Don’t Forget the Other Part of OSHA’s Mission

By David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

By David Wylie, Senior Technical Writer

Corporate mission statements can be so nonsensical. Heavy on jargon, empty adjectives and passive voice, they say a lot without really saying anything at all. If the mission was to use as many words as possible, commit to very little and convey nothing about what the organization stands for, mission accomplished.

If you’re looking for a model mission statement to jump start your start-up, take a peek at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). I know it’s counterintuitive that a federal agency mired in red tape and bureaucracy could offer anything in the way of clear, concise communication. But the politicians who crafted OSHA’s mission statement did a fine job. Its core messages remain as relevant today as they were when OSHA opened for business in 1970:

“With the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.”

No need for translation there. The editor in me would break the statement into two sentences, but that’s a minor matter. In a mere 43 words, the authors conveyed two key concepts:

  1. OSHA will protect everyone’s right to a safe workplace.
  2. OSHA will accomplish number 1 by enforcing standards and educating stakeholders.

Standards are an unfortunate but necessary tool for protecting workers’ rights. If you’ve ever tried to navigate those standards, you know they can be confusing, cumbersome and expensive to comply with. Consequently, many employers think of OSHA as a proverbial thorn in their sides. I think it’s time we change that paradigm. What better place to start than with the part of OSHA’s mission that addresses stakeholder education?

OSHA's annual fall prevention campaign is one example of its commitment to educating stakeholders about safety.

OSHA’s annual fall prevention campaign is one example of its commitment to educating stakeholders about safety.

This month, OSHA orchestrated a two-week campaign that demonstrates its genuine commitment to saving lives. I’m talking about the annual Stand Down for Safety campaign. From May 4 – 15, OSHA encouraged construction workers and their employers to pause during their busy days and discuss falls, the industry’s leading cause of death.

Last year’s Stand Down campaign drew 1 million participants. This year’s goal was 3 million.

Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels and his staff could have simply issued a rallying cry, and then gotten on with the business of issuing and enforcing regulations. But they did far more, creating a dedicated Stand Down website, suggesting daily themes and offering free training material that reinforced those themes.

With support from other regulatory agencies and construction companies across the country, the campaign and its collateral found their way to parts of the globe most Americans have never heard of.

In Hindon, India, a crew of 1,300 people working on a Boeing site presumably knows a little about preventing falls. The group has logged 8 million man hours without a lost-time incident. Still, workers took time to participate in the Stand Down.

And on the remote island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, supervisors led exercises on personal protective equipment, ladder safety and other fall protection topics.

OSHA's alliance with the National Safety Council is one of many partnerships it has entered with the goal of promoting workplace safety.

OSHA’s alliance with the National Safety Council is one of many partnerships it has entered with the goal of promoting workplace safety.

We won’t know whether OSHA met this year’s lofty Stand Down participation goal until all the numbers are in. If it did, the agency will have reached 4 out of every 10 construction workers. That means 40 percent of the industry’s workforce received free information that could save their lives. Not bad for a federal agency interested in little more than flexing its regulatory muscle, eh?

OSHA employs approximately 2,200 inspectors responsible for the health and safety of 130 million workers at more than 8 million worksites around the nation. I was told there would be no math when I accepted this position, so I was relieved to find that OSHA already crunched the numbers for me. That translates to about one compliance officer for every 59,000 workers.

Most employers will never have face-to-face contact with OSHA, and that’s probably just fine with them. But if an OSHA inspector does come calling one day, will you at least consider the possibility that they are there to help you keep your employees safe and on the job?

Falls don’t discriminate by industry
Falls are the leading cause of death among construction workers, but the risk is industry-wide. In fact, falls are the second-leading cause of workplace accidents. For tips on protecting your workers, click here.

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