Monday, March 30, 2009

Poll Question

I've extended the deadline for the poll question on the right, please encourage your friends and colleagues to vote, I'm especially hoping CSHOs will vote, maybe someone in DC will notice the results.

Injury and Illness Data - Redux

I just can't let this go. On March 9th I posted my thoughts on injury and illness data. On March 10th I got this comment:
"Did you drink the Kool Aid too? I suggest you check out a previous Pump Handle post on this subject and review the statistical analysis published in the technical literature:

I suppose she (Chao)and those at OSHA who drank the Kool-Aid choose to ignore the empirical evidence that suggests that this substantial decline “corresponds directly with changes in OSHA recordkeeping rules.” [Friedman & Forst, 2007]"
Very little pisses me off more than someone accusing me of "drinking the Kool-Aid" on a topic I probably know more about than the commenter. One thing that does piss me off almost as much, are academics who blindly accept another academics work without a critical reading (he says while not so discretely pointing at The Pump Handle). So I read the Friedman & Forst article, and boy did he make one big mistake.

Dr. Friedman's basic argument is that changes to the OSHA Recodkeeping rule have been responsible for an artificial drop in the injury and illness rates, and he cites rule changes in 1995 and 2002 (kind of). So let's look at the 2002 rule change, which Dr. Friedman says is really a 2001 change. (I'm going to set aside the 1995 change since it deals with how the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) collects the data and I don't work for BLS.) In the 5th paragraph Dr. Friedman says:
"Then in 2002, a new OSHA recordkeeping rule was adopted. Although the rule change for OSHA recordkeeping took effect in January 2002, the mandated annual reporting of occupational injuries and illnesses by employers occurs between February and April. Therefore, 2001 injuries and illnesses are recordable under the new 2002 rule. The new regulation dramatically changed which casualties were deemed 'recordable,' and in most cases a more exclusive definition was implemented."
And every CSHO out there is asking: "What the hell is he talking about?" You see, Dr. Friedman demonstrated in that one paragraph that, when he wrote the article, he lacked a fundamental understanding of how the OSHA recordkeeping standard actually works. Let me explain.

At 12:00 midnight, on January 1, 2001, every company that was required to maintain injury/illness logs, should have taken out a brand new, unused OSHA Form 200 (aka OSHA 200 Log). As injuries occurred throughout the year, the employer was required to add the information about the injuries to the OSHA 200 Log, and then update lost/restricted days as the information became available.

At 12:00 midnight, on January 1, 2002, every company that was required to maintain injury/illness logs, should have taken out a brand new, unused OSHA Form 300, notice OSHA 300 Log, and begun the recording process all over for 2002 injuries, but under the new regulation. The employer then had the month of January to finalize the OSHA 200 Log, per the old regulation, for posting in the workplace for the month of February. It is true that the data collection also begins in February, but data collected in 2002 for the 2001 calendar year was recorded under the old recordkeeping rule, not the new one!

Dr. Friedman's entire article is based partially on the assumption that the injuries/illnesses that occurred in 2001 were recorded under the 2002 rule, and therefore there was a significant drop of 12% from 2001 to 2003 (5.7 to 5.0 cases per 100 employees), or about 6% per year. But all Dr. Friedman really has is a drop of less than 6% from 2002 to 2003, and we all know that two data points don't make a good trend. Let's look at the rates for the last 14 years:

Now that we've had some more time under the new recordkeeping rule, let's compare changes under the two versions of the rule. The drop from 2002 to 2007 was 24.5%, the drop from 1996 to 2001 was 22.0%. Not a real big difference. So my question becomes: Do changes to our recordkeeping standard really cause artificial drops in injury and illness rates? The answer: No. Think about it, our current standard hasn't changed since 2002, yet the rates are still dropping. Employers are supposed to be following the same requirements today as they were in 2002, so how can the standard change from 2001 to 2002 still be effecting the rate drops today (the latest data is from 2007)? It makes no sense! Are companies colluding to under report? I doubt it, but even if they were, that is violating the regulation, it isn't a problem with the recordkeeping standard itself.

