Monday, July 12, 2010

Your Chance to Contribute

This is one of the comments from my previous post:
"The problem with the slow exchange of thoughts and ideas is just that, it's slow. I think most people would like a larger volume of subject matter at a faster pace with some bad ideas (and even some disrespectful material) versus a limited volume at a slower pace."

The commenter makes a fair point, the problem is I'm not willing to deregulate the comments, and I can't take time to write two or three times per week, so how about this, if you or someone you know wants to write an article on S&H or OSHA or something related, send it to me at and if it meets my high editorial standards (everyone should be laughing right now), I'll post it so we can have a discussion. Even if it's an article about why OSHA shouldn't exist, as long as you can bring a rational argument with evidence to back your position, I'll post it.

Any takers?


  1. Just some food for thought, Abel. First off, I do not frequent this site as much as I used to because "free speech" has been removed. It's cool though, it's your blog, you do with it as you see fit. With that being said, I don't see your "poll" being very effective. If there are more people out there like me, who simply are choosing not to visit the site anymore or less, then your poll is going to be extremely lopsided. fewer people reading due to the restrictions. the people that are in favor of your method of censorship are the ones that will see the poll and vote. the ones whom are not visiting the site, are not going to SEE the poll in order to vote therefore, an inaccurate, extremely subjective result will ensue. Just wanted to throw that out there to you... kind of a crappy way to make a point. You'll have your "numbers" but they will be inaccurate and incorrect. But i guess your used to that, working for OSHA and all.

  2. Tim is right. I am a middle of the road person. I used to post sometimes. I felt that some of the political trash went overboard, but overall, I thought it was a good debate when focused on the issues. I now have been labeled a troll. Abel even responded to my comments in the PAWA article, and then censored my response when I tried to explain that he was misinterpreting my views.

    I have quickly come to the realization that my point of view will not be posted, and when it is will not be understood or considered valid.

    Why participate. I will just take my ball and go home. Then wait for Abel or one of the other OSHA CSHO's to have a sherriff show up at my place of employment and arrest me.

    Interesting as I have always been a proactive safety professional, and have aided OSHA in many investigations.

    Also, another point, if the employer pleads the 5th and doesn't cooperate in the investigation, how many OSHA cases will fail. My experience is that in many complex equipment cases, OSHA doesn't know the products or the rules of safe operation.

  3. I've got an argument for you. The economy is still in the dumps. OSHA is touting the fact that they are increasing fines and gravity of offenses. Increased fines can ONLY help to slow the recovery of the economy. I would like to hear an argument that increased fines in a recession are a good thing. I think that if increasing safety is the objective but you are in a recession then increasing the financial burden of employers is probably not right piece of equipment for the job.

  4. Hello test 1234 is anybody there?

  5. Tim, I almost didn't publish your last comment, that last sentence shows the disrespect I'm tired of (it wasn't horrible, certainly not like calling me a liar, but it has a cumulative effect).

    As for your observation on the poll, your point is exactly right, but the purpose of the poll is to decide if I'm going to keep doing this or just shut it down, so I was curious as to how many people might still read it now that the Ministry of Information has taken over.

    Anon 1: You would have to tell me exactly what you wrote, then I could tell you why it was deleted, I may have made a mistake in deleting it (if so I apologize).

    As for employers pleading the 5th, I don't think that will be an issue, they can refuse now and they don't. Companies can plead the 5th when EPA investigates, but they don't very often. Even when the DOJ/FBI investigate people don't plead the 5th very often.

    Anon 2: The US has a 14 TRILLION dollar economy, the biggest year OSHA ever had in terms of penalties collected was 1994 (my data was only through 2007), when $94 million was collected. If we assume that OSHA will collect that high number again this year, that means that OSHA penalties will account for 0.0007% of the GDP this year.

    Think about how much we spend on a B-1b bomber, or how much BP has put aside for the oil spill. And here's one that will blow you away: the movie Avatar cost $280 MILLION to make. How does our $94 million spread out over almost 40,000 inspection stack up to any of that?

