The Debate Over OSHA Is it Effective or Not? When people go to work the one thing they should be able to count on is safety, which is exactly what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), was created to do. You do not expect to be injured in your place of employment, but the one hundred and forty six women working for the Triangle Waist Company unfortunately were killed in a fire that should never have happened. The debate still stands today as to whether or not OSHA is truly effective.
OSHA regulations have helped decrease the number of deaths, injuries and illnesses of employees dramatically. In my opinion, OSHA is a necessity in the workplace. OSHA was created in response to the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1970. In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson was encouraged to create a bill that covered safety in the workplace. President Johnson had an idea that would allow the Labor Department to check businesses for hazardous settings. It was not until December 29, 1970 that President Richard Nixon signed the bill (History and Mission of OSHA).
OSHA was produced as an attempt to reduce the extreme number of on the job injuries, illnesses and deaths. Their main goal is to keep their employees safe. By doing so, OSHA can reduce the cost of workers’ compensation insurance. Other benefits also include a decrease in medical expenses, a drop in damaged products and an increase in productivity (Shuput). OSHA requires employers to offer safe working conditions in order to protect their workers while on the job. Employers must also recognize and follow the rules that apply to the workplace, and make sure that their employees use safety protective equipment.
Some of the tools businesses need to run safety programs include accident investigation, emergency planning, record keeping, and safety inspections. Employers have certain responsibilities under OSHA. Some of the more important include following OSHA regulations, watching workplace conditions, correctly using safety equipment, identifying dangers using signs, labels, and color codes. They also have to keep record of injuries and report serious accidents or hospitalizations (Shuput). Employers would rather have their own safety training programs rather than allow the overnment to order their safety guidelines. Employers feel as though they can provide their employees with better regulations that target their specific wants and needs in the workplace as compared to the general regulations already set by OSHA. They feel as though the government already takes enough of their money and would rather not have another reason to give them more. Some feel the government is out to collect as much money as they possibly can. According to Kellie Crete, a safety and risk manager, “Since the new administration in 2008, the number of inspections from 2008 – 2009 had increased by 167%.
Because of this dramatic increase in inspections, fines associated with non-compliant items have significantly increased as well” (Crete). Employees most likely feel that by increasing the number of inspections each year they are at a greater risk of potentially being fined. A common complaint from employers is that OSHA slows them down. OSHA is aware that completing a job safely will always take more time than accomplishing it unsafely. According to Jim White, author of What I Hate About OSHA, “You have to plan and prepare, assemble what is needed, and then follow your plan; that all takes time” (White).
Yes, the regulations are tedious but they are only put in place for the benefit of the employer. With these regulations, OSHA helps reduce medical expenses the employer would be required to pay if a worker was injured while on the job. There are a handful of groups that are exempt from following the regulations issued by OSHA. Family workers working on family-owned farms are not technically seen as employees. Therefore, they are exempt from following OSHA regulations. An independently run business is also exempt.
If the business has no employees, then the owner is not considered an employer and OSHA technically only has authority over employers. Of course employers who are required to follow OSHA regulations are not thrilled to know that there are groups who are exempt. There are a number of employers who still continue to argue about whether or not small businesses are exempt from OSHA regulations. The truth is that although OSHA does not usually conduct inspections at businesses where there are less than ten employees, that does not mean they are exempt from following OSHA regulations (Chambers).
Another complaint of OSHA is the attitude that Congress did not consider the different business sizes when setting national standards (Weidenbaum). There is much debate over the idea that a “one size fits all” approach without giving special consideration to the size of a business or type of business. For example, there should be different regulations for a retail store of fifteen employees as compared to a manufacturing plant which employees hundreds. There was an incident I read about during my research that really caught my attention.
An OSHA inspector actually required separate male and female restrooms for an extremely small business where the only two employees were a married couple. I understand that even the company of OSHA has specific guidelines they are required to follow, but depending on the situation, these regulations sometimes truly need to be altered. When employers do not follow the regulations issued by OSHA, they can be fined up to $500,000 depending on the violation. The violations are based on a scale that ranges from “other-than-serious to a willful violation. An other-than-serious violation most likely would not cause death or a serious injury. The penalty for this violation ranges from $0 to $1,000. A willful violation is given when the employer is fully aware of the set rules and simply chooses not to follow them. When this rule is broken, the penalty ranges from $5,000 to $70,000. If a violation unfortunately results in death, the employer can be fined anywhere between $250,000 and $500,000 as well as up to six months in jail. If an employer chooses to repeat past violations, they can be fined up to $70,000 (OSHA Federal Penalty Schedule).
Business owners complain about the number of citations OSHA issues and how they are not able to pay the fines and still run their business profitably. OSHA’s response to these types of complaints is if a business is not able to provide their employees with a safe workplace, then they should no longer be in business. With employer’s first priority being profitability, I would think that they would want to obey OSHA regulations in order to limit their chance of possibly getting fined. While talking with Kellie Crete, she mentioned a situation where an employee collected a package from UPS and placed it in front of the fire extinguisher.