I could accept an argument that the change made an impact in the rate drop from 2001 (the last year under the old standard) and 2002 (the first year under the new standard), maybe. But the drop from 2006 (4.4) to 2007 (4.0) is the same value drop, and higher percentage drop, than the 2001-2002 (5.7 to 5.3) drop.

I said it in my March 9th post and I'll say it here again: the BLS data is not completely accurate, especially when it comes to recording days lost, but there are real drops in the injury rates. Instead of blaming the standard, let's try to look at what is causing the rate drop. It annoys me to no end that people insist that there has to be only one explanation for the drop. The first step in examining the drop is to accept the premise that it is unlikely that any one factor is causing it, sometimes Occam's Razor doesn't apply.

This is from Dennis Barker, USW Local 1899, Safety and Health Chairman:
"My opinion of why the injury rates have fallen is not because of workplaces being safer I think the main reasons are, 1. The loss of over three million manufacturing jobs since 2000, service type jobs are less hazardous 2. Incentive programs where prizes or money is awarded to employees for not reporting injuries. 3. Dis-incentive programs where discipline or time off is given to employees after every accident or injury.

One term we use for these incentive and dis-incentive programs is the "Bloody Pocket Syndrome" Which means an employee would rather stick his bloody hand in his pocket until they get home and then do their own first aid rather than reporting a work related injury."
Dr. Friedman hinted at several other factors, the reduction in big OSHA cases (most of the recordkeeping egregious cases were in the late 80's and early 90's), fewer CSHOs (1300 in 1990 to 1100 in 2003), and the shift to non-manufacturing sectors. He dismissed the influence of these factors, but I think mistakenly.

When people discuss the service industry as less hazardous, what they often do is dismiss health care. Let's compare health care to manufacturing:

I am not an epidemiologist, I don't play one on TV and I did not sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but here are just a few ideas that need to be explored, with thanks to Dennis and Dr. Friedman (even if his participation was unwitting):
  1. The shift of jobs to other industries (note: when a manufacturer down sizes, it is usually the least experienced employees who are released, and we've all seen the studies on the lack of experience versus injury rate).
  2. Incentive/disincentive programs.
  3. Lack of significant recordkeeping cases.
  4. Loss of compliance staff.
  5. Increase in the number of safety and health professionals
  6. Internet access (I can tell you that many employers absolutely do not like to call OSHA for information, but they might access the website, which, if the rumor I heard was true, gets almost 1,000,000 hits per month).
These are only a few off the top of my head, help me out, leave your suggestions under the comments so I can create the list.

Just remember, when we look at these factors, the whole is the sum of all of its parts.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ergonomics - Redux

There was an anonymous comment on the last Ergonomics post that I want to bring out. The commenter said:
"I disagree. I don’t see “substantially similar” meaning no ergonomic standard. What I do see is that OSHA can have ergonomic standards written for specific industry sectors. The national standard was a one size fits all standard and would have been cumbersome for everyone to have to comply with it. If the standards were limited to industries with high rates of ergonomic related injuries the science would be there and injuries and illnesses could actually be substantially reduced.

Under Chao’s 4 pronged approach to ergonomics “research” has already given OSHA 4 industry sectors to start with, Shipyards, Poultry Processing, Retail Grocery Store and Nursing Homes. OSHA should start there.

The new standard would also have to be scaled back a little from the original in that the first one reached too far when it controlled the pay of injured workers. This is clearly not OSHA’s business and should be left to the workers compensation program of the state the injured employee works."
First, a correction, the law uses the phrase "substantially the same," I misquoted the law and I apologize for that.

Obviously the commenter and I disagree on what substantially the same means, but it doesn't really matter because unless the commenter is a highly placed lawyer in DOL, neither of us is going to get to decide what it really means.

I do agree with the commenter that industry specific standards would be much stronger standards, it would allow us to be more specific on things like controls. I also agree that the research has provided us with the industries to start with (in fact the National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics (NACE) provided OSHA a list of 19 industries).

Having said that, I disagree that industry specific standards are the way to go. For crying-out-loud, it took 10 years to get the first ergonomic standard out. Even if we could cut the promulgation time from 10 years down to 5 it would still take almost 100 years to get all of those standards out. This is the same problem we have with updating the PEL tables, too many to do individually.