    The numbers are staggering, but OSHA penalties have no economic impact, at all. They can, but rarely do, have an impact on the company cited, but not on the overall economy. (By the way, OSHA penalties average somewhere between $2,000 - $3,000 per inspection, hardly a burden to most employers.)

    Anon 3: Yes. Some times.

  6. @Anon 2 and Abel
    If "OSHA penalties have no economic impact, at all." and "can, but rarely do, have an impact on the company cited" why propose tougher penalties? If the deterrent effect of penalties is not effective, then why escalate it further? The other argument is that the penalties have no economic impact....yet, which is why we need to raise penalties. This argument would bolster the orginal question that raising penalties in a slow economy is bad for recovery.

  7. Anon: "why propose tougher penalties?" So they DO have an impact on the company. It's a basic deterrence concept, increasing the pain decreases the probability that someone will break the law. Note that I said "decreases the probability," not "stops everyone from..."

    As for the economic impact, it still wouldn't matter, not with the kinds of numbers we're dealing with. If our penalties went up 10 times, we're then collecting less than $940 million, or 0.007% of the GDP. The Stimulus was $790 billion, how much impact has that had? (Please note, I am making not comment for or against the Stimulus, this not will become a debate on the Stimulus, it is merely an observation.)

    And keep in mind, the vast majority of companies will still pay <$5,000.

  8. I still don't get it. Low fines don't have a deterrent effect. Raising fines is the only way to accomplish this, by "increasing the pain".

    I understand the deterrent effect and why to do it. I am just saying that it isn't a good idea in a slow economy. It doesn't have a large effect on the overall economy, but raising penalties could have the potential of affecting the employment of hardworking people. Even if it is a small number of people, we need all the jobs we can get right now.

    All of that being said, we should be focusing on solutions for companies who repeatedly violate Safety and Health Regs. Maybe it is a good idea for a topic. Different solutions rather than leavying fines and punishing the companies which in turn punishes the hardworking people that we are trying to protect is where we should focus attention.

    One idea is if there is an iminent danger, repeat, or willfull violation...the company must abate before being able to continue production. Any minor or serious violations could go through the standard abatement process minus the fine. Then reinspection could potentiall escalate the minor or serious into willfull or repeat.

    Companies' focus should be on fixing the issues, instead of fighting the fines. I work at a VPP facility and we love it when others come in and find stuff so we can fix it. Our facility has gone through 4 VPP audits and has had 1 imminent danger found during those audits; we shut it down and had it fixed within the hour, which is the way it should be. The other minor items pointed out get taken care of ASAP as well, and we absolutely maintain focus on those items so they don't turn up again.

  9. Anon: In my post on PAWA I stated that if I knew a company would fix a problem, I'm OK with a $1 penalty, and to go along with that, if every company were like yours, we wouldn't need OSHA. OSHA isn't here for the VPP's of the world, we're here for the BP's of the world. Read this piece on McWane Corporation and ask yourself if this is how people should have to work:

    I'm a believer in the theory of Gaussian distribution when it comes to safety & health, for every 100 good companies there are 100 bad companies and thousands of "average" companies. Big OSHA penalties won't impact the good or average companies because there won't be big citations against those companies, it's the bottom few that we're trying to change.

    To me the thing that nullifies almost all arguments against bigger penalties is this: For any business out there that is not doing it right, there is a competitor that is doing it right.

    Consider this: "Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.), formerly a small-business owner, said the OSHA reforms would level the playing field to prevent “outlier” businesses from gaining competitive advantage by scrimping on worker safety. The changes, Wu said, are “good for just about every legitimate business that’s trying to do the right thing.”"


    Yes Wu is a Democrat, and since he is from Oregon he is probably a liberal, but that doesn't mean he's wrong.

    I envy you working at a VPP site, and I very much enjoy doing VPP audits just because sometimes it's nice to work with companies that are going all out to do it right, instead of always chasing the bad actors.

