Sunday, January 29, 2006

OSHA: The Good, the Bad and the Red Herrings

Meanwhile back on the anti-OSHA ideological frontlines...

The New York Times had an interesting article last week about Republican attempts -- led by Senator Mike Enzi (R-UT) and Congressman Charlie Norwood (R-GA) -- to "give small businesses more leeway in dealing with the regulations that [OSHA] inspectors enforce."

Interesting, because they actually drew from both sides. In the "OSHA as Gestapo" corner was a mysterious "Michigan-based manufacturer of metal components" who wouldn't reveal his identity because he feared "retaliation by a vindictive inspector."
He said his 20-year-old company had a clear safety record, with no recorded accidents.

Nevertheless, he said, an inspector cited him for not having an eye-wash station, which the inspector said was required to deal with any injuries from splashed battery acid. He said he disputed the need for a station, but paid the $2,000 fine, complaining that "the inspectors treat you like some kind of criminal."

A second violation, also for $2,000, involved a failure to display, in locations where workers could easily read them, required material safety data sheets detailing the hazards of materials used and giving clear first aid directions in the event of exposure to the hazards.

"We had a million working hours with only small incidents like cut fingers, stitches and a few chips in the eye," the factory owner complained. "Yet our good safety record means nothing. It comes down to picky, picky, picky."
Yeah, this is America, not some God damn police state where you're considered guilty just because you break the law if it didn't hurt anyone. I mean, it's not like anyone died or anything.
Gosh offisher, I know I've had jusht a leetle bit too mush to drink, and maybe I was driving jusht a leetle bit over the shpeed limit, but I have an exchellent driving record. Nope, never killed anyone. You'cn look it up. Picky, picky, picky.
And in the "safety enforcement makes sense corner," we have The Allman Electric Corporation of Fayetteville, N.C., which is
among a small group of companies that have hired their own safety directors to monitor workplace conditions — and to try to resolve amicably any problems that safety inspectors uncover.

"I've negotiated with them on three occasions," said Michael Dimare, the safety director at Allman, a commercial and residential electrical contractor. "Each time they gave us a chance to address the safety issues."

One citation came when one of the company's 75 workers failed to hook up his safety harness after being hoisted three stories up to change a bulb on an outside light fixture.

"The inspector took digital photographs," Mr. Dimare said. "So, when you are presented with an 8-by-10 glossy, what can you say?"

The company was able to negotiate the $20,000 fine for the safety violation down to $300 after it agreed to start, within 30 days, a program to train its workers about protecting themselves against falls.

"As long as you are professional and courteous, you can work it out," Mr. Dimare said. "Of course, you have to make sure there are no repeat violations."
The Times also quotes AFL-CIO Safety and Health Director, Peg Seminario who points out that OSHA inspectors
"only show up at small businesses when there is a fatality or a complaint."

Ms. Seminario said that based on 2004 figures, the average penalty was $955. "What OSHA really needs is more money for enforcement and stricter penalties," she added.
And one not so insigificant quibble: The article states that "Over all, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of workplace deaths decreased from 6,632 in 1994 to 5,703 in 2004." True enough, but the article fails to note that fatalities have gone up in each of the past two years.