Yes, the original standard was fatally flawed, not just the job protection provisions, which sent every workers comp carrier in the country into a tizzy, but the trigger levels. Imagine a site with 1,200 office workers and 2 hurt their back moving a desk. Now the company has to put in a whole program? That makes no sense to me.

I'll go back to my earlier position in support of Kane, the best way to address ergonomics (and a lot of other hazards as well) is a comprehensive safety and health program.

Monday, March 23, 2009


The OSHA Underground posted a short article on ergonomics today, I just want to comment on the article, I'm not going to get into the whole issue of ergonomics today (maybe later). Kane posted the California Ergonomic standard (it's very short) and asked if that was so hard to adopt into law, and the short answer is: Yes, it is.

First, Congress rescinded our ergonomic standard under the Congressional Review Act (the only time in history that Act has been used, by the way). The CRAct also prohibits us from promulgating a "substantially similar standard" and most people I've talked to think that the term "substantially similar standard" probably means anything that regulates ergonomics.

Second, as a CSHO, I don't want California's standard, it looks to me like a nightmare to try to enforce. How do you decide if an injury is at least 51% work related, especially in older workers? I'm all for performance standards, but this one is too vague for me.

As for blaming this on Foulke, sorry, blame our lawyers. I know a couple of people who have worked on ergo cases and the reason no one is doing them has nothing to do with Foulke and everything to do with how much work one of these cases takes. Look at the timeline, anyone remember the "triage" document? It preceded our current case development procedures, it was a pain in the ass, and it was put into place under the Clinton administration. The current case development procedures are rewrites of the triage document, but the rewrites began under Clinton and finished (kind of) before Henshaw (maybe June of 2002?). Foulke had nothing to do with it.

As for the solution, Kane is right, we desperately need one and it should be a comprehensive safety and health standard, but I think Congress needs to act to rescind their rescission, not so we can promulgate an ergonomic standard, but so we can promulgate a S&H standard without risking losing part of it in court. I suppose we can make the argument that a comprehensive safety and health standard is not substantially similar to our old ergonomic standard, but it seems to me that becomes a risky fight and the cost of failure is too high.

Will Congress act? I'm optimistic they will, between Secretary Solis and Assistant Secretary (OASAM) Kerr (see previous post) we have a strong pro-worker leadership building. If the Assistant Secretary (OSHA) is any one with half as much gumption, we could see the beginnings next year (sorry, too many other things on their plates for this year I think).

Friday, March 20, 2009

One Step Closer...

The Pump Handle today posted the nomination of M. Patricia Smith as Solicitor of Labor, along with a few observations on Ms. Smith's career. I'm intrigued, there is a chance here to see a significant change in the way we handle cases. For the first time in several years I feel that old spark of optimism, it's not a flame yet, but it is back.

What the Pump Handle didn't mention was the nomination of T. Michael Kerr as head of OASAM (Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management). This nomination is intriguing to me not because OASAM is hugely important to occupational safety and health, it's really not, but because of Mr. Kerr's background. It is surprising to me that the White House was willing to nominate a union official to the position of Assistant Secretary. I'm not unhappy with the choice, just surprised. The confirmation might get very interesting.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Little House Keeping - Coverage of Public Employees Part 2

I have a couple of comments I want to bring out to clarify something. An anonymous commenter wrote:

"IL protected its public workers since 1987 under the IDOL. It is misleading to say they were not protected. I am sure many states are similar."

That comment was responded to by another anonymous commenter who had previously commented:

"Didn't say they weren't protected. Just said the program is not funded under a 23(g) grant. Several States with Federal enforcement in the private sector, including Oklahoma and Illinois, provide excellent public sector enforcement with 100% State funds. If Congress amends the OSHA Act to include coverage of public sector employees in States where Federal OSHA currently provides private sector enforcement, I agree with the comment above that we shall see many new applications for 23(g) public sector only State Plans. HOWEVER, the 50% Federal share money would have to be appropriated to the State Plans line item to fund them. It all depends on how Congress words the legislation. It will be fascinating to watch if/how it all evolves."

