How does an agency like OSHA measure success? Maybe the better question is: How should an agency like OSHA measure success?
This whole discussion is predicated on the idea that we must provide some measure of our efforts. Some people will make the argument that we should just do our jobs and not waste time measuring what we're doing, after all, the resources used to make those measurements could be used to do more inspections. While I am certainly sympathetic to that argument, I'm also enough of a pragmatist to recognize that Congress won't let us get away with that, nor should they I suppose. As someone who pays taxes I expect departments and agencies like EPA, or CDC, or DOE to justify their existence, and OSHA should be no different.
As long as we must provide some measure of our success, the question remains: How?
Historically we've used several measures, although everyone seems to fixate on the number of inspection we do every year. Personally, I've aways found inspection numbers amusing. Not necessarily a great measure of success, yet at the same time, not something to get too worked up about. We're all familiar with the end of the fiscal year ritual, towards the end of August the AD looks at the total inspection numbers for the office, sees that we're short, and he goes running around the office screaming "the sky is falling, the sky is falling." We, of course, then scatter like cockroaches when the light is turned on and start looking for construction sites. Some people refer to this as the "great lie," but here's the thing, we're inspecting a seasonal industry (at least in the northern states) that has some of the highest fatality and injury rates out there, at a time when they are at their greatest production. How is this a bad thing?
Local police departments will often use what are known as "saturation patrols" in areas where crime rates may have had a sudden spike. These police patrols don't necessarily produce a lot of arrests, but the increased presence has been shown to reduce crime in that area (at least temporarily). To me, the end of the year construction surge is, at the very least, a lot like saturation patrolling. Most construction companies aren't run by stupid people, and many, especially the bigger ones or those that have been around for awhile, have figured out our end of summer surge and are more conscientious about safety at that time of year. I ask again, how is this bad thing? Certainly it's unfortunate that they don't keep that level of awareness up all year, but even short term improvement is still improvement.
So should we get away from total inspection numbers? I wouldn't mind it and I'm sure there are ADs who would like too as well, but inspection numbers are easy for Congress to understand and the unions point to them all the time, so I don't see them going away.
What about using BLS data? It seems to me that this is a much better measure of success, after all our goal is to reduce fatalities/injuries/illnesses. But, as many people ave pointed out, the data is not necessarily accurate. If the data was accurate? The unions wouldn't want us using BLS numbers because that would suggest that business is making progress (regardless of whether or not you think OSHA had a hand in it or not), and then what would they rally against? Please don't construe this as anti-union, it's not (I'm in the union), but I do recognize that labor and management will use anything they can find against each other (sad as that may be to those of us caught in the middle).
The people at the OSHA Underground don't want us using inspection numbers, and the Pump Handle thinks the BLS data is worthless, so now what?
Keeping in mind that we MUST provide some sort of measurables, I ask you: How do we measure our success?