Some 72,000 of my closest friends and I took a quick trip to Dusseldorf last month for A+A 2017.
Billed as one of the world’s largest trade fairs for safety, security and health at work, A+A 2017 has over 70 acres of exhibit space, with nearly 65 acres indoors spread over several buildings. A total of 1,930 exhibitors from 63 countries and over 67,000 trade visitors from more than 100 nations participated in A+A 2017. Together with the International Congress for Occupational Safety and Occupational Medicine (and its 5,000 participants), A+A 2017 did a pretty good job of emphasizing the importance of health and safety at workplaces in Europe.
I never have experienced anything like it. I literally walked for miles every day and saw just a small portion of the exhibits. I attended two of the educational sessions offered – one that focused on violence and psychosocial factors at work and one that examined occupational safety and health in global supply chains. The speakers were leading European experts and researchers; their titles and credentials impressive and their presentations intriguing.
And one thought kept popping into my head; the United States no longer is the leader of occupational safety, health, environment and sustainability in the world, something that was mentioned by speakers, exhibitors and attendees a number of times (and often before they knew I was an American). While certain European countries have had more progressive EHS and labor policies than the United States in place in the past, the gap appears to be widening. In regards to psychosocial issues such as violence and stress, ergonomic issues such as lighting, carcinogens in the workplace and environment, the global supply chain and sustainability, Europe has surpassed the United States.
Which is why I am hopefully optimistic to hear that Scott Mugno has been nominated by the Trump administration to lead OSHA. Unlike EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who actually sued the agency he now heads, Mugno appears to support and embrace at least part of the mission of OSHA: to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.
Only time will tell if OSHA under Mugno focuses on standards and enforcement or on outreach and assistance. That focus doesn’t necessarily depend on the party of the administration in the White House; we’ve had Democratic administrations that promulgated fewer standards and issued fewer workplace safety violations than some Republican administrations.
And it’s hard to tell what he will do given what he’s said in the past. In 2006, at a discussion about the best ways to implement safety programs – sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – Mugno was reported by Business Insurance as saying, “You don’t turn safety on and off” when an employee goes on or off the job. This concept was embraced and encouraged by many of the speakers and exhibitors at A+A and is embraced by many U.S. employers that are considered safety leaders.
However, at the same meeting, Mugno suggested looking “harder at the employee” when it comes to safety. At the time he said that, Mugno was the managing director for FedEx Express Corporate Safety, Health and Fire Protection in Memphis and ultimately was responsible for the safety of thousands of employees. Employees (not employers) need to deal with factors such as obesity that impact health and safety at the workplace, he added.
One concept with which I ALWAYS have had a problem is the concept of blaming workers for on-the-job injuries and illnesses. Are there workers out there who are thrill-seekers; who despite education, personal protective equipment and warnings perform tasks in a way that they know is unsafe? I’m sure there are few.
For the most part, though, millions of American workers WANT to be safe. They WANT a safe work environment. They WANT education and training and PPE and job hazard analysis. They WANT to go home to their families uninjured and they DON’T WANT to be exposed to hazards that can cause long-term illness.
And it’s OSHA’s job to help employers provide that. We’ll see if it’s with a carrot or a stick.