The first commenter was correct, I didn't make the argument as clear as I should have, I am not (and I believe this to be true for the second commenter as well) disparaging the Illinois program in any way, I simply don't know enough about it. My concern is getting consistency across the country, and the only way I see that happening is by OSHA oversight of the state run public sector S&H programs. The second commenter gives us a path to that, amend the OSH Act, have OSHA fund 50% of the state's program, give us oversight of the program. But I'll say it again, while I think covering public sector employees is important, I just don't see it happening. I hope I'm wrong.

Combustable Dust Institute

CSHOs, why not get involved! John Astad at the Combustible Dust Institute is looking for a CSHO with some experience conducting combustible dust inspections to write a post on how we conduct those inspections. I could take a stab at it but I haven't done a dust inspection in a few years, which obviously means I haven't done one under the current NEP. You can do this anonymously if you like, but since we aren't revealing any secrets just providing information, an enterprising CSHO or CAS out there might be able to do this as outreach and get some credit for it (you should probably run it by your AD first). Contact John at

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Little House Keeping - Coverage of Public Employees

Wow, 11 comments, people are actually read this? If I'm not careful this may become like work, yikes. I want to first point out that my original post dealt with Federal OSHA inspecting state/county/municipal workers, not having the states do it, that's a slightly different argument.

Having said that, please, read the comments, they are very good, thoughtful comments. Michael Wood (the administrator of Oregon OSHA) correctly pointed out that we do have in place a mechanism for coverage of public employees in state-plan-states (SPS). A few other people pointed out that we have states like NY, NJ, CT and soon IL which have chosen to have SPS-like coverage of public employees, although no one mentioned the Virgin Islands, which also has public sector coverage. These programs are monitored by OSHA pretty much like any SPS.

So, lets count it up, we have 54 "states" (50 states plus the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Guam and Puerto Rico). There are 22 SPS and 4 states with public sector coverage. This leaves us with 28 states (soon to be 27) with public sector employees not covered by an OSHA monitored program (thanks to the anonymous commenter who gave us the list of those states). It's important to note that some of these states do inspect some aspects of public employee S&H, but it's hit and miss and not monitored.

Keeping in mind that the 4(5) SPS-like programs all came to OSHA asking to be part of the program, we didn't approach them, the question now becomes, can we get those unprotected employees covered under OSHA regulations by state enforcement, and if so how?

My contention is that we will never see universal public sector coverage for the very reason I mentioned in the original post: there " the lack of political will to make it happen. No state, county, or municipal government is going to willingly let the federal government tell it what to do with its own people. Keep in mind the members of Congress are part of their state's political machinery and they listen to the local politicians." That road block hasn't changed, regardless of who does the enforcement.

If anyone has any ideas on how we can get over, under, around or through this road block, let us all know and maybe we can start a movement. I certainly believe that the city worker in Canton, Ohio deserves the same protections as the steel workers in Dallas, or the health care worker in Boston.

A Little House Keeping - Diacetyl

First, thanks Cindy for posting the regulatory text to the ANPR withdrawal, I didn't even think about doing that. For those who want to see the full reg text just click on the comments below the post on Diacetyl.

Second, to the anonymous commenter who said "Popcorn makers have taken diacetyl out of popcorn which protects popcorn workers and (more important for popcorn makers) consumers. Diacetyl is used in a number of other food product, however, and those workers are still at risk."

My response is, maybe. One of the factors in developing popcorn lung seems to be that all of the exposures so far have included heating of the food flavoring. Outside of popcorn manufacturing this isn't as common. If a link is found, the flavorings manufacturers will take diacetyl out of all flavoring long before we could produce a standard.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

OSHA Coverage of Public Employees

The OSHA Underground posted a short article on a Chemical Safety Board (CSB) recommendation that OSHA cover all public employees, not just federal employees. While I agree with this in principle, I'm willing to bet dollars-to-donuts that it will never happen.

The first obstacle to local government coverage by OSHA is the lack of political will to make it happen. No state, county, or municipal government is going to willingly let the federal government tell it what to do with its own people. Keep in mind the members of Congress are part of their state's political machinery and they listen to the local politicians.

