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Keeping the Faith

Feb. 21, 2022
Despite their differences, safety professionals all play for the same team.

So here we are, nearing the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s still hard to say if there’s an end in sight any time soon. The false hopes raised every time it’s seemed like COVID was tapering off are too depressing to recount. Even the most optimistic experts are saying the virus will probably never really go away, not completely. The World Health Organization has said that the public health emergency aspect could end later this year, though exactly when that might be and what milestones will have to be reached for the pandemic to be downgraded to an endemic are unclear.

Meanwhile, the Omicron variant continues to result in record numbers of people being hospitalized with COVID. As recently as mid-October 2021, the number of new cases reported on a daily basis worldwide was in the 300,000 range, but throughout January and early February 2022, that number had spiked tenfold to the 3 million range. In the United States alone, more than 1 million new cases of COVID were reported in a single day in early January. It would be tempting to think that things can’t possibly get any worse, but we’ve been down that road enough times since 2020 to have figured out that, like the great sage Yogi Berra used to say, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

The loss of millions of lives and the hardships inflicted on those who have gotten sick from the disease have been heartbreaking. But as the pandemic has dragged on, it’s distressing to see tremendous losses of another kind: the loss of faith. It’s been part of the nation’s legacy ever since its founding that people agree to disagree, but when is the last time you heard somebody say, “I have faith that the people working on this problem know more than I do about it, and I am confident they’re leveraging all the tools at their disposal to fix it”? It’s amazing how many people have become “instant experts” in the diagnosis, management and treatment of infectious diseases. And it’s quite disconcerting how many people have completely lost faith in the medical community, the pharmaceutical industry, their companies, their government and each other when it comes to getting a handle on COVID.

I want to talk about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for a minute, knowing full well that by just mentioning OSHA, I’ve caused the blood pressure of at least half of my readership to spike. I’ve told the story here before about how, when I was a teenager working one summer in a warehouse, I got yelled at for being on a forklift without having been properly trained. I was scolded, “If OSHA catches you doing that, they’ll shut this place down!” And in the years since, the more thankful I am that agencies like OSHA exist, if for no other reason than to make sure workers don’t hurt themselves, their co-workers, or their companies through negligence or lack of training.

Nevertheless, it’s part of the job of EHS managers that they fully understand and are aware of the numerous rules and regulations OSHA has established and enforces. Some of the most popular articles and webinars we’ve produced have focused on regulatory compliance and what to do if an OSHA inspector shows up at your facility, so I certainly understand the, shall we say, ambivalence safety professionals have when it comes to OSHA. But ever since the pandemic began, I’ve been astonished at the level of vitriol aimed at every step that OSHA (federal and state) and other agencies have taken to combat the virus.

At any given time, at least half of the country is going to be upset about the political leadership’s priorities and decisions. And I get that people are tired and frustrated that COVID has totally taken over our lives for the past two years, but OSHA is not the bad guy here. EHS Today’s exhaustive (some might say exhausting) coverage of OSHA’s “on-again, off-again” vaccination mandates, for instance, has resulted in conspiracy theories posted to our Comments section that you’d be more likely to find on an alt-left or alt-right political forum, not from a community of safety professionals.

I think we can all agree that safety isn’t a “them or us” proposition. Safety should be the bridge between all parts of society and all walks of life. There are already plenty of things for people to get upset about, and there are plenty more things that are concocted on a daily basis by popular and social media outlets anxious to gin up more clicks to their websites. But when it comes to keeping people safe, let’s all remind ourselves that safety professionals—no matter what their politics or affiliations—are all on the same team, and we need to have faith in each other.

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