Thought Leadership

The curse of pre-screened submitted questions

December 14, 2009
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OSHA held an hour-long live webinar Q&A December 7 after the release of its latest regulatory agenda. Sounds interactive and communal, but acting OSHA chief Jordan Barab, who answered the questions, had the benefit of handling only written questions, submitted in advance or during the Q&A. Questions could be screened, ignored, or answered without any give and take and follow-up questioning. It’s the bane of a journalist’s job. So we present here what could be unscrubbed answers if the world were perfectly politically incorrect.

Question: So OSHA is adding recordkeeping requirements to document musculoskeletal disorders in separate column. Is this a prelude to the development of an ergonomics standard?

Answer: Ergonomics is a top priority of the new OSHA administrator Dr. David Michaels. We’ll let Dr. Michaels get warm in his seat for a few days and then dump ergo in his lap.

Question: OSHA injury and illness records are really lagging indicators that serve no useful purpose. Why not find alternate means to monitor company performance?

Answer: We’re having enough trouble with companies playing games with the indicators we have. Can you imagine if OSHA asked companies to give us counts of behavioral observations and near-misses? No thanks.

Question: How in the world is OSHA going set a standard for combustible dust? Hazards vary according to many factors in every workplace.

Answer: Don’t know. We’ll hold some stakeholder meetings and see what happens.

Question: The Chemical Safety Board has urged OSHA to regulate reactive chemicals. Might you change the process safety management standard to address reactive chemicals?

Answer: Easy for the CSB to say. They’re even smaller than NIOSH and fly under everyone radar.

Question: How in the world will OSHA regulate confined spaces in construction? Most of the public comments about your proposal were against setting a standard.

Answer: Public comments are like statistics; you use them to whatever ends you want.

Question: Why does the OSHA regulatory agenda published today omit any mention of standards-setting plans for updating 400+ permissible exposure limits?

Answer: It’s the black hole of rulemaking, sucking in many previous attempts. We don’t want to go there, no matter position papers AIHA issues. We’ll let Dr. Michaels take the shots for doing nothing. But he will touch on the subject in many speeches.

Question: Do you expect to hire more inspectors?

Answer: Yes, 100. It’s OSHA’s mini-surge. But it will still take nearly a century to get around to visiting every workplace in the country.

Question: What are you doing to streamline the rulemaking process so it doesn’t take 15 years to issue every OSHA standard?

Answer: First, we hogtie all the lawyers.

Question: I’m still not convinced you won’t issue another ergonomics standard at some point.

Answer: We just might. But first we have to outfit Dr. Michaels in a 70-pound Kelvar full body armor suit before he waddles over to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. Did you see the movie, “The Hurt Locker” with the bomb diffuser expert? That’ll be our Dr. Michaels. Safety first.

Question: Are you really, finally, issuing a rule on walking/working surfaces?

Answer: Yeah, it’s kind of like swatting down cobwebs.

Question: What’s up with developing a rule on hearing conservation in construction?

Answer: There’s not enough construction going on in America to worry about it right now. We’ve got bigger fish to fry.

Question: With Dr. Michaels’s confirmation, does that mean you, Mr. Barab, are leaving OSHA and returning to your job as a blogger?

Answer: No, as a union guy I’ve waited my whole life to work for OSHA under a Labor Secretary whose both parents belonged to unions. Can you believe it? This is more fun than blogging. Especially with Dr. Michaels taking the bullets now.
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