Second, what is the enforcement going to look like? Is it going to be like federal agency enforcement, where there are only theoretical penalties and the only time anything changes is when there's a press release and the Secretary of the department gets called before Congress, or on military bases the commanding officer gets reprimanded or removed? Even that doesn't always work, just ask the fire fighters who work for the US Forest Service. Or do we change the system and actually make the agencies pay the penalty?

The third problem is where do we stop? Are we going to tackle violence to police officers? Are we going to cover the local judiciary or legislature when we don't even cover our own?

The fourth problem is that these agencies have the same issues we have, we don't set our own budgets and have no way of increasing revenue to compensate for the financial loss. Do we risk layoffs or depriving employees safety and health training because we've just ruined the budget? Certainly large metro areas won't have trouble with penalties, but don't forget that there are a lot more small towns out there than there are big cities.

The fifth problem is that we would have to have a dispute resolution system in place, which could mean simply rolling it into our current ALJ system, or it could mean something totally different.

And those are just the problems I've been able to identify, what about those I haven't foreseen?

As much as local government employees need protection, I just don't see it in my working life time.


Both The Pump Handle and OSHA Underground had short posts today on our withdrawal of the ANPR (Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) for diacetyl. Neither really came out and said if this was a good thing or a bad thing, but I think it's a good thing.

First, NIOSH has been unable to state with absolutely conviction that bronchiolitis obliterans (popcorn lung) is caused by diacetyl. The evidence is certainly leading us that way, but what if the evidence is misleading? What if it's a different chemical? What if we're dealing with a true synergistic effect and diacetyl acts more like a catalyst and there is no safe level for diacetyl (food flavoring are such complex chemical mixtures that I think this is a very real possibility)? Remember that OSHA does not have the statutory authority to ban the use of any chemical, which means we have to set an exposure limit, but at what level, when we're not even sure what chemical is causing the problem, much less what a safe level is?

Second, from what I've heard (I do not have confirmation of this), the flavoring manufacturers have begun to remove diacetyl from their products. How much sense does it make to promulgate a standard if no one is exposed any more?

The problem we're left with is what do we do now, after all people are still being exposed to the hazard. If the manufactures do remove diacetyl from flavorings then the problem takes care of itself. If FDA gets involved and bans diacetyl from flavoring, the problem takes care of itself.

In the interim we have the National Emphasis Program on flavorings, which is the only solution I see short term. But what happens if neither the industry nor FDA act and remove diacetyl? I guess we're back to rulemaking and hoping that the science better defines the problem. Not very satisfying I know, but what else can we do?

Monday, March 16, 2009

What is a FACE program?

An anonymous commenter asked: "What is a FACE program?" FACE is Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation program. Check the link to read about the program.


This is another good comment posted anonymously that deserves some thought and discussion, and I need to thank the author for taking the time to write it. Even though I agree almost word-for-word with the commenter, in a later post I'll explain why, unfortunately, it can't work.

[To answer commenter John's question, within OSHA, SOL means Solicitor of Labor (it never even occurred to me that it could mean Secretary of Labor, we just say "The Secretary").]

"As much as I have reservations asking for legal help, I do believe the following suggestions would greatly enhance enforcement process at the field level.

That is, staff Area Offices with SOL attorneys for the purpose of assisting CSHOs with inspection activities and case file preparation. Foremost, the attorneys must serve their client and not the other way around. This could reduce friction between OSHA / SOL and generate much better case file documentation. Most importantly, pro-active SOL participation at the inspection level will signal to employers that the “game” is over and that OSHA means business.

Currently, many companies know that SOL will not go to trial and, as such, they play this point to the max ... in order to get the citations dropped. I have even seen folks bragging on the blogs about this strategy. Astute “lawyering strategies” from employers' counsel must be countered by better field SOL and Area Office cooperation. This is critical to uphold worker protection actions. Working together will help CSHOs get investigation facts through the subpoena process while at the same time using our attorney’s to reduce opposing counsels’ interference. How many times have you heard an employer demand to sit in on employee interviews? The opposing counsel bullying will be reduced with up-front SOL support.

