Company owners and top managers sometimes get caught in a habit of thinking of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as the enemy.
Just like the speeder who gets pulled over by the highway patrol, they blame the enforcer when their plant gets caught breaking a safety rule. You've heard the excuses:
* “Why should I be penalized when the accident was the fault of my employee/foreman/supervisor/equipment supplier?”
* “There's nothing wrong at this plant, it's just a union trying to stir up workers.”
* “Our problem isn't nearly as serious as OSHA made it out to be. I tried to tell that to the inspector, but he wrote it up anyway.”
We hear those complaints too, especially when we write about serious accidents and hefty fines levied against some plastics processors. But it's heartening to report that just as frequently, if not more so, we run into managers who want more information on safety issues and more details on industrial accidents. They're eager to learn from others' mistakes and anxious to share best practices with their peers.
On that front, we're pleased to see that President Bush's administration is retaining a Clinton-era effort designed to cut down on accidents at some of the most dangerous U.S. plants, while drawing attention to companies that have experienced greater-than-average safety problems.
Last month OSHA released its annual list of firms that reported more than eight lost workdays per 100 workers last year. The directory of 14,000 firms includes at least 400 U.S. plastics processors. Release of the list was delayed a few months because of the change in presidential administrations.
The worst third will be targeted for inspections. All companies on the list are encouraged to contact their local OSHA offices and volunteer for the agency's free consultations. That's right, free. Companies that have gone through that process recommend it, and so does the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington.
It may go against some companies' nature to ask OSHA for help — sort of like inviting the state trooper to ride shotgun in your newly refurbished 1971 Dodge Challenger. But when you consider the potential liability and the cost of remaining on the list, you'll agree it makes perfect sense.