If an OSHA representative were to stop by to give a random inspection, the business would have been fined $7,000 (Crete). In my opinion, the fines are steep but maybe they are costly because OSHA hopes that the employer will not have a reoccurrence of the same violation. I see OSHA as a necessary tool in the workplace as it has been proven that the number of deaths, injuries and illnesses of employees has been reduced. Since 1970, the number of employment deaths has decreased by more than sixty percent and injuries and illnesses by at least forty percent (Shuput).
Injuries and illnesses have a major impact on a company’s ability to make a profit. When an employee is injured, the employer may need to pay workers’ compensation and medical expenses. Other costs may include training new employees, loss of work hours and repair of damaged equipment (Business Case for Safety and Health). All companies are in business to make a profit and when an employee is injured, these expenses can add up quickly and limit their ability to make money. I found it interesting to read that if an employee feels as though their place of work is hazardous, they have a right to call OSHA and request an inspection.
After OSHA confirms that the request is from an actual employee, the employee has the choice to and usually prefers to remain anonymous. OSHA must then conduct the inspection within the next thirty days. During the inspection, OSHA is only supposed to focus on the items complained by the employees. However, they can issue citations for any other violations they see while performing their inspection (Chambers). I believe it is extremely important for employees to be aware of their surroundings in the workplace and know they can report any conditions they feel are threatening.
As long as employers are following the rules to keep the workplace safe and the employees are following these set rules as well, it should remain a safe environment. If something falls short and the employer does not notice or chooses not to fix it, one of the employees should be willing to file a complaint to have the problem fixed. It is important that the employer and the employees work together or it will never work. The safety of the employees should be one the employer’s top priorities, and if it is not, OSHA will do everything in their power to make sure that changes.
For OSHA to be effective, I believe everyone must have the right attitude in the workplace. Both employers and workers should always have an open mind with changes to previously set safety guidelines. We all know that change is not always easy, but is sometimes necessary. Recently I was watching an episode of “Duck Dynasty,” which is a reality show about a family in Louisiana who own and run a business in which they manufacture and distribute duck calls. During this episode the boss, Willie, told his employees, who are mostly family and friends, that the state authorized a training seminar.
The employees complained about having to come in on the weekend and thought the idea was both ridiculous and a waste of time. When the human resources representative arrived for the seminar, the workers were inconsiderate and continued to talk and interrupt her. Willie was yawning and not exactly setting a good example for his employees. I know this is a reality show and it is not always “reality,” but what I took from this episode was the thought that without a positive attitude and an open mind to change, employers could potentially be putting themselves and other workers at risk for injury.
It is unfortunate how it takes such a tragedy in order to actually apply safety procedures in the workplace. According to OSHA’s Security Door Lock System, employees must be able to open an exit route door from the inside at all times without keys, tools or special knowledge. The girls inside the Triangle Waist Company were locked in from the outside because the owners felt it was a beneficial way to prevent the workers from stealing sewing materials. By being locked inside the building, the workers were not able to take their regular smoking breaks.
It is believed that a cigarette butt might have been thrown into a bucket of scraps and started the fire (Hillenbrand). In case of an emergency, the girls were only supplied with twenty-seven buckets of water. The Fire Protection regulation states that the employer should provide convenient fire extinguishers that are accessible to employees (Portable Fire Extinguishers). After failing to escape through the exit doors, the girls chose to use the fire escapes through the windows. The fire escapes were not functional and began collapsing as the girls attempted to evacuate the factory.
Had there been an Emergency Action Plan with a safe procedure for emergency evacuation and exit route assignments, the fire escapes would have been in working condition and the girls would have been able to exit safely (Emergency Action Plan). If OSHA had been in effect in 1911, there is a great possibility that these one hundred and forty six innocent, young girls may have survived the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. As the debate still stands today, I can understand why employers would have such negative opinions about OSHA.
They feel as though OSHA’s “one size fits all” approach to their regulations is extremely unfair. All businesses are different and should be treated as so. With all the rules and regulations that employers are required to follow, they believe OSHA is slowing them down. The time they are spending double-checking everything to make sure that they are following the regulations correctly is taking away from what they could potentially accomplish. Of course employers feel as though the penalties for not following OSHA regulations are too highly priced.
They cannot possibly afford to pay the incredibly expensive violation fees while still trying to run their businesses profitably. But I feel strongly that OSHA is truly effective. It has been proven that the number of deaths, injuries and illnesses of employees has been reduced since OSHA’s regulations have been in effect. By keeping their employees safe, employers are saving the money they would be spending on workers compensation and medical expenses. Employees are able to improve their own working conditions by calling OSHA and requesting an inspection if they feel as though it is not a safe environment.
As tedious, frustrating and time consuming as the standards are we cannot forget the reason why they are in place and how safety must be the employer’s number one priority. Everyone in the company should have a positive attitude and open mind to the ever-changing OSHA regulations, as this could keep them safe and prevent future injuries. If the employer and the employees agree to work as a team, I feel strongly that OSHA will most likely be effective. Although it can be costly at times, can we really put a price on safety?