Sunday, February 3, 2013

Faceoff: Is OSHA a Bureaucratic Nightmare, or Necessary Gov't Oversight to Save Lives?

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Activist Post

The infographic below does a good job of demonstrating the government line in blanket support of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) vs. several graphs that question the effectiveness of the agency.

OSHA was formed in 1971, and now has an annual budget approaching $600 million. It is officially charged by Congress with overseeing "safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance." (Source) Additionally, its 2013 budget request seeks $5 million in additional funding for its whistleblower program.

To show just a couple of the stories we have posted that illustrate conflicting opinions about OSHA, please read Heather Callaghan's article entitled, "OSHA and NJ Refuse Healthcare Worker Flu Shot Mandates," wherein OSHA supported Governor Chris Christie's 'pocket veto' of a New Jersey bill to mandate flu vaccines for healthcare workers; part of OSHA's statement said: 
While we are supportive of the Healthy People 2020 goal of a 90% vaccination rate, we have seen no evidence that demonstrates that such a high rate is in fact necessary. Furthermore, the current influenza vaccine is no magic bullet...
Then read Anthony Gucciardi's article entitled, "Major Group Says Government Diluted Fiberglass Cancer Results," wherein OSHA either has been asleep at the wheel in protecting workers from its own 1994 safety report showing fiberglass as a hazard, or is being steamrolled by the larger agencies EPA and NIH who reversed previous assertions that fiberglass was a carcinogen, resulting in OSHA listing fiberglass as safe for workers.

Infographic, additional analysis and resources posted below...

The four graphs presented on the left indeed demonstrate an overall trend reflective of a typical broken bureaucracy. In these graphs OSHA appears to be more about revenue generation than effective worker protection, as the U.S. remains the most dangerous place to work in the industrialized world despite OSHA's intervention, according to the third graph.  These graphs conflict with the government rhetoric and a few specific instances highlighting OSHA as effective, necessary, and worth the annual expenditure.

Some additional points:

Wasteful Half:
  1. The decline in injuries is almost perfectly linear pre- and post-OSHA. If the rate of change dropped dramatically at the red line then one could make the argument that OSHA was responsible, but there is clearly no significant change in the rate of decline here. The rate did stop declining in the mid 1990s, though, so one could conclude that OSHA has been largely ineffective at reducing workplace fatalities since around 1995.

  2. The 2nd graph shows that budget increases for OSHA have little to do with effectiveness. The left side of the graph which shows the descent has no budget increase at all. The flatline since 1993 or so has a solid budget increase with no impact. Maybe they saw that existing downtrend come to a halt, and decided to throw more money at OSHA in hopes it would continue to decline. It has not, so clearly budget increase is not producing the desired outcome. That's also assuming the desired outcome here is indeed decreasing workplace deaths. It would be better to offer a graph showing the correlation between OSHA budget and fines. There's probably a very strong relationship in years of high budget and high fines; in years of low budget, less fines. The death rate has remained almost completely stable, so it appears that this is the main purpose of this agency now. The more money they toss at it, the more agents they can afford to go out there and collect fines.

  3. The final graph compares unemployment rate vs. fine levels. It seems kind of pointless to compare these, as they are inversely correlated from 1995 - 2004, then loosely correlated after that. These two measures seem strange to be comparing on the same graph. This should be the fine vs. budget chart mentioned above, as that would show the true use of the additional budget, assuming they move together.
Saving Lives Half:
  1. This side is difficult to take as seriously as the wasteful side. As mentioned above, it is largely anecdotal evidence hand picked from many situations that would have happened regardless of OHSA's presence.

  2. Bill Clinton's piece is just a quote that says it can be good or bad, that really belongs in the middle if anywhere.

  3. Educational studies rarely turn out to be applicable to the real world, so we should be skeptical of what Harvard came up with . . . they also think we can print our way out of a recession and inflate our way to victory.

  4. Bullet point facts are presented that may or may not be true. One would need to see a chart or something showing before/after rates so we could tell if these were true OSHA impacts, or if they merely capitalized on an existing downtrend like graph 1 on the left-hand side.

