The fourth story a four part series where occupational safety and health professionals speak out on OSHA standards and other issues that affect their efforts to make workplaces safer.
Almost every safety and health professional has an opinion of OSHA. Many of them will not hesitate to tell anyone who asks what it is they like and do not like about the federal job safety agency, especially when it comes to standards.
So Occupational Hazards sought the viewpoint of hundreds of our readers this fall on OSHA and a variety of other issues that these safety and health professionals face in their jobs. Their answers are part of our second annual National Safety Survey.
When asked to rate OSHA's performance during the Clinton administration, most readers gave a lukewarm evaluation. A majority (72 percent combined) issued average (41 percent), fair (21 percent) or poor (10 percent) ratings in the five areas measured. Only 17 percent indicated OSHA did an excellent (2 percent) or a good (15 percent) job. The five areas rated were developing standards, inspecting workplaces, providing education and compliance assistance, providing national safety and health leadership, and focusing business on safety and health issues.
Dan Baldwin, corporate director of risk management and safety for 36,000-employee Leggett & Platt, the Carthage, Mo., manufacturer of engineered products was one of those who gave OSHA a poor rating in all five areas. He especially was critical of the agency's inspection practices. With most of his company's 250 plants in the United States, he has seen too many instances when OSHA inspections have been detrimental to safety efforts.
"OSHA works against us," Baldwin said, citing numerous examples of how inspections result in fines on items that never cause injuries, whereas inspectors issue no citations on items more likely to result in accidents. Further, he added, an inspector sometimes will tell a location that its safety program is in good shape, but that plant will have one of the company's highest injury rates.
"OSHA inspectors need to help management understand where injuries are coming from and find solutions to help them reduce injuries," Baldwin said. "If that happened, a lot more companies would welcome them, and OSHA would see more improvement from companies."
Cliff Stanley, safety manager for 700-employee Marion Composites in Marion, Va., has mixed feelings about OSHA's performance in the past eight years. While Stanley gives a poor rating to developing standards and a fair rating to inspecting workplaces, he concluded that the agency has done a good job of providing education and compliance assistance.
Stanley cites political infighting and resistance from industry groups as reasons that OSHA "has had difficulty in promulgating any standards that would have an impact in the workplace." When it comes to education and compliance assistance, he said, "you get a lot of management support and employee participation in those types of programs. That's what it really takes to make the workplace safe -- everybody working together. People respond better to positive reinforcement than they do fines."
Some readers were more favorable of OSHA. Stuart Stone, a safety compliance officer for New Jersey Machine in Lebanon, N.H., gave the agency excellent ratings for providing education and compliance assistance and national safety and health leadership. He awarded good ratings for the other three areas.
Stone commended OSHA for getting the word out about workplace safety issues, which helps sell safety to upper management. "It keeps management aware that my job needs to be done. It helps with funding and [being given] more time."
Despite battling against obstacles such as budget constraints and a lack of time and upper management support, many of our readers were able to make strides in the past year toward a safer workplace.
When asked what single action in 2000 has most improved the effectiveness of the safety and health program, many pointed to increased employee training. This included efforts to conduct more safety meetings, form committees and teach behavior-based safety.
At the L. Kunkin Associates facility in Pennsylvania, approximately 20 courses were taught this year, said Kratz, who works in the steel construction division. Not only did employees learn more about working safely, but it has opened up more lines of communication with employees regarding safety and health issues. Workers now discuss workplace safety topics frequently.
Stanley also was able to increase training efforts at Marion Composites. He initiated monthly safety training, with different topics discussed each time. Each month he includes safe procedures and housekeeping tips.
"I felt that training was the most important improvement I could make this year because, in the past, we might have only done occasional regulatory compliance training," he said. "Now we do monthly training that focuses everybody's attention routinely on doing things safely. In safety training, you repeat it loud and often. This gives us an opportunity to say it enough to get everybody's attention and give them the tools to be safe."