Interview with OSHA policy director John Moran
Moran probably generates as much heat as he attracts. He was outspoken as a NIOSH official, as a safety construction and training specialist for the Laborers' International Union, and as a member of OSHA's construction advisory council. Now, after a short stint as a special safety assistant at the Department of Energy, he finds himself as a key member of OSHA's front office team during one of the most pivotal times in the agency's history. In early February, we caught up with Moran, who can be reflective and assertive at the same time, for a telephone interview. Here are excerpts from that conversation: ·
- Why did you take this job, given that in this presidential election year you might not have more than a year to serve?
My interest in this job has to do with the fact that OSHA is under severe attack by factions in Congress, and I'm 100-percent dedicated to the view that OSHA must survive as a viable entity to protect workers and provide employers with useful information. ·
- What do you hope to accomplish this year?
I'd like to see some standards activity go ahead. We're working on the safety and health program standard. I'd like to see a proposal on confined space safety in construction, which I've been pushing since 1976. Second, I want to focus on issues that really have a long-term impact on safety culture in corporate America. This is really challenging. The way we're going to really change things is to make safety an everyday component of life.
Regulations alone are easy to comply with. You can spend $100 on software and be in compliance. Compliance alone means nothing. The safety and health program standard emphasizes other aspects, like hazard analysis and involving the work force in audits and so on. Overall, the idea is to turn safety into an important, essential element of doing business. We're focusing on cultural aspects now.
Third, we need to make sure we engage workers in this process. This is very challenging now with corporate America largely disenfranchising workers through downsizing. ·
- How can OSHA have an impact on making safety a bigger part of corporate culture?
We need to focus on big issues. You don't progress by solving one problem at one workplace. We don't have the resources to solve 10,000 problems. Thousands of workplaces have the same problem that they can learn lessons from. So how do we get the information out in a cost-effective way? One way might be through reinvention initiatives addressing safety and health problem-solving.
In the last five to seven years, there has been a growing body of literature on what can be done by changing safety culture. This can get you lasting change. This is where we at OSHA have to go. The costs are enormous‹maybe $100 billion a year is spent on injuries and illnesses at work. If we cut that by 50 percent, that's going to have a major impact. So we're on the right track. You must give credit to Joe Dear for having the guts to try something to address safety and health in this way. It is not easy. ·
- Describe the difference between the old and new OSHA.
In the area office of the past, the whole inspection force had enforcement as their job. They knew the penalty and citation system inside and out. Now in that area office half of the office is engaged in partnerships, outreach, and problem-solving. Now they can see that simple measures like number of inspections don't work. We need new measures so our field people don't feel so exposed (for performance accountability). There's a wide range of options‹the number of hazards identified and abated through programs like Maine 200 is just one. We need to identify companies with the worst workers' compensation records, identify the most serious hazards in different industries. We need to focus on employers not doing the job. We must maintain our very, very important enforcement role to make sure those few employers who ignore safety and health get dealt with harshly. And we also need incentives for employers who are trying with good safety and health efforts. There is a very definite need for balance.