  5. 68% of the population knows what OSHA regulates. That's a positive? The fact that people know what they do? 100% of the people know what the IRS and CIA do, that doesn't mean a thing about how useful or wasteful the agency is.
The disparate presentations should keep us questioning the efficacy of any regulatory agency, especially as they co-mingle with or are dictated to by other dangerous government agencies. Bureaucracies often like to cite single successes, but if one zooms out to look at the big picture it's often a very different view.

We would love to hear your opinions about this agency, particularly if you have had work-related issues where OSHA regulation either succeeded or failed in protecting your safety and health, as well as any experience you had as a whistleblower. Please leave your comments below.

Other resources for differing opinions:

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Anonymous said...

Pretty funny to see the infographic put "common sense" in the government section.

Anonymous said...

Just another Government agency that sucks the life out of everything it comes in contact with.....

Unknown said...

As much as OSHA would like to link the improvement in safety stats over the last 43 years to its own quite costly existence, OSHA has no valid argument as to its effectiveness.

One huge problem is the US economy has made massive changes from 1970 through the present day which directly affect injury rates. Vast increases in computer technology, automation, and international safety standards that having nothing to do with OSHA; creation of new processes such as 5-S and Lean which involve employees in improving their work - much of it improving safety as a side benefit; new construction methods which are much safer and less labor-intensive; and significant decreases in manufacturing employment.

Merely noting how injuries and fatalities have decreased in that 43 year stretch is no reason to assign any credit at all to OSHA. Intuitively, I think OSHA deserves a little, but empirically, there's no way to draw a conclusion in the last four decades of US industry.

Hide Behind said...

I will name just 1 example that has affected to the betterment millions of american lives," Carpal tunnel".
As a dumb as a rock wage slave to inside Corporate ass kisser and at least a half dozen ownerships in small buisness's; Union Job Steweed for 500 men(elected) to salary and lots of non unionized labor since1950's I can point out hundreds of actual examples both pro and con.
If there is any overriding reason for OSHA's lack of statistical info and concrete proofs it is this " How do you prove a negative".
It is one of corporate controll through political connections and over seen by whomever they preapprove.
It's other huge problem and major reason today compared to its original staffing is;
"THAT IT HAS NO ONE WHO EVER ACTUALLY WORKED IN A PRODUCTIVE ENTERPRIZE, mass production assembly or old style vcut and slice food processing or heavy mill fields none.
They lived at home on the teat went to school on the teat and got employed by the teat.
AND contrary to what their "mission" states they in the main only work enough by pushing papers to keep the teat flowing.
The fact is most states own Occupational Health agencies fought against OSHA tooth and nail to even get their state residents some standards in place.
The corporate and huge privates as well used their influence over the DC kids to stall and confuse the issues just as does this article.
Many factors in why accident rates es are "papered lower", one such way and the worker aids in it is time limits cut your finger take a day off and come in we will find you something to do. NOT A LOSS TIME INCIDENT JUST A CAUTIONARY INCIDENT.
one of biggest scams is employees end up using their own medical coverage that should actually been either under OSHA or States program.
It is a bureaucracy but any organization, any, to be effective needs Good no make that better than good, Management.
An employee shows up to an environment that they conform to, managers control that environment.
Left to its own devices managers will kill off their employees in order to keep or to advance themselves.
Makes no diff office bureaucracy to production floor.
Last major disasters that took peoples lives were because corporates put teat suckers into their own forms. MINING AND ENERGY(OIL AND COAL).
We find the same forms of educated stupidity and lack of as old timers rant no fn common sence in all our bureacracys.
Sorry to burst your bubbles who think this team bull crap is your own doing but it is a management tecniqe of makin a human a part of the system .
ON THE"floor you used to have two actual modes of work.formal and informal, the way the company says and the floorsway of doing things.
The object was to not only improve effeciency on floor but less people more production at a lower cost yet you did it by introduction of an innovative R&D and systems engineers to make workers believe that the new way was what they wanted.
Today it is too late to halt destruction of alll worker if not friendly at least tolerable, environments.

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