I have asked for engineering and SOL support during major investigation efforts in the past and, due to resource constraints or ignorance, received no assistance from the region – that is, until it was time to critique the investigation facts after the closing conference. You know the story thereafter … Adequate resources, such as SOL and engineering support, must be readily available at each Area Office. Some regions do not have these important engineering resources and if they do, Area Directors are hesitant to give them up do to their own office goals.

In terms of Agency growth, let’s consider strengthening what we have rather than running out and simply hiring more to do the same that gets thrown back in the Area Offices’ face by the Region and SOL. With a well-thought-out approach, the Agency may even consider measuring itself by the outcome of the inspection (after settlement), rather than simply by the citations that are proposed. We all know that the Agency’s real effectiveness is the outcome of the investigation. The evaluation of OSHA’s effectiveness needs improvement and should eventually monitor the post-inspection injury/illness improvements after OSHA activities. Until then, it would help to measure the final outcomes of inspections in terms of settlement results instead of what citations are proposed … due to the disparity of the two sets of data."

More on Illnesses

J left a comment on illnesses that I wanted to make sure everyone sees:

"A little insight from a state fortunate enough to get substantial funding from NIOSH to run a FACE program and from BLS to run CFOI: we essentially don't count illnesses. Acute exposures like carbon monoxide we count; toxic inhalations that lead to organ failure months later we try to count; but cancers we don’t touch for the census, not even mesothelioma or other probable asbestos. We see the lists of past employers in the comp claims from those families seeking benefits. It is depressing to imagine what exposures must have been like decades ago. We do try to confirm cardiac deaths that started at work or outright occurred at work, but they are just filed."

Friday, March 13, 2009

Workplace Illnesses

I want address the fourth anonymous commenter from yesterday, the person who asked about illness fatalities. The questions were: "Have you seen the 55,000 number, is it verifiable, and if it's true how come it's not news?"

The answer to the first part of the question is yes, I have seen the statistic of 55,000 deaths from injuries/illnesses for last year. The break out is approximately 5,000 deaths from injuries and 50,000 deaths from illnesses.

The answer to the second part of your question is that it depends on how you define verifiable. I don't mean to sound like a bureaucrat (which I am) or a lawyer (which, thankfully, I am not), but the deaths from illnesses are not physically counted, they are statistically estimates by physicians and epidemiologists (unlike injuries which are based on reports of fatalities with some extrapolation). For as long as I've been in safety and health there has always been a 1:10 relationship between fatalities from injuries and fatalities from illnesses. I've never read anything on the actual method used to derive the number, so I don't know if it's a relationship that's been around so long that it is assumed to be correct or if it has been more recently validated. If someone who reads this knows more please feel free to post the information as a comment or e-mail me and I'll make sure to bring it out. I consider it a verified and reasonable estimate because it is scientifically derived (I believe that most of the safety and health profession will agree with me on that).

As for why it isn't news, that is the 64 Dollar Question, and I think the answer is complex. I suspect it is partially that it is so difficult to prove that these illness came from the workplace. CDC estimates that 20,000 people die each year from cancer brought on by exposure to chemicals at work. But cancer typically has a very long latency period, so how do we (everyone, not just OSHA) show that a particular cancer was contracted because of the workplace? It's easier if you can identify clusters, just looks what's happening with asbestos in Libby, Montana, but without those clusters it becomes difficult.

I also think that deaths from illnesses aren't very spectacular to anyone but family and friends (I know how cold that sounds, but believe me it isn't meant it to be). We see news clips and articles all the time about trenches collapsing and the local fire department attempting to rescue the trapped worker, or chemical plants blowing up and endangering the surrounding area, or crane collapsing and blocking traffic for hours. But we rarely see articles on deaths from illnesses because those deaths are more intimate, the people die in a hospital or a hospice or at home, often slowly, where there are no cameras.

I think it's also part of human nature to want to fix the things we see and not focus as much on those we can't. I can walk into a place of business and see the guards are off the machines, that's easy for me to see and cite. It's easy for the employer to correct. But when I walk into a hospital and see a sterilization machine that is supposed to be a closed system, I may not pick up on the ethylene oxide leak and the employer may not have the maintenance program in place to catch the problem.

