After his son died in a 1993 silo incident and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) botched the investigation, Ron Hayes embarked on a mission to improve the agency.
In the years that followed, he was called a "nut," and worse, by some OSHA officials, but Hayes now says the effort has come full circle since he received a letter on Feb. 15 from OSHA Administrator John Henshaw.
The letter states that Hayes is to fill an empty position on the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH), an institution established by law to advise the secretaries of labor and health and human services on occupational safety and health programs.
Advice is something that Hayes has been giving to federal officials in generous quantities for years. In 1995 he won a rare apology from the head of OSHA for the agency''s faulty investigation of the incident that killed Hayes''s son, Patrick.
Hayes is the founder of the FIGHT (Families in Grief Hold Together) Project, a workplace fatality support group.
Thanks in large measure to his efforts, the agency revamped the letter it sends to the families of workers killed on the job, and for years the tireless Hayes has been motoring around the nation teaching OSHA officials how to be more sensitive to the grief-stricken survivors of these workers.
Occupational Hazards magazine named Hayes a Champion of Safety in 2000.
"I''m very humbled and proud to be asked to serve this administration, because I think this administration really cares about the workers," said Hayes.
The choice seemed unthinkable a few years ago, but it may make a lot of sense for the Bush administration. Hayes''s agenda bears some striking similarities to that of OSHA Administrator John Henshaw.
Hayes says his first priority is to improve the training of OSHA inspectors, so that the agency will earn the respect of business people and workers.
"What I''ve heard in hearing after hearing for eight years is that OSHA''s compliance officers don''t know what they''re talking about," said Hayes, who experienced this shortcoming first hand after Patrick died. Hayes thinks that offering compliance officers better training, and ultimately more money, would improve morale and performance.
He mentioned improved compliance assistance for small businesses, another Henshaw priority. And Hayes said he wants NACOSH to lead the country in safety and health through effective partnerships, a goal Henshaw has set out for OSHA.
Hayes denies that he is a Republican and that he will rein in his tough, truth telling style now that federal officials have embraced him. One of his goals is to de-politicize OSHA and worker safety and health.
"I see myself as a bridge between parties, a bridge between workers and management," said Hayes. "They know me very well - if there''s something I like, I''ll say something about that. If there''s something I don''t like, I''ll be glad to tell them."
Hayes will fill the public representative slot made vacant by the resignation of Byron Orton, the Labor Commissioner of Iowa. Although this appointment runs only until September, Hayes expects he will be re-appointed. Calling this the culmination of eight years of work, Hayes also expects to enjoy himself tremendously.
"All I can say to you is hang onto your hat and enjoy the ride!" he said.
by James Nash