Good Friday 5.28.2010 to you.
Here are the stories driving conversations in the workplace safety world this week:
GULF OIL SPILLS SPREADS TO WASHINGTON: President O, not one for holding many press conferences, fielded questions yesterday at a White House briefing. Administration is counter-punching attacks that the feds were too slow to take a firm hand telling BP what to do, too trusting of BP’s estimates of the size of the spill. O visit the Gulf Coast today.
OSHA SETS ITS PRIORITIES STRAIGHT: At the AIHce meeting this week in Denver, OSHA honcho Dr. David Michaels drew a standing ovation for admitting OSHA has dropped the ball in attempts to update 100s of permissible exposure limits based on science 60-years-old in some cases. Michaels calls it a failure of leadership.
BUT the OSHA boss says first thing first, and the #1 standards priority â€” before tackling the thorny issue of PELS â€” is to set requirements for every employer in the nation to develop an injury and illness prevention plan. If Michaels and his leadership team really want to ram this through, like the doomed ergo rule of 10 years ago it could be finalized by 2012. Race to the courthouse immediately follows.
FEELING THE HEAT: Even Fortune 1000 companies with their management systems and resources and sophisticated safety and health programs are feeling the sting of OSHA’s resurgent enforcement program. These high visibility companies are natural targets for OSHA’s National Emphasis Programs, such as ones underway for process safety in petro and refining industries, and recordkeeping practices.
HIGHER PENALTIES W/O NEW LEGISLATION: OSHA’s Dr. Michaels says time and again his agency need a bigger hammer, urging Congress to raise penalties, especially for the most egregious willful violations.
BUT OSHA is pulling off a crafty inside job, revising its Field Operations Manual for inspectors to stop certain penalty discounting practices for so-called “good faith” efforts. Overall, average fines could double. Still pocket change for major companies. Still, emboldened by the tough stance of Labor Secretary Solis, OSHA deputy Jordan Barab, and with Michaels’ consent, inspectors are entering workplaces with a new attitude that takes them back to their roots as focused compliance officers.
THESE ARE SMART GUYS: A government affairs director for a safety association watches OSHA for the past 18 months and concludes: “You know what, the top team at OSHA is sharp. Michaels has a Ph.D and made things happen while at Department of Energy safety and health department. Barab is an edgy, politically savvy former Capitol Hill staffer who’s been a DC mainstay for decades. Chief of Staff Deb Berkowitz has rubbed some OSHA folks the wrong way with her sometimes abrasive style, but her job is to kick butt and make the trains run on time. Rich Fairfax, head of enforcement, has been at OSHA seemingly forever, knows the regional administrators, and knows how to get the max penalties out of OSHA’s existing policies.
HEARTBREAK IN WEST VIRGINIA: This past Monday a House committee trekked down to Beckley, W.Va., heart of coal country, to hear testimony from family members of miners killed in the April 5 Upper Big Branch mine explosion. Culture of coal country is isolated and very tight-knit. Mine disasters are more than individual tragedies; they are collective communal nightmares. One father, a Massey miner, is on disability after his son’s death. A wife of a deceased miner can’t leave her house.
COMMON THREAD: At Massey, miners say the word was: “Load more coal. Load more coal.” On the Gulf oil rig, roughnecks say BP engineers put a premium on pumping out gallons of oil. Drill harder, faster, one operator claimed a supervisor told him.
GOOD READ: “Methland” goes to a small town in Iowa on the decline to describe how the loss of family farms, the out-migration of natives to better jobs in California, the influx of Mexicans to work in meatpacking plants with no benefits and wages one-third of what they once were, and the general collapse of small family businesses, has contributed to a culture of loss, hopelessness, depression, boredom and anxiety â€” a perfect storm of conditions for meth marketers to reap big bucks.
A mock clandestine meth lab was displayed this week at the AIHce meeting in Denver. Thousands and thousands of these improvised labs operate throughout the plains states. Meth takes a ninth grade chemistry mind to cook up, can be cooked in kitchen sinks, motel rooms, truck rigs, basements. A dirty, slopping business that puts children living in homes with meth labs at risk, as well as the cooks and police and first responders who raid labs not knowing what hazards might be found.
MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND IS HERE. Enjoy the jumping off point for summer. Some crusty curmudgeons will tell you summer only lasts from Memorial Day to the Fourth of July. They’re obviously football fans.