January 13, 2009 The Pump Handle 1Comment

Yesterday, I was pressed for time when I wrote “OSHA revises its field ops manual.”   I didn’t have time to comb through the new 322-page manual , let alone spend much time writing the blog post itself.  A funny thing happens sometimes when I rush to put together a blog post—like a magnet, I’m pulled back to the topic, forced to look for something obvious that I missed in the first round.  On further consideration, here’s what I should have mentioned yesterday about OSHA’s revised how-to guide for OSHA compliance S&H officers (CSHO’s) and field staff:

Observation #1:   The document was issued on Friday January 9, with an effective date of …  …Friday, January 9.  When were the CSHO’s supposed to review the 322-page manual ?  As they drive to their next inspection?  What ever happened to giving field staff 30 days or so to digest new policies and receive training if necessary?

Which leads me to Observation #2:

Observation #2:   Does the rush to implement the new FOM have something to do with the Republicans leaving OSHA’s HQ in 6 days?   The Bush/Chao loyalists just had to get the FOM out the door before Jan 20 didn’t they?   But tell me, couldn’t the Director of Enforcement Programs and other SENIOR CAREER officials at OSHA have refused to issue the 322-page document altogether given the G.W. Bush appointees should have one foot out the door? 

At a minimum, couldn’t the SENIOR CAREER OSHA officials responsible for this document have refused to issue it FOM with the Jan 9 effective date?  Seems to me they could have argued that it would be highly inappropriate, unfair and just bad government practice to NOT give CSHO’s and other field staff a chance to read the new FOM before expecting them to follow its procedures.  The Jan 9 effective date seems quite suspicious.

If the political operatives were really, really twisting the Director of Enforcement Programs’ or the career Deputy Asst. Secretary’s arms to get the new FOM out on the streets, and these senior administrators just couldn’t stand up to the politicos’ threats (of what I’m not sure,) what about using some good old fashioned stall tactics?   Like:  “I really need to double check all the CPL references,” or “I’d like to review carefully the FOM one last time and I’ll be on leave for the next 7 days,” or [fill in your own favorite work avoidance excuse.]    But, no.  The Bush/Chao loyalists get their way one more time.          

Observation #3:  Goes back to Observation #1 and the need to allow CSHO’s and other field staff a reasonable opportunity to READ new policies.   First, CSHO’s deserve that common courtesy, but second, and more importantly, they are the people expected to follow the procedures listed in the FOM, but they don’t get a single day to review it?  Believe me, some high priced lawyers have already digested the whole document, and are just itching to trip up an ill-prepared CSHO—-the CSHO put in that unwarranted position because of very poor decision-making by OSHA HQ.

Finally, Observation #4:  In a half-hearted attempt to provide OSHA CSHO’s and field managers with guidance on the major changes between the FIRM and the FOM, the document includes a chapter called “Significant Changes.”  It’s almost as if somebody in OSHA said,

“OK, if we are not going to give the field staff 30-days or so to read and digest these changes before they take affect, we better give them a cheat sheet describing the significant changes.”

Unfortunately, many hardly seem helpful.  For example:

  • “Section II:  Area Office responsibilities have been expanded.”
  • “Paragraph X.C.:  Clarifies when not to group or combine violations.”
  • “Sections XI, XII, XIII, and XIV: Guidance on citing health standard violations has been updated.”

and the list goes on like this for six or seven pages.  As an outside observer trying to figure out how the “Significant Changes” section might be useful, I just envision a lot of flipping pages between this list, and the other 300+ pages in the FOM.   Not the best use of time for stressed, overworked CSHO’s. 

Given that OSHA HQ didn’t give the agency’s CSHO’s a single day to digest these changes, I wonder if a version for CSHO’s with revised text marked with YELLOW highlighting might have eased things a bit.

Celeste Monforton, MPH, DrPH worked at OSHA and MSHA from 1991-2001.  She was not an OSHA CSHO or a federal mine inspector, but with this post, is trying to put her feet in the boots of these dedicated DOL career employees and their field bosses.

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