More and more, businessmen and women are saying they like OSHA—the new OSHA, whose modus operandi has changed from mainly enforcement to increased partnership with industry and labor. The new OSHA is a symbol of the fast-moving reinvention of the federal government’s regulatory system.
So, Dear created a self-managed “Design Team” in 1994 composed of 17 OSHA employees—compliance officers, managers, union representatives, and support staff from all over the country. (The team later expanded to 27 employees.) Dear gave them a two-year mandate and a blank piece of paper. Their charge: design a new OSHA, drawing from best practices in government and the private sector. The effort is an NPR Reinvention Lab. Team leaders are Leo Carey, representing management, and Ken Maglicic, Vice President, National Council of Field Labor Locals, American Federation of Government Employees. Maglicic works as a compliance officer in the Columbus, Ohio, office.
“I’ve been on a lot of teams,” said team member David Katsock, compliance officer at the OSHA area office in Parsippany, NJ, “but all the others were management-directed.” Not this one, Katsock said. People worked on an equal footing. “Members left their titles at the door,” he said.
They discovered the agency was relying on one tool—inspections—to do the job, though research showed it would take 87 years for OSHA inspectors to visit every worksite in the country. They concluded that OSHA should add other tools to its reliance on enforcement penalties and citations. “We cannot be everywhere all the time,” said team member Robert Kulick, Area Director at Parsippany.
The Design Team came up with new tools, such as incentives and partnerships with employers, trade associations, unions and other governmental organizations. Partners would work together on the common goal of eliminating hazards to prevent injuries and illnesses. Traditional enforcement would focus on those who chose not to participate in the partnership efforts.
The new OSHA would judge its own performance by its impact on worker health and safety, not the number of inspections, citations, and penalties. Inspectors would stop working autonomously, rulebook in hand, in a reactive, piecemeal approach. Instead, area office staff would work in self-directed, multi-disciplinary teams, using problem-solving techniques and creative approaches to address hazardous working conditions. Two team models emerged. One—the response team—focuses on immediate complaints, referrals, outreach, and fatalities. The other—a strategic intervention team—works on longer-range prevention and partnership. The overall design is called Getting Results and Improving Performance (GRIP).
All the research and evaluation paid off when GRIP was put into practice. “The two best parts of redesign...are employee participation and outcome measurement,” according to Howard Eberts, a union steward on the strategic intervention team in Columbus, Ohio. “By allowing field employees to actively participate in improving the way we do business, our employees have more ownership in our work and take more pride in making our office succeed,” Eberts said.
By the summer of 1996, 15 (of 67) area offices had implemented GRIP and the roll-out continues. OSHA workers have come up with some creative approaches for improving worker safety and health:
To counter these threats, OSHA joined with the New Jersey State Police, the NJ Department of Transportation, and the International Laborers Union. The program uses an already existing state highway construction police unit to be a “second set of eyes” at construction sites. When troopers observe a hazardous condition, they bring it to the immediate attention of the contractor and the NJDOT. If the problem isn’t fixed, the troopers call OSHA. Since OSHA trained the police in hazard recognition, the troopers have reported four times as many interventions.
The partnership was a success. Three workers who fell from heights ranging from 60 to 100 feet were protected and uninjured. Without the full body harnesses they were wearing, plus the “tie off,” all three would have been killed. In the first 90 days, Horizon had a 96 percent reduction in accident costs per person hour—from $4.26 to 18 cents. Over six months, total workers compensation claims costs fell from more than $1 million to $13,200. Horizon Safety Director John Paulk now travels at company expense to tell others about the new OSHA.
Cleveland, which receives the highest volume of complaints in the country, reduced the average time between the complaint and abatement from 39 workdays to nine; Peoria reduced its response time from 23 days to five. Backlogs are now rare. OSHA implemented the phone/fax complaint handling process nationwide.
OSHA’s national office has also improved its service to the public. The agency gets about 12,000 requests a month for publications. In the past, mail orders were backlogged, phones went unanswered, and publications were often out of print. The publications staff got a GRIP, too. They cut the time for processing phone or mail orders from six weeks to less than one day and the backlog from 3,000 pieces to under 100.
Information technology also plays a big role in OHSA’s efforts to meet the public’s requests for help. OSHA’s popular Web site (see below) receives close to one million hits a month, mostly from industry. The agency produced a CD-ROM to deliver more information to clients in the swiftest way possible.
Vice President Gore recognized the changes as well when he presented OSHA’s Design Team with a Hammer Award on June 12, 1996. “There really is a new OSHA out there,” the Vice President said. “The fact that you’re doing it will be an inspiration to others.”
After the award presentation, Parsipanny’s Dave Katsock said, “I would do any project with this team. This team could find a way to get to Mars.”