Monday, May 18, 2009

Comment Follow-ups

There are some comments I want to follow-up on. First:
"Why would I report the lack of audiograms when the same people know I never had one in 5 years? Everyone who was in the field should be tested. The agency just does not want to eat the comp claims right now."
You do understand that the agency doesn't pay WC claims, right? That's been one of the biggest obstacles in getting federal agencies interested in workplace safety and health, the claims don't come out of operating budgets. You know what you need to do, tell your AD or RA or the agency's Medical Officer. If you won't do that, it's on you, so step up and take some responsibility for your own safety and health. Second:
"Welcome back Abel. Glad to see that you have reassumed your duty station here."
Thanks, but I never left it, we don't all get to work in an office every day. Next:
"And thanks for reminding us ALL that employers are responsible for safety and health in the workplace. Now, how about tackling the issue of small employers who are unable to pay OSHA penalties in these economic times. Or, in fact, larger employers who are in similiar circumstances. We're giving the auto industry so much money--do you think we might give employers a penalty break for a while. Not a break on making the workplace safe, just a break on the fines."
NO! Not just no, HELL NO! We only fine companies when they aren't doing the right thing (contrary to popular belief, most of us don't actually enjoy that part of the job). If a company isn't doing the right thing it deserves the penalties, regardless of the current economic times. Besides, if a company is running so close to the edge that our paltry fines impact their bottom line that much, they are doomed anyway. No, in the same way that we all have to pay the parking ticket regardless of our financial situation, companies have to be held accountable for worker safety and health even in hard times. And finally:
"Not an idiot. 7.5 million workplaces with 1,000 inspectors plus not responsible for worker safety and health adds up to the definition of a paper tiger. It's not like you're the EPA.

As far as impact of OSHA, if you point me to a study tracking back before OSHA was created that shows an increase in declining rates, I'll be happy to recant.

That doesn't mean OSHA is useless -- far from it. I see you folks more as the equivalent of that guy who sees one million starfishes on the beach, and throws one back. What are you doing? a friend asks. You'll never be able to throw them all back. And the guy says, yeah, but it makes a difference to this starfish.

That is, OSHA has an impact on specific companies, and that's worth doing. I didn't mean to imply OSHA's useless. Just too small for its task."
Ah, you're making a common mistake when it comes to OSHA's impact, you assume that the only impact we have is the direct impact from an inspection, but that's not the case. Think about it:
  • In today's workplaces, how many companies don't have a HAZCOM program and MSDSs? The answer is not many (percentage-wise). I'm not suggesting every company is diligent about their HAZCOM program or MSDS's, but they have something.
  • Most of the trenches I drive by today are sloped or have a trenchbox, it's a long way from 100% compliance, but it's a lot better than it was 20 years ago.
  • How many scaffolds do we inspect that aren't fully planked, or don't have mid- and top-rails? Certainly a few, but now we typically find that one or two mid-rails are missing, compared to 20 years ago when it was common to find a scaffold with no mid-rails. And other fall protection, especially harnesses, are very common today, even if the lanyard is worn and may not hold.
  • Find me a chemical plant that doesn't have a PSM program, including those we've never been to.
  • What about healthcare? Safer medical devices are now the norm, not the exception (and that in just 10 years), Hepatitis B vaccinations are almost universal in healthcare, most hospitals have removed latex gloves by now, and more nursing homes than not, now have modern resident lift assist devices (not the old Hoyer lifts, which were just a modified car mechanic's engine lift).
  • Check out the materials that were developed for the spray-on-bed-lining industry through the Alliance Regions V and VI had with the Center for the Polyurethanes Industry. Some of these efforts have lead the manufacturers to make process or equipment changes. Now convince me that materials like this that come from an industry association doesn't have an impact.
  • Speaking of manufacturers making changes, 30 years ago if you walked into the local home improvement store of your choice, how likely were you to find a guard on a table saw? Now I'm not sure you can buy a saw without one. And the next time you buy a can of paint, ask the seller for an MSDS, I'll bet they give you one.
  • Take recordkeeping, even with all of the discussion we've been having about hiding injuries on the logs, the fact is that most places don't hide injuries, and they have the logs!
Even if you buy the argument that industry is totally motivated by WC costs (which I don't buy), when the insurance companies make recommendations about what an employer should do, what standards do you suppose they point to? I'm not suggesting that all OSHA standards have had the impact they were meant to, but OSHA is unquestionably having an impact.

I'll leave this with one final thought on this topic (for now at least), if we're so totally ineffective, why do the US Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers (amongst others), work so hard to get rid of us?

As for the studies that show an increase in declining rates, that will have to wait (if it ever happens) I don't really have the time to go back through all of the journals to find them. If anyone knows of specific articles, forward them to me and I'll post them.

By the way, I agree that we, as an agency, are too small.


