Friday, February 27, 2009

Today The Pump Handle (a great blog for public health issues that I highly recommend) had an interesting entry on the Bayer CropSciences plant explosion in Institute WV last year and Bayer's reticence in providing information to local emercency responders during the event. I mention the article because I believe this is the same site that was previously owned by Rhone Poulenc and in 1993 had a very similar accident that killed one employee and hospitalized another.

From what I understand, Rhone Poulenc was just as reticent as Bayer and I have to wonder if the fact that both are foreign owned companies has something to do with this. I'm not trying to be protectionist or suggest that all foreign based companies are like this, and it is possible, or maybe even likely, that something else is going on, after all I'm not there to see first hand, but I have to wonder.
Did you see the latest OSHA Underground post? In it Kane commented that the latest egregious case the agency issued was Secretary Solis coming out swinging. Wow, what a moronic thing to say. This case began last September, UNDER FOULKE! The new Secretary and her staff never even saw this case and, if they were briefed at all, it was after the citations were issued (the closing conference was Tuesday, February 17, Secretary Solis wasn't confirmed until very late on that day). This isn't the new administration flexing its muscles, it's the career people continuing to do what we always do.

This kind of crap from Kane makes me wonder who he is. Many of us have seen the news articles about companies or politicians who pay bloggers to write good things about them and bad things about the opposition, I wonder if Kane is getting paid to do just such a thing.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Secretary Solis

The Pump Handle is reporting that the Senate is scheduled to vote on Labor Secretary nominee Solis tomorrow, 2/16/09.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Clowns to the left of me...

My agency often gets criticized for how long it takes to publish a new standard, and there’s little doubt takes too long, but the criticism really is misdirected. I know how that sounds, like I’m defending the agency just because it’s my agency, but I’m not. There are many things to criticize within OSHA, and I’m a firm believer that constructive criticism can make a big difference in how the agency performs IF the criticism is justified. When it comes to how long it takes to promulgate a new standard, however, the criticism simply is not justified (what standards we choose to promulgate, now that’s a different discussion). In order to understand what I mean it is important to know the rules that an agency like OSHA operates under within the political crucible that is Washington, DC.

Rule 1: Never forget that Democrats and Republicans hate each other. I don’t mean individuals, as James Carville and Mary Matalin demonstrate, I mean the parties hate each other (since this is a blog about OSHA I won’t get into how dangerous that is for the long term survival of the country). What does is mean for OSHA? As the man said “Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right, here I am, Stuck in the middle with you. More than most agencies, and certainly disproportionately to our size, OSHA is a political lightening rod. And when the winds roar and the thunder crashes who gets hit by the lightening? Usually us career professionals, and we usually get hit right in the ass. It’s true that we are rarely the ones testifying on the Hill or getting called to the principal’s office (ie the Secretary’s office), but, when the dust settles, we’re the ones who have to do the work and respond to the criticisms. And that’s OK, we all know what our jobs entail and we’ve made a conscious decision to do them anyway. Most of us because we believe so strongly in what we do.

Rule 2: Our standard setting process is mostly set by the White House (through OMB) and various acts of Congress, with some influence from the courts. SBREFA (Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996), DQA (Data Quality Act, 2001) and the PRA (Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995) all add significant time to the rulemaking process (I think there are others as well). Interestingly enough, neither the White House nor Congress have to answer for this, OSHA does, usually in the form of the Secretary or Assistant Secretary testifying before a Congressional hearing.

Rule 3: Safety and Health policy in this country is not set by safety and health professionals, it’s set by attorneys with little or no understanding of safety and health. Did anyone notice that the last Assistant Secretary and both of his Deputy Assistant Secretaries were all lawyers?

What does this all mean for us at OSHA? Obviously that it takes years for the agency to promulgate a standard, which is, of course, exactly what Congress and the White House want. And, not only are we slowed down, it’s the ideal situation for the politicians on both sides. Think about it, they set the rules which slow us down, then they get to blame us for being slow. It’s a political exacta that can’t be beat.

Is it frustrating? Sure it is, but that’s OK because I remember my interview with William, in front of his wife and two small children, the day after he almost died in a trench collapse. It’s those two kids that keep me coming back.