  10. Abel, using the GDP to dwarf fines in the argument that was proposed above is a Red Herring. Your argument only proves that OSHA fines are small as a percentage of GDP and I'm still not sure what the GDP has to do with OSHA fines at all??? (I thought OSHA fines are supposed to promote safety not economic output)

    Anyways, OSHA fines ARE a cost to businesses. An increase in those fines IS an increase in the cost of doing business. This does NOT promote employment.

    Also, I noticed that the average fine of <$5,000 was important to you. I think this is irrelevant without discussion also of the average size or holdings of the companies that are being fined. $5,000 might not be much to Wal-Mart (who by the way is spending MILLIONS to fight that amount as we speak) but what about the multitudes of mom n' pop operations.

    In short, your rebuttal seems a little flimsy.

    Also, even if parts of your argument about the effectiveness holds water I still don't see why OSHA would go out of it's way to publicize a sense of pride in the increase during such an economic hardship. There are a number of things that could be "increased" for effectiveness at this juncture but that just aren't prudent given the circumstances.

  11. Anon: The point with the fines vs the GDP is to show that OSHA penalties have no real economic impact to the country, and certainly no significant impact on jobs. The penalties just aren't big enough.

    I know of no specific case where OSHA penalties have caused any company to cut jobs (that doesn't mean it hasn't happened, it just means I'm not familiar with any cases). But I do know of cases where the penalties forced companies to change their S&H practices, which, to their chagrin, actually saved them money (increased efficiency and lower workers-comp costs) and allowed them to expand their business.

    Admittedly, if our penalties did cause a company to cut jobs or even close down we would be unlikely to hear about it, whereas when a company realizes cost savings they may very well let us know about it.

    The classic examples of this are nursing homes. Back in the day we used to cite nursing homes for ergonomics all the time, and talk about dire predictions, claims that we were putting them out of business, forcing lay offs, etc. But alas, those prediction never came true, most nursing homes saw a return on investment of less than 12 months, and big time gains over several years. I've actually seen "no lift" programs used as recruiting tools.

    Again, I'm suggesting that you look at the big picture and the minimal impact.

    As for $5,000 being important to me, it's really not, it's meant to show that overall our penalties don't hurt much. It might be true that $5,000 is a lot to a small business, but if it is I would argue that business is doomed any way. But those small employers almost never see a penalty as large as $5,000. Small companies get a 60% discount for size and usually 10% for history, so they start off with a 70% discount.

    Think about this, for every company that has a 100k penalty, a whole bunch need to have no penalty.

    The thing that really gets to me is that every company out there should know they have the responsibility to protect their employees, so why don’t they? If a company wants to do the right thing, there are resources out there to help them, especially small employers. To argue that the penalties are too big when they haven’t been doing what they’re supposed to just rings hollow in my ears.

  12. Poll: 68 No 67 Yes Hmmmmm, decision time!

  13. Easy decision, after all I'm not Brett Favre. The poll was intended to see if anyone was ready, I now know they are so the answer is yes.

  14. Here's an argument. I think that we could all agree (and I say "all" with some trepidation) that resolving the hazard is far more important than paying a fine. SO....why not devise a plan to FORCE the company to expend the resources to force the issue. Having said that, what is the argument for taking resources from the company that could be spent on resolving the issue instead of forcing them to spend the resources on fixing the problem. I see higher fines and repeat violations as a red flag that OSHA is failing at enforcing the SAFE ENVIRONMENT they claim as their mission. It may say other things about the businesses too but that doesn't excuse OSHA's short-comings.

  15. Anon: I absolutely agree, correcting the hazard is what's most important, and taking resources away may even have an impact on a company's ability to abate the hazard (let's be clear, we're not talking about 1 missing MSDS, we're talking serious stuff). But here's what I struggle with: Why didn't the company identify and correct the hazard before we got there?

    There isn't a trenching company in the US that doesn't know they need to shore or slope. Every company that uses scaffolds knows full decking, mid-rail and top-rail. Any company that deals with lead or asbestos knows.

    So why do they continue to ignore the regulations?

    There was a time when we would cut penalties at an informal conference under the condition that the company would use that money to abate any citations and we required the company to submit receipts.

    OSHA funds the consultation program in every state, which will provide free help for any small business, all they have to do is ask.

