SAFETY PROFESSIONAL RATES OSHA REFORM IDEASPosted On: Nov. 9, 1997 12:00 AM CST
To the editor: I would like to say a few words about the proposed Occupational Safety and Health Administration reform bill (BI, Oct. 27):
On independent safety auditors: What is everyone so afraid of? An impartial safety auditor, credentialed by the state or federal agency and paid by that entity from a fund that employers pay into, is far better than the current "scalp" system.
On proposed standards submitted to the American Academy of Sciences: I think it is a great idea. The AAS-or, for that matter, the American Society of Safety Engineers, or any well respected scientific group-would help depoliticize the process. There could still be public hearings, but a proposed standard would be put forth with solid scientific evidence that it will or will not yield desired outcomes.
On continuing education for OSHA inspectors: A great idea, and one that should be well-received by OSHA.
On education, consultation and outreach: Again, a terrific idea, as long as students do not get fined if they fall short of compliance recommendations.
On employees being fined if they deviate from OSHA standards and the employer has implemented an extensive safety program: A client's employee, a longtime middle manager, climbed over a guardrail into an unauthorized area. He leaned back against guardrail, which collapsed, sending him down 15 feet, causing serious injury. Unsolicited, he wrote the company to apologize for doing this and exonerated the company of any blame. OSHA nevertheless fined the employer $9,000 for not warning this employee of the dangers of going into this area.
I hear this sort of story repeatedly. Our clients and most enlightened employers expend considerable resources to keep their employees safe. However, they cannot maintain a 1-to-1 management-to-employee ratio to ensure employees do not deviate from safe work practices. Why should an enlightened employer be fined when it had and has no control over errant behavior? I'm not sure fining employees is going to fly, either, but why not let an employer off the hook if it can prove it acted responsibly?
On banning quotas: Absolutely.
On "alternative methods affirmative defense": Also a great idea, but I believe the employer must show that it has met or even bettered the OSHA minimum standards.
On setting variety of factors, including size and history of previous violations, that OSHA must consider before levying a fine: No. Why should a small employer that puts its employees at risk be treated more leniently than a large employer? I think OSHA should treat all employers the same and that fines should not be levied and then recommendations made; it should be the other way around.
On reducing penalties for non-serious paperwork violations: A great idea. I know an employer that had no recordable injuries or illnesses one year but was fined $250 for not entering zeros on the OSHA 200 Log.
On promoting employer/employee safety committees: Excellent, but not a new idea. And this is only one small part of a dynamic safety program.
One last word. I am not an OSHA basher. To the contrary, after working in the safety field for the past 27 years, I am more convinced than ever that without OSHA, the U.S. workplace would not be as safe as it is today.
However, I believe some in OSHA have gone too far to ensure the safety of the U.S. workplace, and this will hurt OSHA's credibility in the long run. For this reason, we need reform.
Robert K. Tuman
Compensation Claims Review Corp.