A New Perspective
by Trey Barrineau
May 24th, 2016

OSHA Overreach: Do New Rules Go Too Far?

Workplace safety is clearly something the door and window industry takes seriously. A current poll on our website shows that more than 90 percent of respondents work for companies with safety plans in place. That’s the good news. The bad news? Those safety plans will soon be tested by new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules.

I’ve written lot in the past year and a half about companies in the industry facing OSHA citations for safety violations. It’s not always a popular subject, especially for the businesses dealing with the publicity. But it’s about to become a much bigger deal, with much larger implications than anything I might report on.

Earlier this month, OSHA issued a new rule that requires companies to make all their injury and illness data public — an open, searchable online database of every incident, whether it’s a minor cut or a major accident. The new requirements take effect August 10, 2016, with phased-in data submissions beginning in 2017.

I’m of two minds about this.

On one hand, a degree of transparency about workplace safety is admirable. Done right, it can help potential employees identify places they might not want to work. It can also help hold businesses accountable to the public. In fact, those are some of OSHA’s justifications for the new rules.

“Our new reporting requirements will ‘nudge’ employers to prevent worker injuries and illnesses to demonstrate to investors, job-seekers, customers and the public that they operate safe and well-managed facilities,” said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.

On the other hand, the hyper-transparency that OSHA is proposing could easily be abused. For example, in a world where door and window manufacturers and  installers are fighting to entice a shrinking pool of qualified workers, it’s possible that this vast new OSHA database, which might include incidents such as heart attacks that have nothing to do with workplace safety, could be used as a negative recruiting tool.

And that’s just one potential downside. What about two fiercely competitive companies in a local market using OSHA injury information in negative advertisements? Or unions seeking to organize?

“OSHA created a rule that does nothing to achieve its stated goal of reducing workplace injuries and illnesses and ignored the concerns from industry that this rulemaking will have unintended negative consequences,” says Greg Sizemore, Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) vice president of health, safety, environment and workforce development, adding that the new regulations “will give competitors undue access to business processes that should remain confidential.”

Of course, workplace safety is truly a matter of life and death. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4,679 workers died on the job in 2014. When OSHA was created in 1973, there were more than 14,000 fatalities at workplaces in the U.S., according to Mike Burk of Fenestration Fundamentals LLC, who is an authority on workplace safety in the industry. During a recent webinar on workplace safety he conducted for the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA), Burk praised the glass business for its commitment to injury-free work environments.

“It’s one of the safest industries around,” he said. “We take a lot of care to make sure our workers our safe.”

And, citing the huge decline in workplace deaths over the decades, he said OSHA can often be a valuable ally.

“Don’t be afraid of OSHA or any organization that might help you make for a safer place,” he said.

But there’s a lot of fear rippling through the industry right now about what many see as more regulatory overreach from  the federal government.

What do you think? Leave a comment below — and look for more coverage of this topic in an upcoming issue of DWM magazine.

 

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  1. At a recent seminar I rehashed the fact that the fatality rate has continued to decline in the US and gave all safety consultants a pat on their collective backs. A manufacture called my statistic into question. He raise the fact that this decrease directly corresponds to the number of manufacturing jobs. Gone are the days of garment factories. If a product can be assembled, manufactured or converted in another country, it is. Think about it.

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