    SO where do we draw the line?

    I ask this question in all seriousness. As I said in my PAWA post, if I knew a company would fix a problem, especially if they were unaware of it, I would be OK with $1 penalties, but if they won't I'm OK with throwing the book at them.

    Our justice system has always held that ignorance is not an excuse for violating the law (ask anyone who has missed a speed limit sign), so I ask again, where do we draw the line?

    Did you have a specific idea for forcing companies to spend the money to correct the hazards we identify? It's an interesting idea if we could make it work.

  16. Abel,
    P 1:
    Right, we're not talking 1 MSDS. Remember though that many of the more serious hazards are also more complicated to understand and expensive to fix. Why not correct before you get there? Not to be rude, but Really? That is like someone asking why do you EVER overlook something? or why does OSHA EVER change a standard? or why do two offices focus on different hazards? A: There is no such thing as absolute knowledge. In fact, the world operates in complete opposition to that concept. Hence the constant that is change.

    P 2:
    True to the extent that general knowledge is generally understood but more technical knowledge is not. Example: you have a fork truck man lift with a cage and fall protection but the lift is 2" higher than regulation. I would argue that this shows an overall "attitude of safety" with a lack of details. None the less the chances of the citation being written is pretty good.

    P 3:
    Ignore is only 1 possibility but there are more.

    P 4 to end:
    "To assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women; by authorizing enforcement of the standards developed under the Act; by assisting and encouraging the States in their efforts to assure safe and healthful working conditions; by providing for research, information, education, and training in the field of occupational safety and health; and for other purposes."

    I understand the world is complicated but I am still looking for the definitive connection between enforcing standards and punitive fines. If OSHA fines and the employer doesn't correct the issue then both parties have missed their mark. NOT just the business. Furthermore, At least half of the argument must be that OSHA is not doing a good job at the latter part of the OSH Act Introduction. Just maybe.

  17. Anon: P1: I agree there's no such thing as absolute knowledge (although I'm trying), but we're also not really talking about over looking something or missing it in a safety audit either. The key is whether or not the company is taking a systematic approach to safety and health (or a specific standard). Companies that have something simply slip through the cracks rarely get heavily penalized (I've had inspections where I've had no Serious violations and as many as 12 OTS with no penalty).

    Most of the time when we have issues with a company it's because they have chosen to not take S&H seriously. I can't tell you how many cellophane S&H programs I've seen, or how many times the ink was still wet on training documents.

    P2: If that's the only problem with the fork truck or man lift, then any CSHO who would cite that as Serious should get promoted and moved to the Regional Office (that's how we get rid of bad employees, we don't fire them, we promote and move them somewhere else).

    P4: You said: "Furthermore, At least half of the argument must be that OSHA is not doing a good job at the latter part of the OSH Act Introduction. Just maybe."

    There's no maybe about it, we share part of the responsibility.

    The question is how do we uphold our end? I can tell an employer what he needs to do, but I have no way to compel him to do it. I can't pay to have a ventilation system put in, I can't build a new man lift for his fork truck, I can't give his employees physicals, I can't install flash arrestors, and there is no legal mechanism to get a court order to compel compliance. I can lead the horse, so to speak, but I can't make him drink, the only thing I can do is to provide a monetary disincentive for not complying.

    If you have other suggestions we, and by we I mean all of OSHA, would love to hear them. It doesn't always come through very well, but most of us do our job because we want to make things better, not because we like issuing citations.

  18. I have a suggestion for a new blog thread. Why has OSHA adopted new technology for insulated links for use with cranes without doing sufficient research and testing. Look what happened when NIOSH tested proximity warning devices, they failed miserably. Now even though they are still mandated in subpart CC, OSHA admits they are flawed and does not require their use. OSHA should do the same for Links and ask NIOSH to study and test their performance, use, maintenance, and the reliance issues that may occur with thier use.

    Also, OSHA should look at how UL went about writing a standard, and how one provider is now marketing that his product meets Subpart CC, even though OSHA stated in the preamble that there are no NTRL's approved by OSHA to certify links.