What I Hate About OSHA

Almost everywhere I go, people talk about how OSHA screws up their work, slows them down and makes life miserable. I rarely hear someone say, "Man, OSHA is really doing a great job." Here are seven of the most common complaints I hear when teaching safety classes.

1. They come onto my site and it's private property. I own this building and land, so I should be able to tell OSHA they can't come in. According to a 1973 Supreme Court ruling (Marshall v. Barlow's Inc.), you can do so, if you want. In that case, it was ruled that private property used as a business is subject to the same protection as any other private property. I wouldn't advise it, though. If the OSHA Field Safety Compliance Officer is not allowed access, he can then get a search warrant and have it served by U.S. marshals. That could ruin your day.

2. OSHA tells me I now have to pay for all my employees' PPE. What's that about? They have to buy their own tools, so they should pay for PPE, right? Not really. OSHA found that in many cases, employees purchased PPE that was ineffective or just incorrect. It's pretty sad when OSHA has to bring out a final rule telling employers they have to supply the PPE required for a job (11/15/2007). In 2008, 5,214 workers died on the job. Who was looking out for them?

3. Speaking of PPE, we never had that junk when I was in the field, and we did just fine. Did I just hear, "We've always done it that way?" Or maybe it was, "Real men don't need that crap." Think about this: Prior to 1970, there were about half as many workers in the United States as there are today, and there were 14,300 job-related deaths. Today, with a workforce more than twice as large, fewer than 5,000 workers are killed on the job in a year. Comparing relative rates (1970 vs 2008) there are about 82 percent fewer fatalities now than in 1970. That sounds pretty good, unless you consider that 5,214 workers were given capital punishment for the crime of going to work. Doesn't sound so good, does it? Maybe the good old days weren't so good.

4. OSHA writes citations that cost me money. How am I supposed to stay in business? Short answer: Maybe you shouldn't be in business if you can't protect your workers. Long answer: OSHA will reduce the fines for citations based on several factors:

  • Number of employees
  • No citations within five years
  • Good-faith efforts

Be aware that OSHA is moving forward with the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP), which affects the size of the fine for 23 different regulations involving fall hazards and other hazards identified by OSHA. The SVEP will allow OSHA to cite each violation, instead of grouping them. It also allows OSHA to reduce the size of any fine reductions it would normally give. Lastly on this topic, OSHA is raising the dollar amount for its citations. Serious violations will be subject to fines up to $12,000, and willful citations can be as high as $250,000! Now, that dog has some real teeth!

5. How am I supposed to understand this gibberish OSHA calls regulations? It's true that OSHA's regulations are written in "broad, regulatory, non-prescriptive language," as one of my OSHA buddies says. I do believe that is the definition Webster's gives for the word "vague." That being said, there are several resources to help. OSHA will come to your site, perform an audit, and not cite you for its findings. You will have to correct those problems within a certain abatement period, but now you will know exactly what needs to be done. They also can set you up with a larger company that will mentor you. If you are the bookish type, there are dozens of books dealing with OSHA regulations, not to mention training that is offered by outside providers. The NFPA 70E standard is an excellent source of information if you're trying to decipher the OSHA regulations. The regulations are somewhat vague, but 70E provides guidance on how to meet the OSHA electrical regulations.

6. Following OSHA regulations slows me down. They certainly will. Performing a task in a safe manner will always take more time than going at it unsafely. You have to plan and prepare, assemble what is needed, and then follow your plan -- that all takes time. In the electrical trade we had a saying: "There are old electricians and there are fast electricians, but there are no old, fast electricians." I think that covers the need for speed.

7. I don't have the time to study all those regulations or even the 70E. I'm trying to run my business. Time, they say, is of the essence. Isn't it worth some of your valuable time to learn how to protect your employees? Isn't it worth some of your employees' time to learn how to protect themselves? Item number 5 also would apply to this complaint, as the solutions would be similar. It amazes me how workers in this country (not all, but the majority) feel it is someone else's responsibility to keep them safe. Unfortunately, our society has moved to one that refuses to acknowledge responsibility for mis-actions. Everyone, give a big hand to our legal system, which has managed to twist logic to where we no longer have to admit we screwed up.

Safety is serious business. Lives and quality of life depend on a safe work environment, as well as safe work practices. The employer is responsible to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards (recognized being recognized by the industry and OSHA). This would include developing an Electrical Safety Program, procedures, policies to protect workers, and providing PPE. Workers must implement those, however. I recently heard of the workers at one facility going to their union (and the union supported them) to prevent the implementation of a company's ESP. I don't know all of the details, but it certainly sounds like wrong-headed thinking.

Think about this: Being killed is one thing. It's over and done with. Being maimed or crippled is an entirely different level. Now, for the rest of your life, every day, you have to deal with the consequences of the accident. One keynote speaker at the 2007 IEEE/IAS/Electrical Safety Workshop was an ex-lineman who had been severely injured in an accident. He said, "No matter how much money you get from the insurance company or the lawsuit, it doesn't make your life better. You take what's left of your life, and you make the most of it." He lost both of his legs and an arm. I'll just take his word for it, thank you.

Posted by James R. White on Apr 21, 2011

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