Wednesday, January 21, 2009

IH Inspections

The OSHA Underground blog had another interesting post today, in part by "CSHO Annie," who did an evaluation of IH inspections by IHs within the agency. The evaluation certainly wouldn't meet the rigors of a scientific study considering the factual errors, like the implication that there are 8 IHs in the Boise Area office (there are, I think, 3, the whole office only has 10 compliance officers) or Region 3's hiring of two ADs from southern regions (the AD in Charleston spent a short time in Mobile, before that he was in Boise, and the AD in Baltimore/Washington was previously in Wilkes Barre and before that in, *gasp* the National Office), or the implication that the NO didn't know about the decline (Rich Fairfax, the head of the Directorate of Enforcement Programs, has been pointing this out for several years now).

On the surface, Annie's analysis is condemning, however, it's also very incomplete. What she never takes into account is the fact that over half of our inspections are based on complaints or referrals. Experience suggests that few complaints/referrals are health related, they are mostly safety complaints. If she were to run the numbers based strictly on programmed inspections, I think it would show a significantly different story.

The other thing she never considers is that maybe, just maybe, after all of this time we are beginning to have a positive impact on health related issues in the workplace in this country. Maybe.

My frustration is, again, where and how THEY try to place the blame. I'm not going to defend the Bush version of OSHA, nor am I going to say that reinvention was the greatest thing since sliced bread, however, this trend began to show up before the Bush administration and before reinvention.

What I do read into her story, however, is that she is an old school IH who isn't comfortable doing safety inspections and wants to go back to the days when IHs did only IH inspections and safeties did only safety inspections. As an IH, I hate the old school ways (even though I'm old and lived through them). Give me some variety, give me some job enrichment, I want to do some safety inspections damnit!

[It's also kind of interesting to note that the OSHA Underground keeps harping on the agency for not doing enough crane or dust inspections (both safety inspections) and then they publish a post that says IH's are doing too many? Hmmm, hypocrisy is a wonderful thing isn't it?]

Then, of course Kane had to add is two warped-sense (that wasn't a misspelling, it was a play on words, think about it).

When IH's are averaging over 50 inspections, WE know the numbers are more important.” Really? “WE are hardly doing full shift sampling anymore.”

It's time for me to hazard a guess that Kane isn't an IH and has never conducted an IH inspection. If he was and IH/CSHO he would know that less than 10% of all of the samples we take show an overexposure (and probably less than 5% of the sites where we sample have overexposures). This number has fluctuated slightly over the last 35+ years, but only slightly. As an IH who has conducted IH inspections and has sampled, I can tell you it would be a tremendous waste of time to do full shift sampling on at least 80% of the sites we do sample. Why? Because most of the IH inspections we do aren't about showing overexposures, they are about just the opposite, showing there aren't airborne levels high enough to cite or cause health effect.

I remember a referral I did at a video rental store. A physician had a patient who showed signs of overexposures to carbon monoxide so he contacted us. Lucky me, I go to spend the afternoon (actually it turned out to be less than 2 hours) in a video store conducting interviews and taking measurements, all the while the real cause of the employees exposure went unchecked (as most people out there who know anything about CO might have guessed, it was a problem with the employees furnace). Should I have done the opening conference in the afternoon, then contacted the lab to send me the gas sampling bags so I could do full shift sampling two days later? I hope you said NO! Full shift sampling should be the exception, not the norm.

It has become very rare for us to have a good, old fashioned IH mystery any more. Why? Because most industries and processes have been pretty well profiled by now. That doesn't mean something like food flavoring won't show up now and then, but it does mean that any IH who has been around more that 5 years already knows what to look for, and the good ones will know almost every time whether or not there is an overexposure before the results are even back. In other words, experience counts.

WE want a return to a safety and an IH module in each office.” God save us from this. Most, but not all, of the IH CSHOs I know (and I know a lot) hate this idea, even the old timers.

OSHA purposely hides it health sampling results so that it is not accessible to the public or its staff. Are workers exposed to diacetyl more than 3 years ago? They can't tell.” Really? I'm on the staff and I know where to get these numbers. Certainly the stats aren't right at everyones finger tips, but that has more to do with that antique we call the Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) than any attempt to hide the information. I've worked on the IMIS redesign, once the new system is up and gets integrated into the lab's system, that information should be easily available to anyone. Until then, I know where to look, it's just too bad Kane hasn't bothered to ask.

