There’s “Obamacare” (healthcare reform) and then there’s “OSHAscare.” I received yet another OSHAscare email this morning from a company trying to foment fear of inspections, penalties, jail time, yadda, yadda, yadda. Businesses from newsletters to consultants to attorneys have profited from OSHA scare tactics since the day the agency went into business. But in 2011, language like this from this morning’s email seems to be beamed from another planet:
“The Obama administration has identified OSHA compliance as a top enforcement priority and has promised to aggressively monitor businesses for compliance with workplace safety requirements. Employers and their counsel should prepare now for increased OSHA inspections, closer scrutiny of injury recordkeeping and reporting, a stronger focus on investigations of employee whistleblower claims, and tougher negotiations with OSHA regarding penalties and citations.”
How does that jive with the GOP’s assault on all things OSHA? For example, the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently commented: “Since 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been charged with enforcing federal safety and health standards in America’s workplaces. With nearly 14 million individuals out of work, (it is time to) examine OSHA’s current policies and priorities and how they affect job growth.
President Obama’s FY12 budget, unveiled last week and immediately dubbed “Dead on Arrival” by Washington pundits, includes a wish list for OSHA that would definitely add fuel to the fire of the OSHAscare crowd. A couple of million bucks to research the much vaunted Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2), more inspectors, more whistleblower investigators, standard proposals for silica, beryllium, confined spaces in construction, infectious diseases. Inspection targeting of smaller employers.
Forget about it. Ain’t gonna happen, no way, no how. Word in Washington is that House Republicans are already thinking about dragging OSHA officials up the Hill to explain I2P2. That rule, OSHA boss Dr. David Michaels’ numero uno priority, should have been the baseline standard OSHA set in 1970. Should have been its first regulation. Now in 2011 it appears to be a dead reg walking. Some critics, of which there are many, call it a backdoor entrance to ergonomics regulation. That comes close to a death blow.
Sure, you’ll keep reading press releases from national OSHA about five- and six-figure fines. And naturally those penalties will be played up by the OSHAscare crowd. But how about a little context, some perspective here. Out of millions of workplaces OSHA inspects a tiny fraction. Most often something seriously wrong has to occur in a shop for the agency to levy a heavy fine.
The OSHAscare stuff has always seemed cynical to me. Perversely humorous. But given the current climate, it seems even more out of touch.