I also think physicians have a part in this. My doctor has never asked me for my work history. How can a disease be linked to the workplace if the treating physician doesn't know anything about the patients workplace?

There are probably other factors I have even though of (I would love to hear more ideas).

What does this mean? To me it means that we, as an agency, need to do a better job of targeting illnesses. How? Now that is a good question, and I'll throw out some ideas in a later post in the hopes of stimulation a conversation and some new ideas.

More CSHOs

The OSHA Underground posted an entry on our new budget, and while I don't disagree with anything they said, I do want to throw out a cautionary note: those 100 new CSHOs aren't going to hit the ground running. Brand new CSHOs typically get attached to a senior CSHO's hip for about a year as they learn the job, then it takes anywhere from 2-4 more years for them to get good at their jobs (there's just so much to learn). The year of attachment, of course, can also slow the senior CSHO down. Keeping in mind that optimistically the new CSHOs will get hired beginning in August at the earliest, and the jobs won't be filled until the end of the year at the earliest, we're looking at the end of next year before any of the newbies are doing inspections on their own. Also keep in mind that we are going to be loosing many senior CSHOs in that time to retirement, which depletes the training pool. No, I don't think we're going to see any impact by those new CSHOs until 2011 and no significant impact until 2012-13.

Hopefully, next year we'll be able to hire even more, because even the 100 aren't enough.


To Tom the commenter: Read OSHA Underground's blog post on the John Prouty Construction significant case, then convince me that someone isn't getting paid by labor. This is exactly how paid bloggers work, they are master spinmeisters, they take fact and turn in on its head to support their position. Let me spell this out very simply SECRETARY SOLIS DIDN'T HAVE SHIT TO DO WITH THIS CASE!!! I'm not bashing the Secretary in any way, I am in fact looking forward to seeing what she can help us accomplish, but the credit for this case rests with the CSHO in Omaha who brought this case, and every other career professional along the line who helped, not Secretary Solis or any one on her staff. These are the kinds of statements that the OSHA Underground occasionally posts that make me wonder if any of them have ever actually worked for OSHA. It is really unfortunate because much of what they post is good stuff but it sometimes gets lost in these kinds of untruths.

By the way, the internal dynamic at OSHA hasn't change one little bit, it can't change until we have an Assistant Secretary and some direction. Is there more hope and optimism? I think so, there seems to be around me anyway, but no internal dynamics have changed.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I Love This Stuff!

Yes, I really do love this stuff, one anonymous commenter says that injury rates aren't real and are contrivances of unions, the next one says I drank the Kool-Aid for trusting my own observations. This is fun.

First, Dilligas, the examples of high dollar citations for recordkeeping were from 10 years ago, I haven't seen any in the last several years. Second, in the last 15 months (since 1/1/08) I found 6 inspections with safety and health penalties >$500,000: GS Robins, $1.2M, A-1 Excavating, $700K, Broadway Concrete, $877K, Imperial Sugar x 2, $5.06M and $3.72M, RPI Coating, $845K. There are also several in the $300-499K range. Is that not enough inspections with high penalties? Too many? That's another debate isn't it?

To the first Anonymous commenter: It sounds like you and are thinking along the same lines, but you also bring up a good point which I didn't discuss: The reason for the drop in rates is probably very complex, and to say that OSHA changing our recordkeeping standard is the cause is almost child like in its simplicity.

To the second Anonymous commenter: You're wrong.

To the third Anonymous commenter: Just because I don't automatically agree with everything that is published by an academic who may never have done actual field work, especially when my personal experience says they are wrong, doesn't mean I "drank the Kool-Aid." Why couldn't the drop have been because of September 11th? I think an argument can be made that after the attacks employers had an almost hyper-awareness of what was going on at their facilities, which may include an awareness of safety & health. I am NOT saying this is true, I have no idea if it is or isn't, my point is that a change to our recordkeeping standard is unlikely to be the lone influence on any changes in incidence rates. Just remember there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.

To the fourth Anonymous commenter: Excellent points and a good next topic, I'll try to post something tomorrow (I have several thoughts on illnesses and OSHA).

