Thursday, April 2, 2009

Defending the Interview

I received a few of comments on the interview which I would like to share and rebut.
"Kane and me."
OK, I'm not an English major, so sue me.
"Great job except for one thing. Joe Dear? Please. What he did was a knee jerk reaction to a hostile congress. Roll-out or as its been called Roll-over was a joke and has left a bad taste in the mouths of many. A putrid taste we still experience daily. I'm still a Scannel fan."
I liked Scannel too. I also realize that quite a few of the people who worked directly with him found Joe Dear to be a horses ass, and I certainly understand the downside to what he forced on us, but with the FIRM did he or did he not cause the inspection process to be simplified (especially the documentation)? Did he or did he not ensure that all CSHOs had video cameras and PCs (in some offices laptops)? Personally I like the response/strat teams, I think the old safety vs health was far less effective and at times too much us versus them. I like that the team leaders/AADs had to go out on inspections occasionally, instead of sitting in their office eating donuts all day (I just wish the ADs did too).

You can argue that most of these things would have happened with or without Dear, and it's a legitimate argument, but the fact is it happened under Dear. If nothing else, he shook us up, made us think outside of the box (see next comment).

I love this next comment, it's only tangentially related to safety and health, but I enjoy philosophical debates.
"Well, I've apparently been in OSHA longer than both of you(almost since OSHA started) and I was extremely unimpressed with your answers. I heard classic bureaucratic answers, more regulations, more staff, more money, more more more, etc. i.e. more government is the solution to everything. Neither of you can think outside the box. Thousands of years of civilized earth history prove than more government creates more problems than it solves. I say again "More government creates more problems than it solves!". The workplace can be made much safer! But not with more government unless you want a Police State. So I guess both of you are slow learners too or fail to study history. Granted, you cannot be flexible working inside the confines of a bureaucracy but then that is why OSHA will be worse if it gets bigger as both of you wish. But then one cannot teach an old dog new tricks as they say. By the way I have managed successful businesses over the years and money is not a problem. By creative thinking outside the box, I have made more money in ouside investments than what OSHA gave me. But steady government money can be addictive when compared to the real world of boom and bust finances. I still hang around to watch the "dumb and dumber show" but not for too much more. After a while it ceases to be funny and is no longer entertaining. But then both of your blogs are great! Carry on! Carry on!"
Yes, let's make government smaller and deregulate! After all it's worked so well with the banking industry, AIG, Enron and MCI. No, wait... I know, the weak government in Afghanistan is a success right? No, I guess not. Iraq? I'm sure there was no ethnic cleansing in Bosnia by Serbs, after all no one would take advantage of a weak government would they?

What history shows is not that big governments fail in their missions, it shows that oppressive governments and governments that do not evolve are destined to fail. The United Kingdom was formed over 300 years ago under the Acts of Union 1701, and they have done just fine, despite having a very large bureaucracy. England itself was formed in 927, yes, nine-hundred-twenty-seven, is their government a failure?

Look at our own history, does anyone remember studying the robber barons of the late 1800s, men who exploited everyone around them with no government regulation? Read The Hawks Nest Incident by Dr. Martin Cherniack, how Union Carbide was able to ignore "government regulators" and ended up killing as many as 1,000 workers.

On one level, government is a balance between protection and civil liberties. Where that balance lies is the real question, a government can be large as long it is not allowed to become oppressive. Do we, as a country, want a large OSHA? That's a whole different debate, and I would certainly expect a business owner like our commenter to say no.

First, ask yourself this: Can big government ever be good? Now consider this, the Department of Agriculture has inspectors in every meat packing plant in the country, how often is meat recalled? The answer is rarely, and when it is, it's almost always because the company knew about the problem but still made the conscious choice of money over public health. The USDA does not have food inspectors in every non-meat food processing plant, ever hear of Peanut Corporation of America?

Then there is the example of MSHA. Before WWII over 1,500 miners died every year, then came the Bureau of Mines, then came MSHA, now there are fewer than 70 miners killed every year (see the MSHA Fact Sheet), still too many, but what an improvement. The difference? MSHA inspects every mine at least twice per year, and some types more frequently.

Look at OSHA's own short history. In 1970 there were 17,500 work related fatalities, almost 40 years later that number is about 5,500. Still a lot, but getting better. Obviously OSHA can not claim to be the sole reason for the drop, but we've have certainly contributed.

I believe that the majority of companies out there try to do the right thing, but we're not here for those companies, we're here for the bottom 10% (10%? 20%? 30%? I don't know). Ask the families of the 5,500 people who die from work related injuries every year or the families of the 50,000 people who die from work related illnesses every year.

As another commenter said "Poster #4 should have provided his answers." You may have shared them during reinvention, but not all of us got a chance to hear them, so please provide us with wisdom O' Great One. And don't you dare spout the tired old "deregulate, smaller government, lower taxes" mantra of the US Chamber of Commerce, talk about thinking inside the box.


  1. So it's settled! You favor a "Police State". Remember Big Brother is watching you! (ala the novel "1984")Police states are not interested in answers, they are only interested in POWER! You sound an awful lot like an OSHA Manager to me! Or you will be one in the very near future!

  2. Great post. I hate people who bring problems, but offer no solutions.

  3. My father was a police officer for over 18 years. I would hate to live in a place without someone watching out for my safety.

  4. Good safety is good business. That's the bottom line. Good companies realize that; bad ones don't or don't give a shit. It's critical to distinguish between the two groups.

    OSHA is a paper tiger. What really gets executives' attention is insurance costs, bad press, and downtime from accidents.

    OSHA's had almost no impact on injury rates and none on fatality rates -- the trend lines of lower rates go all the way back to the 1930s, and if you look at that chart, OSHA's creation and existence has no effect at all. None.

    So what does OSHA do? Well, on a case by case basis, it may improve conditions at individual firms and identify/isolate the bad actors. That's a good thing.

    The EPA really made changes in our way of life in the U.S. OSHA, not so much. That's because environmental degradation involves exploiting the commons -- you get a business benefit, and if you don't do it, your competitor does. That's when the government needs to step in and say play nice.

    The stakes are different with safety. You may get a short-term benefit (very short-term) from bad safety practices, but crappy safety is really bad for business.

    What OSHA does, its social function, is provide businesses and safety directors with a plausible excuse for following safety programs and existing industry standards in case executives are getting short-sighted.

    So yes, hats off to the individual inspectors who save individual workers.

    One last thing -- slightly off topic. You mentioned that deregulation of banking is what caused the crisis. You're ignoring federal regulations that insisted bank's lend mortgages to risky people. It wasn't the fault of those regs entirely, but it had a big role.

    We don't need more or less regulation as an abstract principle -- how much depends on the nature of the regulation and frankly, the virtue of the people. Virtuous people don't need as many cops around.

    Regulation also tends to get taken over by the stakeholders, and sometimes businesses want a lot of regulation to make the market-entry costs high.

    In other words, it's all a lot more complicated than that.