  1. Yeah, and according to Abel, government programs can leap over tall buildings in a single bound, go faster than a speeding bullet, and are more powerful than a locomotive. If the government ran everything, we would all be in nirvana. Funny, though in countries where the government does run everything(or nearly so) the country is usually a basketcase and everyone is dirt poor(but their job is really safe if they are lucky enough to have a job!)

  2. CSHOs getting full physicals including hearing tests? Sounds like some folks are living in dream land.

  3. Thanks Abel, many workers and their unions get health and safety problems dealt with because of the threatof calling OSHA. A friend working in healthcare around swineflu PTA only got N95 FF from her hospital because she said she call OSHA.

  4. The lack of audiograms are just like the Beryllium scandal. There is no one in the agency that wants to discuss the hearing loss in our own people.

  5. In relation to the first comment, when you don't want to argue the substance, then try making fun of it by exaggerating what was said. Abel didn't say government is perfect or that all good things come from government. There is a lot of room between "only government" and "no government" -- and that's where people in the real world live.

    But I suppose it's easier to set up a straw man of your own and then insult it. In our soundbite world, it can be effective. But it's still not a real argument. Abel gave some analysis about why he thinks OSHA has had an impact (although not as much as he'd like). And his analysis is wrong make fun of it?

  6. A dish of substance for you- watch most around you become "dirt poor"(i.e. falling living standards that have already started) as Obama expands government(OSHA included) and raises taxes. Is that enough substance for you? Otherwise you have a problem with reality and live in an alternate universe.

  7. Abel was responding at length to my anonymous question about OSHA's impact. I appreciate the thought Abel put into his response, and I'm mulling it over. I haven't commented again until now, so that weren't my incendiary bombs thrown above.

  8. Thanks Anarchist, that post has made me chuckle for two days now, although I’ll admit I’m a little surprised to find out you think of yourself as a liberal. You do think of yourself as liberal right? After all you said “Typical liberal trick is to mischaracterize your opposition and make fun of them.” and that exactly what you did FIRST when you said “Yeah, and according to Abel, government programs can leap over tall buildings in a single bound, go faster than a speeding bullet, and are more powerful than a locomotive. If the government ran everything, we would all be in nirvana.” I never said government was perfect, I said one small piece, OSHA, should be bigger (if OSHA was given 20 times its current budget we would still be less than 1% of the Federal budget). I never expressed an opinion about the rest of government, I may think the rest of the Dept. of Labor and the other Departments should be cut in half, you don’t know. So suggesting that I want the government to run everything is a mischaracterization, and how can implying that I believe government is equivalent to Superman be seen as anything but mockery? You fit your own two-part test for a liberal.

    As for your claim that I disagree with the Constitution, or that my facts aren’t straight, maybe you should read the Constitution first. The Constitution doesn’t limit government, it limits the powers that the Federal government may assume. The distinction? The government was not given the power to suppress speech, indeed it was specifically prohibited from doing any such thing, but the government was given the power to protect the public health. When the Constitution was written they had a different idea of what was important to public health, which at that time was centered on draining swamps (and that undertaking was huge relative to the size of the country and the government at the time). Once a power is granted to the government, the Constitution is silent on how the government accomplishes its mandate (in so far as doing so doesn’t violate another constitutional protections), including how big government can become to accomplish that mandate.

    To take the constitutional question a step farther, I hope you’re not suggesting that OSHA itself is unconstitutional, because you would have a hard time supporting that position. Once we accept that OSHA is constitutional, size does not matter (someday someone will believe me when I say that). The constitutional issues with OSHA typically revolve around the Fourth Amendment and the issue of “unreasonable search and seizure” and have nothing to do with how many CSHOs we have.

    As for your statement “Funny, though in countries where the government does run everything(or nearly so) the country is usually a basketcase and everyone is dirt poor...” maybe you should get your facts straight, instead of relying on assumptions. The size of government is usually measured as a percentage of the gross domestic production (GDP). In the United States, that percentage is about 40% for 2009 (this includes all government, federal, state and local) and in Europe it is about 47% (these figures can be found at Is Europe poor? Are they basket-cases? No (although some might argue that France is a basket-case, but that’s another discussion). Look at some of the poor countries, like Somalia, Afghanistan, or Columbia, countries with almost no central government control outside of the capital or the largest cities, and tell me again how rich they are.

    I’m OK with arguing that government should be smaller, but make it a discussion based on philosophy, not made up facts.

  9. Big government(including a bigger OSHA) is a form of legalized theft of its citizens. Big government promises much but delivers little, and it costs its citizens their economic fortunes, their freedoms and their lives. You can research till the cows come home and quote your beloved selective facts endlessly; but you cannot change that reality.

  10. Abel, I'm originally from Colombia (not "Columbia") and yes, although it is not a rich country, I wouldn't compare it with the same level of overall poverty like in Somalia or Afghanistan, or even social unrest. Our central government is strong and it is kicking ass against the FARC and the drug cartels. It has a strong economy within Latin America, the strongest democracy, and it happens to be the U.S.' best ally in the Americas Region.