Monday, March 9, 2009

About Those Injury/Illness Numbers

Anyone who thinks the BLS injury and illness data are accurate, please let me know, so I can mock and ridicule you. Every one of us who have ever reviewed OSHA 300 logs (or OSHA 200 logs for us old farts) knows that there are all kinds of mistakes on the logs. Note that I said mistakes, not intentional omissions.

We all know the big cases, Landis Plastics ($640k worth in 1997) and Saw Pipes ($536k worth in 2001) to name but two, yet in over 20 years with the agency I have never found a company that intentionally left injuries off their 200/300 logs. Does that mean that companies don't hide injuries? Obviously not, in fact I think my situation is a bizarre statistical oddity. Conversely, I've never found a company that filled out their logs error free either. Kind of an interesting dichotomy, no?

In all of the inspections where I have done a detailed review of the injury/illness records, by far the most common mistake is misreporting the number days lost/restricted. Once in awhile, maybe once every 15 inspections or so, I might find an injury that wasn't recorded, but never intentionally (at least as far as I could prove). I've also probably found as many instances of over-recording as under-recording. Those of you who have found cases of underreporting, how many times have you found over-reporting? Track it some time and see if it doesn't come close to balancing out.

What am I suggesting? I guess I'm saying is that, while I think the lost/restricted days data is probably way under reported and not very reliable, the incidence rates are probably reasonably close. Why is this distinction so important, you may ask? Because much of our targeting is based on incidence rates and usually when we look at trends, we almost always look at incidence rate trends, not lost time trends.

As hard as it may be for some people to swallow, I think the drop in injury and ergonomic rates that Foulke, et. al., reported is probably real.

A Couple of Quick Points

I encourage everyone to read the comments that people are leaving, some of them are thought provoking (YES!! That's what I want). I want to address a couple of them now.

To Blame the Victim: You obviously missed the point, I wasn't suggesting any course of action in regards to Whitmore, I even admitted up front I don't know much about the case. My point was that things are said that the agency can't, or won't, defend against. [I will note, however, the article you provided states that Whitmore was suspended BEFORE he "blew the whistle," and in fact he didn't blow the whistle, he filed a hostile workplace complaint, again, after he was suspended. As a trained investigator, I find that... suspicious.]

To Tom: It's my blog and I'll cry if I want to, or sling mud. Remember, I am not a news agency, I can, and just might, say whatever I want. Having said that, you made a good point and I'll spend some time thinking about it, but no promises.

To Kane: I don't live to criticize you, I live to bring balance to the argument. That I get to do this while criticizing someone (you in this case) just makes it fun.

[Post edited 3:10 pm 3/9/09 - Corrected spelling in title]

{3/9/09 - 3:10 - Loved the first comment for this post!}

Monday, March 2, 2009

Recently a friend e-mailed me a news item in the Washington Post about a man named Bob Whitmore. The article was a discussion of how Whitmore, an OSHA employee, has been on administrative leave for over a year while OSHA does nothing about it. I'm not going to discuss the specifics of the case (because I'm not familiar with it), instead it raises an interesting and often frustrating conundrum that we all have to deal with from time to time: not being able to defend the agency against criticism. I'm not talking about the appointed people sitting in front of Congress mealy mouthing platitudes, I'm talking about those of us who are career people getting caught in the political crossfire and having to shoulder the brunt of public anger.

I mentioned in a previous post why it takes so long for us to promulgate a new standard, but nobody from OSHA will ever say so publicly. Why? Because we work for the President and he gets to decide what direction our agency takes. That's the system, we are simply not an independent agency like the SEC. Is it frustrating sometimes? It sure is.

In Whitmore's case he filed a whistle blower complaint against the agency, which, I think rightfully, precludes OSHA from saying anything. It wouldn't be fair to publicly say Whitmore did this or said that when doing so could potentially bias a judge in the case who might read the article, and it is simply is not right for management to discuss personnel issues publicly. The problem is, from what I've heard from people who work with him, Whitmore is a bully, an ass, and a lunatic. But OSHA can't say that.

So how do we deal with this? We remember that ours is a just cause, that we are helping others, and that we will be here for a long time.