How many articles do I read every day that OSHA is fining some big name industry, to what end. That’s like you or I getting a parking ticket. Put the paltry payment in the quick pay envelope and never worry about it again, or don’t pay the fine and the city or county will take the next ten years to track you down, if they do at all. The case goes to court and OSHA backs down like a cowering pup. I was once part of the big name industry and went through a double handful of OSHA inspections. The company I worked for was fined once out of 20 inspections and by the time the lawyers got though with it I could have paid the fine from my own measly paycheck. Another article I read was about a father and son that were fined and awaiting sentencing for asbestos abatement violations, oh I’m sorry that was the EPA, a part of the government that is just beginning to cut a few teeth.
OSHA has no teeth and everyone knows it. Yeah they growl a whole lot and it looks good in the newspaper and internet but again, no one is scared or even concerned. You have better chances of winning the lottery than being inspected or even fined by OSHA. If by the off chance that you are inspected, if you will do your song and dance like the organ grinder monkey and correct the issues on the spot, then the OSHA inspector pats you on the head, gives a satisfactory report, and you never hear from them again until another complaint is filed, if they even follow up on the complaint.
Every day I drive by construction sites (strip malls, housing, apartments, heavy construction etc.) and am amazed at the sheer audacity that company owners, managers, or supervisors place on their employees. I have seen people 30 feet in the air on job-built scaffolds (probably not a competent scaffold person within 20 miles) without a fall protection harness on. If they are wearing a harness the lanyards are boiler hitched to something that wouldn't hold a 3rd grader; and the boss is standing on the ground yelling at the employee to hurry up and get the job done. If someone does call in a complaint to OSHA it takes OSHA days, weeks, even months to respond to the complaint and by then the hazard is gone.
As a safety professional, I couldn’t stand it anymore one day and I stopped at a small construction site because I saw two Mexican Americans on a four buck scaffold without fall protection and no means of accessing the scaffold. I tried to speak with them but of course they could not speak English. Their supervisor happen to be working that day, I introduced myself to him and informed him of what I do for a living, and I politely enlightened him about the hazards his employees were facing and how to correct the issues. The individual asked me if I was a OSHA inspector and I told him that I was not. The individual then raised his very muscular bronzed arm and pointed at my car and told me, “Since you ain’t a OSHA inspector get the hell off my property before I call the cops and have you arrested for trespassing. This is none of your GD business and these guys have been doing this that way for 20 years”. As I was staring into the eyes of a towering man that I knew could break me like a match stick I was reminded of what Ron White said in one of his skits, “I didn’t know how many it was going to take to whip my ass but I knew how many they were going to use”. So I cowed down and slithered back to my car where I proceeded to contact OSHA. OSHA never made an appearance.
I have personally spoken to several OSHA inspectors, off the job and out of ear shot of the boss, about why it takes OSHA so long to respond to complaints. The response is the same every time, “Too many complaints and not enough inspectors”. Where have all of our tax dollars gone? Or the lackadaisical response of, “2 more years and I can retire”.
I jested with myself years ago about going to work for OSHA as an inspector. Brought up the USAJobs web site and was amazed at how little these people are paid per year. I made more money than that 20 years ago as a snot nosed medic fresh out of technical college. Oh and don’t forget, the government requires an advanced college degree with a minimum of 10 years of experience. No wonder most of the OSHA inspectors I have come in contact with look like a book worm or are retired and doing inspections as supplemental income. Young flat-bellied kids working on their doctorate degree with no field experience or someone you have to taxi from one destination to another because of arthritic hips.
Until OSHA gets some John Wayne style true grit and starts placing presidents, vice-presidents, owners, and managers in jail for instructing employees to violate regulations then OSHA will always be a joke.
To me, OSHA needs to be like the IRS. If you have ever been through a tax audit with the IRS then you know what I mean. You are guilty until proven innocent. There is not enough anti-depressant drugs in the world that would suppress the gut wrenching feeling of being audited by the IRS. When an OSHA inspector comes on site there should be nothing more than a "deer in the headlights look" from everyone because someone is going to jail. That is how reverent these inspectors and OSHA should be held.
Yes I know, OSHA has changed their mindset and they are "here to help, not fine". Well that just opened the door for all out flagrant regulation violations. That is like you driving behind a cop on the highway, as soon as the cop takes the next exit off the highway, we are back to green flag racing. A company files a VPP application and they have a free ride for the next 3 years plus.
What do you think would happen if an OSHA inspector found an employee not tied off on a scaffold in North Carolina, calls the OSHA office in Louisiana, and the next thing you know Jim Bernhard (the CEO of The Shaw Group) is being handcuffed and arrested for reckless endangerment in front of the evening news cameras and placed in general population county lockup (not federal) with the rest of the muggers, thieves, and child molesters. Do you think the big name industry mindset would change then?
Don’t get me wrong, I thank OSHA and the government every day for what they have done over the past 40 years because through them I have had a very nice job and lucrative career. But come on, OSHAscare? More like OSHAbaloney. My advice for the OSHA/DOL Secretary is to get off the bandstand and soap box and get their hands dirty.
Posted by Wade Smith, HS&E Manager