Michaels Wants a Bigger Stick

A few weeks ago, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee’s Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.  Michaels stated in his speech: “Safe jobs exist only when employers have adequate incentives to comply with OSHA’s requirements.”

Dr. Michaels, I don’t pretend to know what your safety career has been or the experiences you have had other than what I read in print and on the internet.  However, I want to explain to you that you couldn’t be any more wrong in your statement.  Over my 25 year safety career, I have worked for, with, or visited literally hundreds of employers all over this great country.  I can tell you without hesitation that the safest employers/jobs are those who don’t concentrate on OSHA compliance, but rather they actively care for their employees.

I remember sitting with a new CEO of a fortune 500 company for which I had gone to work.  He told me what his vision for safety was going forward, yet not once did he ever mention OSHA.  This was a man who cared about his employees, and his only goal was to do what was right for them.  Compliance was not in his vocabulary.  His whole approach was to make safety an integral part of all that was done at work as well as away from work.

I also recall him explaining to me that he wanted his employees to take their safety glasses and ear plugs home to use while they cut their grass, just like they would if they were at work.  This CEO allowed me the opportunity to help him build a world class safety culture within his organization.  I can tell you without a doubt that he didn’t lose sleep at night about whether his company was OSHA compliant or not.

I frequently see injuries at “OSHA compliant” employers.  It isn’t about complying with the law, Dr. Michaels.  I would argue that safe jobs exist only when employers and employees alike see the human value of performing all that they do in a safe manner.  Believe me, I have seen many a finger cut off on “OSHA compliant” saws.

It is disappointing to see that Dr. Michaels believes only the size and swiftness of OSHA’s hammer is what dictates the level of safety in America’s workplaces.   While I do not necessarily disagree with some of the intent and objectives of the current OSHA Administration (I personally know some great people on the OSHA staff), it frustrates me to no end to think that the guy in charge believes we can only improve safety with him carrying a bigger stick.

By Dwayne Towles Vice President of Advanced Safety & Health, LLC based in Louisville Kentucky.