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JOE DEAR'S TENURE at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration marked one of the more promising periods in that troubled agency's history, and we certainly hope the agency's reforms are not lost with his departure.
Mr. Dear took the challenge of reinventing government seriously. He abandoned OSHA's traditional tactic of attempting to assure safety by imposing sanctions and fines on businesses for every imaginable violation, regardless of how trivial.
Mr. Dear instead attempted to promote a more consultative role as regulator, recognizing that working with employers to improve safety has more lasting benefits than deluging them with paperwork and penalties.
OSHA under Mr. Dear generally sought input from all stakeholders as the agency considered new regulations, much to the relief of businesses that for years had found the agency only too willing to fine first, ask questions later.
Under Mr. Dear, OSHA proved willing to help employers do what needed to be done to meet regulations. The agency also moved away from judging its own employees' performance by the chief criterion of how many citations were issued or fines generated.
In addition, experiments such as the Maine 200 program-which targeted worksites with the largest number of workers compensation claims for special attention-showed a new willingness on the part of OSHA to work with employers to correct workplace safety problems. This initiative now is being rolled out throughout the country.
Faced with budgetary constraints and an often-hostile Congress, Mr. Dear focused the agency's enforcement efforts on dealing with the worst offenses and offenders. This targeting of scarce resources on problems that truly threatened worker safety was a realistic and wise response.
That's not to say we didn't have our disagreements with Mr. Dear's OSHA.
While he instituted many reforms administratively, he opposed doing so legislatively, thereby leaving open the door for a future OSHA administrator to undo that progress with the stroke of a pen. We also disagree with OSHA's headlong push for an ergonomics standard, though we take some comfort in Mr. Dear's assurances that OSHA has no intention of imposing a "one-size-fits-all" standard on all industries.
Despite those disagreements, we believe Mr. Dear's record is one of the more innovative during OSHA's history. We hope his successor-whoever that might be-will continue to follow Mr. Dear's philosophy of cooperation rather than confrontation in efforts to make the nation's workplaces safer.