Many of you have good ideas for OSHA. I know it is true because I got and used many ideas the public sent to OSHA on proposed regulations and on the OSHA Expert Advisor projects. That was over my 27 years of work at OSHA.
When I speak of ideas from the public, I do not mean just the ideas of major corporations and trade associations. They do not need encouragement to comment, and they have good staff to do it.
I want to encourage comments and ideas from owners and staff of small businesses, from occupational safety and health professionals in all sizes of organizations, including unions, and from staff of the OSHA State Plans. The big guys are not the only ones with good ideas. I got good ideas from a wide range of people in business, labor, the states, and academia.
My old colleagues at OSHA were talented and conscientious. But my colleagues and I and our attorneys could not by ourselves see everything that might be useful. Several sources of ideas stick in my mind. I will mention a few.
One thing that delighted me was a comment from a hardware store in Pittsburgh. (I went to high school nearby.) When we worked on the Hazard Communication Standard, the OSHA team had experienced professionals and consultants. Nonetheless, the hardware store guy thought of something that we had not. We all agreed that the man had a good idea and we used it in the standard (I do not remember his suggestion).
After we had developed the interactive expert advisors for Asbestos and Cadmium, the managers of Health Standards, Safety Standards, and Policy got together to pick the next topic. Thomas H. Seymour P.E., (then) OSHA’s Acting Director of Safety Standards, spoke about the difficulty people had understanding the Permit Required Confined Spaces Standard. He argued for an Expert Advisor to address that standard.
Perhaps I should be embarrassed, but I argued that the standard was so clear and easy to follow that it did not need an interactive “Advisor” to help the reader determine how the standard applied to his situation. Tom said (as I recall), “Ed, you have 20 years of experience in reading Federal Regulations, so it seems easy to you. But members of the public call me frequently and tell me it is difficult to follow.”
Tom Seymour was well respected by John Martonik, then OSHA acting Director of Health Standards, and Frank Frodyma, acting Director of Policy. So, they decided in favor of a Confined Space Advisor, and it was very well received. I was wrong and they were right. The important thing is that the public told Tom Seymour about the problems they had. Oh, I still think the rule is well-written. But it has enough paths that people can get lost (and that is an easy one).
Blood borne pathogens
When we developed the OSHA Hazard Awareness Advisor, we tried to focus its guidance on issues that were appropriate to several classes of employers. The Advisor’s guidance on exposure to blood and bodily fluids was focused on employees in health care. We developed a Preliminary Version and put it out for comment.
Then we met with a safety professional for the National Apartments Association (NAA). She ran our prototype for her industry. She said she was surprised that it did not mention the Blood Borne Pathogens rule!
We wondered why employees there might be exposed. Well, the people managing apartment buildings sometimes must clean up after deaths for various reasons. It had not occurred to us. The NAA was telling its members to protect employees from exposure. We fixed what we missed in the final version of the Advisor.
Lead in construction
The folks at the National Multi Housing Council (NMHC) used the OSHA Asbestos Advisor and liked it. They thought a similar tool could help them apply the Lead in Construction standard. They wrote one letter, and the leadership was thinking about it. So, NMHC wrote another letter asking for this help. Either the second, or perhaps a third letter, pushed the decision to create the Lead in Construction Advisor. Of course, it was available to everyone.
Cadmium Biological Monitoring
OSHA’s first Expert Advisor on Cadmium Biological Monitoring (called “GOCAD”) was useful but did not cover every possible situation. Over time, corporate OSH directors, professors of medicine, OSHA’s own doctors, and others urged us to create a comprehensive Cadmium Biological Monitoring Advisor.
I was not surprised to hear these suggestions; the bio-monitoring provisions are tricky. (It took me a good while to figure out all the possible situations that could occur and need guidance.) The comments from the public helped move OSHA to address the problem. Then the health scientists, doctors, lawyers, and I created the Advisor. The user answers a few questions, and it figures out which guidance applies. It also shows how it got that answer, based on multiple tests at one or more times and doctors’ previous decisions.
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) – False Letters
I encourage the public to send ideas and comments to OSHA, but please do not send phony letters. When we published a proposed rule on Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), we knew there would be controversy. There was, and it was passionate.
We did not expect 80,000 fake letters and a few threats. The threats were unmistakable and upsetting to the staff. I spoke to my boss, then I called the FBI. As I recall, they visited one or more of the writers of threats. I doubt this was ever public.
The 80,000 fake letters were annoying but interesting. I did not see all of them. The many I read had a familiar, but not identical, format. The letters were personal, on nice stationery, perfectly typed, and with perfect English. AND each letter had an additional personal, hand-written note with grammatical and spelling errors. Clearly, the typed portions of the letters were not written by the people who penned the notes. Those letters appeared to be from the tobacco industry workers and supporters.
If you have a good idea about some occupational safety and health issue, then please share it with OSHA. Someone will read your comments. There is a good chance the agency will learn from what you have to say. One industrial hygienist in Monterey, California suggested six refinements to the Hazard Awareness Advisor. We used all six; she was a star.