I am typically a very positive person; one who sees the glass as half full. I think you almost have to be overly optimistic to succeed as a business owner these days. That is why I found it strange that I was so discomfitted by waiting in the conference room at the regional OSHA office. As I sat there waiting for the director to attend the meeting, thoughts about how our government targets small business filled my head, and my normally sunny outlook turned gray.

 veryone is familiar with how the construction industry has been challenged over the past five years. It is heartbreaking how many architects, contractors, developers, and manufacturers have been forced to call it quits during the recent recession.

Read my series on this issue of a half-glass business outlook

Affordable Healthcare?

Unfunded pensions

Contending with OSHA

It strikes me as strange that during this time of economic hardship the government would be applying more pressure to small business. It seems to me that we are seen as a vital source of governmental revenue at the worst possible time. The cost increases of Affordable Healthcare, pension fund guarantees, OSHA, and other programs seem to be preying on the small business survivors.

 As I was waiting in the conference room for 30 minutes for the area director to make our scheduled meeting, I noticed a chalkboard in the room. The board boldly outlined the new annual sales goals for OSHA. The total number of inspections was prominently displayed as well as the individual breakdown by compliance officer and his specific percentage of goal achieved. Encouraging words such as “We only have 22 more inspections to meet our goal!” emblazoned the board. The sales consultant, Jeffrey Gitomer, would have been proud of the sales incentive system displayed in this OSHA office.

I didn’t realize that OSHA was a governmental sales organization. I thought its mission was to promote and enforce safe work practices in American business. But it was obvious from this chalkboard that the new mission is to produce increased revenues from fines generated from inspections. I wouldn’t doubt that OSHA pays a commission to inspectors based upon completed inspections and revenues.

Our company happens to have an industry classification that puts us in a high risk for amputees since we engage in woodworking. As a result, OSHA calls on us every two years for a surprise inspection. Over the past six years, we have had three inspections. When an inspector visits, he has to leave with a list of violations. Several inspectors have told me that it is so easy to find violations that they could find a dozen back in their office alone.

We spend a lot of time and money on safety and haven’t had a lost work injury for six years. But that didn’t stop OSHA from finding items like frayed insulation on a grinder, a ground missing from an extension cord, a ladder leaning against a paint booth, and other minor offenses. When all the fines are added up, the wages for the inspector and the cost for the swanky OSHA office space was more than covered. Once again, business is called upon to contribute.

So what is small business supposed to do about the prevailing conditions in Washington? One thing we can do is to support business-minded politicians who will recognize the importance of supporting the vitality of the small enterprise. Another thing we can do is to get the message out about the governmental challenges that hamper the health of businesses in the construction industry. Maybe this will motivate changing the system. And finally, we can maintain our optimism that the current circumstances will eventually improve at sometime in the future.

Now where did I put that half-full glass of water?