(note: this entry was edited on 3/6/09, the quotes from Kane were bolded, no other changes were made)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

In the beginning...

This should be an interesting experiment. Woodrow Wilson once said "I have always been among those who believed that the greatest freedom of speech was the greatest safety, because if a man is a fool, the best thing to do is to encourage him to advertise the fact by speaking." It is time to see if I am a fool.

The purpose of this blog is to allow me to vent some of my frustration with what Kane at OSHA Underground sometimes says.

Before I do that, however, I would like to first encourage everyone to read that blog, it has a lot of good information and some good commentary. And yes, even Kane usually provides good information and occasionally provides insightful commentary.

Having said that, however, WE do have problems with how shrill Kane often sounds. WE have noticed that he is usually critical, but rarely offers alternatives. Reasoned criticism followed by rational solutions or alternatives is great, and very welcome. But HE doesn't do that, HE simply complains.

Does our agency have issues? Damned right WE do. Have WE suffered under the Bush administration? Absolutely. But, as they say, if you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem, and WE haven't seen Kane offer many solutions.

Let's start with a recent posting on the SST program. On the blog Kane says, "WE did about over 10000 of these long inspections because it was Foulke's idea."

Wow, where to begin with this one. First, in all of Foulke's time with the agency WE didn't do 10,000 SST inspections. In fiscal year 07 WE did about 2060 SST inspections (that extrapolates to about 5,000 during Foulke’s tenure). Second, this program didn't start under Foulke, it wasn't his idea, it started under the Clinton administration, specifically under Charles Jeffress. Anyone remember the CCP program and before that Maine 200? The DC Circuit Court overturned the CCP, hence the SST was born. From April 1999 through April 2000, WE did about 2450 SST inspections. Notice the anything? WE are actually doing fewer SST inspections now than WE were then!

Kane goes on to say "
WE cannot show it had any effect on the safety of the companies WE inspected." Well, yes and no. Direct evidence? There's not much out there and what there is, isn't easy to get to (there are some inspection sites that end up on the list year-after-year, so if WE had an adequate data system WE could compare a company's performance over time). Anecdotally, WE think that most companies on the list do make progress over time. Beyond that, there are the BLS numbers (which many question, but that's for another rant) and the fact that WE simply don't see the huge injury rates that WE used to. Remember the days when WE would go to a site and see LWDII rates of 80 or 100 or more? Those used to be common, not so any more. And WE are not talking about self reported rates, WE are talking about CSHO evaluated rates.

Is the SST having an impact? Yes, it is. Could it be more or bigger? Probably. It would be helpful if some smart people out there could identify better methods of targeting, but WE have what WE have.

"WE saw ergo constantly show up on the 300 logs. Yet we have no standards." Has he not heard of the Congressional Review Act? The duly elected members of Congress, in early 2001 determined that WE should not have an ergonomics standard. Do WE agree with that? Nope, nor do any of my friends within the agency, or for that matter, my friends outside of the agency. But whether or not WE agree with it is irrelevant, the people have spoken (which doesn’t mean, of course, that they can’t change their minds, hint, hint Congress).

“WE don't even get the data to measure the results. It is "not important" as some key players said.” WE desperately want to know who those “key players” are and where they’re quoted as saying it’s “not important.” As with many things he say, WE think Kane is inferring things, instead of having hard facts.

“Eventually smarter CSHO's just cited a couple items and ran to the next inspection.” Hmmm. WE have dozens of friends who are CSHOs and know hundreds more. All of the smart ones WE know actually believe in what they do and do their jobs to the best of their ability. Now, there are some lazy CSHOs out there, and they will often only worry about getting their three citations per inspection before moving on and once in awhile you may even find a CSHO who has retired in place who does the same thing. But act like Kane suggests? No, most CSHOs aren’t like that.

WE don’t know where Kane, if he’s in a Regional Office or the National Office, he’s getting a very distorted view of a CSHO’s world. If he’s in an Area Office, he’s in a really crappy one.

Finally, many of the people I know who read the OSHA Underground blog despise the use of the royal WE, and the implication that Kane speaks for all CSHOs. Quite simply, Kane’s views rarely reflect the majority of the CSHOs, and for him to imply that he does is arrogant presumption.