OSHA Should Know It's None of Their Business

By Brooks Gentleman | Posted: 10/04/2013 3:47PM


Brooks Gentleman 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?


About the Author

Brooks Gentleman

Brooks Gentleman has been in the wood window and architectural millwork business for the past 25 years and is currently the owner of Re-View, a manufacturer of custom wood window replicas for historic landmarks across the country based in Kansas City, MO. www.re-view.biz

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October, 02, 2013 at 03:42 PM

How about pro-actively addressing safety hazards. why not use the available OSHA consultation service available to small businesses so these "minor" issues can be identified and addressed. A missing ground could result in someone receiving a shock/being killed. Whether you think so or not, OSHA plays a vital role in workplace safety. Perhaps you don't realize that approx 5,000 people are killed on the job each year here in the US. Targeting high hazard work sites for inspections is exactly what the agency should be doing. Your attitude towards the safety of your employees is disappointing.

Bill Kowalski    
St. Louis, Missouri  |  October, 02, 2013 at 04:43 PM

Did you even read the post? Is there any evidence the writer doesn't care about employee safety? Was there a single word in this post that even implies the writer would prefer to be less diligent about employee safety? No. This post is about a faulty system that incentivizes inspectors to write fines, regardless of the best efforts of an employer. Where the workplace has no true hazards, the inspectors will be increasingly strict, simply because their personal performance is scored based on the number of fines they write. Unlike you, I know what I'm talking about. I worked for OSHA for years and was their top performer in both offices I worked in. The owner of this blog is very gracious to keep your irrelevant, meaningless comment visible here, but I would suggest he delete it.

October, 03, 2013 at 11:10 AM

@ Bill, Did you even read the post, cause I did, and what I took from it was that a shop that is routinely inspected due to it being a high hazard work site, got dinged for a few minor violations and is now complaining about it, instead of being proactive and finding and correcting those violations themselves! And since you are such in the know about the inner workings of OSHA and all its flaws and faults, why not come forward and expose everything? I am sure it would be easy to prove since you are so knowledgeable - "Unlike you, I know what I'm talking about. I worked for OSHA for years and was their top performer in both offices I worked in." I would think that proof from a "top performer in both offices" that had knowledge "about a faulty system that incentivizes inspectors to write fines, regardless of the best efforts of an employer. Where the workplace has no true hazards" - would be huge!!! I mean you have proof that these incentives are happening right??? Monies are changing hands, extra days off for the most violations written, trips to the Bahamas??? Here let me help you out - http://www.whistleblowers.gov/ - Pick up the phone and make the call, its toll free even!!! And as to deleting someones post because you disagree with it or because it does not support your feelings or side of the story, there's this thing called the first amendment, or is it "irrelevant, meaningless" to you also ????

CA  |  October, 07, 2013 at 06:34 PM

Still missing the point anonymous. The point is the sales like tactics used by a government funded agency. If OSHA really cared only about employee safety, then why not inspect and educate without fines? Oh, financial penalties provide negative incentive you say? Well then why not donate 100% to charities? We know that's not happening. So we get back to the point of protecting employees, and there are two schools of thought for this. Education and enforcement. Perhaps there can and should be a balance of both, but to try to spin your argument on technical speak (a frayed wires, grounds and leaning ladders), that it could kill somebody does not help the problem. So can employee complacency and shortcuts.. Yes, employers have an obligation to look out for the safety of employees but when the great majority of employers are small business, a few "minor" fines and shut doors and then there are no jobs. There needs to be a balance and over-regulation kills jobs. EVERY workplace would be cited if inspected, no matter how pro-active the employer. And that is the point of the article. Is OSHA really looking out of the safety of employees or is it a front for their own efforts of self-preservation? In a crimeless society, who needs police?


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