Thought Leadership


Testimony of Tom Lawrence to OSHA’s Public Hearing on Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses

January 17, 2014
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ISHN Guest BlogI am Tom Lawrence from the St. Louis, MO area. I have chemical engineering degrees and 43 years’ experience as a safety professional. I am here today to vigorously oppose this proposed regulation.

On page 14 of the December 2013 issue of the Safety + Health magazine from the National Safety Council were two articles creating a paradox. One article highlighted this proposed regulation. The other cited a BLS statement that nonfatal injuries and illnesses resume their downward trend. The sites that are driving this continued downward trend are the ones that will be held up for public ridicule in this proposed regulation.

When I read the announcement of this proposed regulation, I wrote the following, in part, to the Industrial Safety and Hygiene News’ Blog stating as follows:

“The OSHA political leadership has mounted an attack on the largest employers with this recordkeeping initiative.

These are the employers who have safety professionals on staff. They are the ones with safety and health management programs. They are "The Best" according to Dr. Michaels in his I2P2 propaganda.

OSHA is going to hold up for public ridicule the employers who classically have the best compliance management and response to OSHA regulations.”

So, despite what OSHA says about improving safety, this proposed regulation is nothing more than a raw political agenda play. Here are the significant problems created by this regulation:

? First, as I mentioned previously, large companies and sites are most likely to employ safety professionals and, thus, have organized, structured safety and health management systems, including management systems for compliance with OSHA and other agency regulations. These have been termed “the best” by Dr. Michaels. So why would he now attack these companies by unleashing the political left on them?

? The impact of this attack will be greatest on safety professionals. They will have the management systems that they designed, helped to implement and support, unfairly criticized in public.

? We have seen that this government cannot be trusted to hold and use electronic data responsibly. They will likely ultimately misuse it in ways that we cannot imagine. If simply making it available does not produce the desired response, then they will exploit it further and further.

? Tthis proposed regulation only benefits the OSHA leadership’s political agenda. It has no benefit to the regulated community or to safety as concept and practice. The current paper injury/illness recordkeeping process works fine for the regulated community and for the established record keeping interests of the government.

? Ssafety professionals have, for many years, worked on better ways to measure safety and health results. The terms are leading and lagging indicators. The emphasis has been that leading indicators are better measures and should be the outcomes measurement of choice. However, if OSHA enacts this regulation, all of that effort will have been for naught. Injury/illness are the primary lagging indicators. Lagging indicators will become the absolute focus. No one will be interested in leading indicators anymore. OSHA will be focused solely on lagging indicators and that will become everyone’s focus.

That lagging indicator focus will, in turn, revive the injury illness recordkeeping police function. The current OSHA leadership has long asserted that firms were under reporting. They set out prove that by conducting special recordkeeping inspections. They were not able to find much. So with the new focus on injuries and illnesses as lagging indicators, OSHA will be back in the recordkeeping reign of terror.

? The final problem with this proposed regulation is the recordkeeping system itself.

The OSHA administration claims this recordkeeping system can be used to improve safety. Nothing is further from the truth.

What is the definition of Safety?  The manual for the National Safety Council’s Principles of Occupational Safety and Health Course states: “Occupational Safety is the control and elimination of recognized hazards to attain an acceptable level of risk”.  

The OSHA Act states:  “The Secretary shall prescribe regulations requiring employers to maintain accurate records of, and to make periodic reports on, work-related deaths, injuries and illnesses, other than minor injuries requiring only first aid treatment and which do not involve medical treatment, loss of consciousness, restriction of work or motion or transfer to another job.”  

So this recordkeeping system is just a medical treatment and job outcomes recordkeeping system. It is excessively complicated to use. And it is not about safety.

Why was this injury/illness recordkeeping paragraph added to the OSHA Act?  

In 1970 and prior there was a voluntary ANSI Standard on recordkeeping that many  facilities/companies/organizations were using. The people pushing Congress to enact OSHA complained that businesses were not accurately keeping records according to this system. Therefore, they urged, Congress should mandate an injury/illness recordkeeping system that was subject to citations. And so it was---a political agenda driven single paragraph that was ultimately morphed into an overly difficult and not at all useful system.

For those of you who want to learn or refresh yourself on what this recordkeeping system is, go to the OSHA website under Regulations and look specifically at 29 CFR 1904.5 and 1904.7. After reading that detail, you might want to also visit the 1904 interpretations section of OSHA’s website. You will find there 125 additional instructions via answers to questions, for those two sections of 1904. By comparison, there are about that same number of interpretations for Lockout/Tagout.

The point I continue to make here is that the OSHA Injury/Illness Data system cannot be used to improve safety because it is not about safety. It is political agenda and about medical and job situation outcomes.

Today and tomorrow you will hear eloquent exhortations to OSHA to implement this regulation to bring safety into the 21st century. All of this is just so much baloney. This recordkeeping system cannot take anyone anywhere.

The organizations offering this advocacy can be classified into two groups. One I call the Vultures, the radical left wing groups who hope to use this regulation to enhance their political agendas. The others I call the Naives. These groups are naïve about the recordkeeping system and naïve about the political realities of this proposed regulation. You will also note that the Naives are bold in their advocacy because they have no skin in the game. This public flogging will not affect them.

If this regulation is implemented, what will be different?  The regulated community submits the same data. The sites identified for public flogging will submit quarterly the same data they submit now annually. There is no new information coming in. There cannot be. The recordkeeping system does not produce any.
The data will be compiled by OSHA provided to the public with no explanation as to what it means for safety. We won’t see what caused the injuries/illnesses. We won’t know if sites are improving—just that they are having injuries/illnesses to their employees.

OSHA will compile the data by company—from the companies’ individual sites—to make it easy for the Vultures to attack these companies when they are ready. I would remind you again that these are the companies with organized safety and compliance management programs and safety staff to support it.

Frankly, I think this proposed regulation is an immoral use of government power. But then you would be correct to classify me as Naïve if I am surprised by that.

Dr. Michaels came to the ASSE PDC in Las Vegas last year and said:  “I know that there are those who do not trust OSHA. Please tell us what we can do to make it better.”  More political agenda rhetoric.

But okay I will respond to that request. My absence of trust is not of OSHA itself but of the political leadership of OSHA. Trust has to be earned. Those who attack VPP and Compliance Assistance and propose a regulation such as this one and threaten to propose I2P2 have not earned my trust.

I will offer two suggestions, as he requested, as to how to make it better:

1. Withdraw this political agenda regulation---now. It is not about safety. Its purpose is to empower the radical lefts’ political agenda under the cover of safety.

2.Abolish the Standards department. It has long ago achieved its safety objective and has now become a political agenda playground. Stop the opportunity for political agenda game playing. Instead, use its budget money to improve Compliance Assistance, a more valuable use of the taxpayers’ dollars.

This concludes my remarks.
Tom Lawrence

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