The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is conducting its public hearing all day today. The "OSHA Listens" event is also available by webcast. Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels opened the event by decrying the 5,000 fatalities American workers suffer every year. He said OSHA is looking for ways to bring that number down because, "No one should have to be injured or killed for a paycheck." The sixty (60) people who asked to submit comments are divided into 13 panels. The first panel included family members of workers killed on the job. They belong to United Support and Memorial for Workplace Fatalities (USMWF). Employer groups were on the second panel. They generally called for OSHA to spend more money on compliance programs (like asking employers to be safer), and less on enforcement (that could result in fines against employers). I was struck by an answer from Stephen Sandherr of the Association of General Contractors. When Dr. Michaels asked what metrics OSHA should use to improve safety, Mr. Sandherr said employers should strive for a "culture of safety." Such a culture improves morale because workers know that management cares about them going home after every shift. It reminds me of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s requirement for a "safety conscious work environment." Both require that workers have the freedom to raise concerns without fear of retaliation. OSHA may hear more about that when Panel 13 starts. Myself and Mr. Jason Zuckerman of The Employment Law Group are scheduled for this last panel. It was originally scheduled for 5:30 pm, but was set for 5:10 pm on this morning’s program. It might start even sooner than that. My comments are posted in a prior blog entry.
Luzdary Giraldo of the New York COSH, and Tom O’Connor of National COSH both called for improving OSHA’s whistleblower protections. Mr. O’Connor explained that enforcement programs do no good where workers are too afraid of retaliation to make a complaint. Here! Here!