As a part of my professional life I need to stay on top of things in “OSHA world.” For the Cleveland Browns fans out there “OSHA” is the government acronym for “Occupational Safety and Health Administration.” It is that government agency charged with keeping our workplaces safe. Because I try to stay on top of it, I was stunned when I ran across this lede in a story on a recent conference of safety professionals:
One of the most thought-stirring sessions at this year’s American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Expo (AIHce) held this week in Salt Lake City is a discussion featuring OSHA boss Dr. David Michaels and Department of Labor Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division Dr. David Weil. They are talking about Dr. Weil’s 2014 book, “The Fissured Workplace: Why work became so bad for so many and what can be done to improve it,” published by the Harvard Press, in the context of workplace safety and health outcomes.
These are very important people in OSHA world proclaiming very loudly to people that matter in the field that the workplace is increasingly dangerous. I was stunned because the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s most recently published figures show a downward trend in workplace injury and illness in every category. Something does not add up here.
At least it does not add up until you read the basis of the contention:
According to Dr. Weil, large corporations have shed their role as direct employers of the people responsible for their products, in favor of outsourcing work to small companies that compete with one another. The result, he says: declining wages, eroding benefits, inadequate health and safety protections, and widening income inequality.
Dr. Michaels and Dr. Weil will discuss the safety and health consequences of employers relinquishing direct control to subcontractors, vendors, and franchises. This transition to a much more fragmented workforce and supply chain makes it difficult to create and sustain cultures of safety in organizations. Instead of command and control and direct oversight and direct employee engagement by the sourcing employer, the hard, dirty and dangerous work is often farmed out. And the contractors assuming worksite risks are often small enterprises with limited and sometimes no safety and health expertise on staff.
In other words the problem is not that the workplace is statistically less safe, but that OSHA is less able to control things and therefore it must be less safe. Things are starting to smell very Orwellian here.
Seemingly coincidentally, when I came across this juxtaposition of claim and statistic, one of my daily devotional readings discussed:
…I am reminded of a well-known quotation from Max De Pree. In his book Leadership Is an Art, Max writes, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor. That sums up the progress of an artful leader” (p. 11).
So, here we have leaders in a field trying to “define reality” in a way that is beneficial to their bureaucracy but in utter contrast to actual reality. (Paging Jim Geraghty…paging Jim Geraghty) This no longer smells Orwellian, it simply IS Orwellian.
That I ran into that “defining reality” reference in a Christian devotional reading speaks volumes. Christianity, with its emphasis on among other things – truth telling, places a burden on a leader that is defining reality to make that defined reality comport with actual reality. With its emphasis on self-sacrifice and service, Christianity places a burden on a leader defining reality to make that defined reality serve the nation, not bureaucratic self-interest.
And so we discover yet another reason why the voice of religion matters in our national body politic.
Now, about Obama’s claim that, ” I think I am the closest thing to a Jew that has ever sat in this office,…”