OSHA at Thirty Five – Continued Discussion

There have been a number of thoughtful and challenging comments on the future of safety and health posted in the past week. I want to acknowledge some of these and also to suggest more discussion about the principles that might help choose which potential actions to increase worker protection should get priority attention.

Donald Coit Smith raised legitimate concern about insurance funds being used to fund inspections rather when injured workers receive inadequate benefits to cover their lost wages after injuries. However, I cannot agree with his suggestion that penalty dollars be used to pay for inspectors. This arrangement is just too subject to real or perceived abuse. The pay for inspectors should in no way be dependent upon how many violations they find.

Thanks to Ilise Feitshans for bringing attention to the recent documentary, OSHA 35 Still Alive. Also for pointing out that there is an EPA model for “citizen suits” that could be used to support the argument for adding individual rights to sue under OSHA. Does anyone have information about the effectiveness, or lack therof, of these EPA citizen suits?

J. Hammond points out that only actions affecting an employer’s bottom line have real credibility and suggests increased penalties, increased insurance premiums, public exposure of poor corporate behavior, and a system of accountability for CEOS as ways to get at this. What information is out there about the impact of Sarbanes Oxley on corporate behavior?

Angela Blair notes the importance of reliable data systems to document the relationship between safety programs and exposure to hazards. She also suggests SBA loans as a possible way to make audit programs feasible for small employers. Several others have raised questions about how an audit or third party inspection program might be financed. This is an important matter that needs more attention.

I would like to draw attention to the four “Principles” included in the Roadmap Section of the full paper and ask for reaction to these.

  1. Freedom from workplace injury and illness: Every working man and woman is entitled to safe and healthful working conditions, as a matter of law and as a matter of national purpose. No worker at risk should be lost or forgotten.
  2. No double standards for workplace safety: Equal protection is a core American value and if jobs are especially dangerous, then workers must be especially protected.
  3. Workplace crimes causing injury and illness must be punished: Business owners and managers should be held personally accountable for willful violations that result in injury or illness.
  4. Safety from workplace injury is a sign of respect: Safe workplaces respect both human rights and labor rights. Hard work brings value to individuals, families and communities and putting workers in danger disrespects their contributions.

Comments

  1. #1 Maggie Robbins
    January 25, 2007

    Hi Michael,

    I’m just getting into looking at your work, but have one immediate reaction to the principles, in particular the third one. Of course employers should be penalized if they injury or maim someone (and in my view managers/directors should face some personal risk for their role in allowing the injury/illness). However, if you read this set of principles as being for OHS prevention systems, it can be read to saying a penalty should be imposed ONLY when someone is injured or made ill. I realize the first 2 principles are supposed to get at the prevention aspect of OHS, and could include an enforcement mechanism for risks at the workplace, but this third principle is the only one mentioning accountability or penalty. This is perhaps just a matter of presentation, but it would be good not to imply that penalties for putting workers at risk (as opposed to causing injury) are no longer useful for changing employer practices (to reduce risks at work).

    (With Jordan closing shop on Confined Space, I guess will have more time to read around The Pump Handle. Looks like an interesting site. Thanks.)

    Maggie

  2. #2 Liz Borkowski
    January 25, 2007

    With regards to the effect of Sarbanes-Oxley on corporate behavior, most of what I’m seeing written about SOx has to do with the idea that it’s getting some companies to list on non-US stock exchanges in order to avoid all the red tape that SOx has created — in other words, it’s hurting the US economy. (The Economist in particular has been pushing this argument.)

    So, while I definitely agree that CEOs should be accountable for the safety of their workplaces, we may not want to pitch it as Sarbanes-Oxley-type legislation. A call for “CEO accountability” — perhaps linked to the spike in attention being paid to CEO compensation — is probably best.