Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Washington Post Covers OSHA Director's Speeches Ridiculing Dumb Workers

Washington Post business columnist Cindy Skrzycki covers the growing scandal at OSHA where Assistant Secretary Ed Foulke showed a bunch of photos showing workers doing some of the dumbest things you've ever seen, contrasting them with a bunch of cute "even-kids-know-better" drawings. (OK, maybe it's more of a flap than a scandal.) The story was first covered in Confined Space earlier this month.

Skrzycki hits the "killing workers is not funny" angle:
In a year when families lost loved ones in multiple mining accidents and at a BP refinery in Ohio Texas, the labor community interpreted the remarks as a slam at workers, blaming them for stupid mistakes on the job. Overall, there were close to 6,000 fatalities in 2004, the latest year available, plus 4.3 million injuries and illnesses.
And then she goes to the source:
It wasn't long before the remarks were being discussed on a widely read blog that covers labor-management issues called Confined Space.

"OSHA Director Ed Foulke Blames Workplace Carnage on Dumb Employees," read the headline, written by Jordan Barab, a former OSHA and union official.

"It's a bad tone to set when you're dealing with people dying in the workplace," said Barab, whose blog includes a weekly toll of worker fatalities. "It's, 'Look at all these stupid workers. Even the kids aren't that stupid,' " he said. "The implication is workers do stupid things."
Or, as I said in my original piece, not only do the photos imply that workers do stupid things, but they miss the main point: "What do photos represent? Workers too dumb to live, or managers too cheap to purchase or rent lifts or cranes?"

Although the article goes on to quote the AFL-CIO's Bill Kojola and the Steelworkers Mike Wright, it misses quoting the real victims of Foulke's speech: the family members of those killed on the job. For example, after reading Foulke's speech, Tammy Miser, whose brother was killed in a dust explosion in 2004 wrote this:
My first thoughts when reading "Adults Do The Darnedest Things" was what my son would have went through if this project was presented to him. He has had a tough enough time dealing with his uncle's death, let along having to draw pictures or feel his uncle was to blame for his horrendous death.
Finally, of course, Skrzycki gives the other side it's say as well (one must be evenhanded, after all). Foulke responded that he wasn't trying to offend anyone (which isn't the point -- his (mis)understanding of why accidents happen is the point.)

The association that was co-sponsoring the event also chimes in
"You had to be there for the whole thing," said Diane Hurns, spokeswoman for the ASSE. "The focus was on the kids. I don't think there was an effort to embarrass workers."
Uh, right, "I guess you had to be there...." Now where have I heard that phrase before?

And if the focus was on the kids in this speech, what was Foulke's excuse for repeating essentially the same speech a week later to a group composed solely of grown-ups?

Because he doesn't get it.

I stand my my original statement. The speech
displayed a shockingly profound lack of understanding of some of the most fundamental principles of workplace safety, combined with an astonishing insensitivity to the tragic losses that thousands of American families face each year.
One more thing. Skrzcki goes to the origin of Foulke's understanding of workplace "accidents" -- his union-busting background (also first covered in Confined Space):
When he left the [Occupational Safety and Health Review]commission, Foulke joined Jackson Lewis LLP, a South Carolina law firm, as a partner. The firm is known as a tough union buster and is advertising on its Web site a $595 seminar on "How to Stay Union Free."