Friday, May 15, 2009

Is OSHA a Paper Tiger?

Is OSHA a Paper Tiger? I received two different comments with two different perspectives on that very question:
"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."
And the counter:
"Having worked for OSHA for more than thirty years, I frequently wondered how much impact the agency had/has on positively affecting worker health and safety on a day to day basis.

In my life after OSHA (working both in consulting and industry). I can tell you that the mere presence of the agency, and the negative connotations associated with and OSHA enforcement action, broadly drives a tremendous amount of safety improvement. Yes, no one wants to hurt people; but often that isn't enough motivation to do the things that need to be done."
Those were followed up with this:
"There are plenty of companies out there that protect their workers far better than the Agency protects us. How ironic --not to mention pathetic-- is that...?"
People need to get a little perspective. First, anyone who thinks OSHA is just a paper tiger is an idiot. Second, anyone who thinks OSHA makes a huge impact, is an idiot. The statement from the first commenter "OSHA's creation and existence has no effect at all. None." is just plain wrong, there have been enough studies that show both injury and fatality rates declined at a greater rate after the creation of the agency. I'm certainly not going to suggest that we are the great cure to the countries safety and health woes, but we are having an impact.

The third comment is the one that frustrates me the most. Get this though your heads people OSHA IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR WORKPLACE SAFETY AND HEALTH! Employers are. That's right, we have chosen, as a country, to make employers responsible for their employees safety and health. How could we possibly be expected to inspect over 7.5 million job sites, with only 1,000 CSHOs? Read the OSHA Act of 1970, specifically:

SEC. 5. Duties
(a) Each employer --

(1) shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;

(2) shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.

The Duty to Protect employees falls squarely on the shoulder of business, not OSHA. OSHA's responsibility is to promulgate standards and ensure that employers follow those standards.

This does not mean that OSHA has been perfect in carrying out our duties, clearly we have had/continue to have, issues. All you have to do is read earlier posts of this blog or the OSHA Underground blog to see that those of us who work for the agency have our frustrations with the way things are done. For that matter, future posts will probably be dedicated to the frustrations we all feel about how the Agency operates.

Finally, this comment:
"When was the last time a CSHO got a hearing test as part of "standard operating procedure" so to speak for surveillance?????"
CSHOs are supposed to get an annual physical, which includes a hearing test. If you're a CSHO and haven't been getting a hearing test as part of your annual physical, you need to tell your AD and the appropriate ARA. If they refuse to do anything, get in touch with the Medical Officer in the national office and let them know what's going on. You should be getting this test.


  1. 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.

  2. Welcome back Abel. Glad to see that you have reassumed your duty station here.

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  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. "I didn't mean to imply OSHA's useless. Just too small for its task"