review Commission, and give employers extra time to file appeals to penalties in case their dog ate the citation.

Norwood justifies his bills to help out small business because:
OSHA enforcement overreaches certainly are damaging to any size business but deadly for small businesses. Small businesses can’t afford compliance managers, full-time safety personnel and in-house attorneys that big businesses use to keep overzealous OSHA agents at bay.
Actually, companies that hire compliance managers and full-time safety personnel generally don't go to that expense to avoid OSHA citations, but because they have a sincere concern for the safety of their employees (or have been forced to be concerned by their union.) The others are generally waging that they'll never be inspected -- a pretty good bet these days.

These "small business" bills would be much more far-reaching than they sound. Businesses with 100 or fewer employees make up 97.7 percent of all private sector establishments and the have a higher rate of fatal occupational injury than do establishments with 100 or more workers.

And is this the example of a poor small business hounded by "overzealous OSHA agents?"
Septic firm fined $4,700 in 2 deaths

Penalty levied in June Lexington County incident

Staff Writer

Lucas Septic Co. owes $4,700 in fines after state safety investigators ruled the company could have prevented the June deaths of two untrained workers who entered a septic tank.

The father of one of the workers called the fine “pitiful” and said his son’s death was uncalled for.

The June 29 accident killed Lucas employees Duane Howell, 29,and Verno Huggins, 58. Howell died in the tank after inhaling methane gas fumes. Huggins suffered a heart attack while trying to rescue Howell and died a week later at Lexington Medical Center.
This is a company that was in blatant non-compliance with OSHA's Confined Space standard. Lucas didn't train its employees to test air quality, didn't have a written training program, didn't have a permit system for confined space entry and from the description in the article, violated just about every paragraph of the confined space standard, a standard they certainly should have been familiar with considering that they do "septic" work, or at least that's what their name says. In my book, that means several willful citations, which means fines up to $70,000 each and the possibility of a criminal prosecution. Whoever decided on the $4,700 penalty ought to resign in shame.

But Charlie Norwood, whose state of Georgia, by the way, saw a 16% increase in occupational fatalities from 2003-2004, would like to give them longer than 15 days to file an appeal if they lose the paperwork, and for OSHA to refund their attorney's expenses in case some ignorant judge throws the case out over some technicality.

Norwood says that "OSHA enforcement overreaches certainly are ...deadly for small businesses." In reality, Norwood's bills will be deadly for small business employees.