Politics and safety in California

Workplace safety, as is any legislation, is subjected to the political whims and decisions of whichever political party is in power at the time.  In Australia, John Howard’s conservative government almost halved the already meagre budget of the National OHS Commission, stopping many of the programs of national OHS uniformity that are now being resurrected by the Labor Government of Kevin Rudd.

On 14 January 2010 an investigative report into the operation of Cal-OSHA by KCET says that there was a marked change in the enforcement policies of Cal-OSHA shortly after the election of Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger as Governor of California.

The online report is very impressive, although the  presentation’s dramatic tone is  very “American” as it tries to add gravitas to the issues.

The current Appeals Board says that it was necessary to reduce the backlog of appeal cases and they needed to make tough decisions to achieve this.  The reductions in fines to below the mandatory minimum fine of $US5000 is a difficult decision to justify and the Appeals Board chair, Candice Treager, redefines the nature of penalties in a way that should be noted for OHS professionals in other jurisdictions.

Job fatality statistics are reported as being a justification for cuts in OHS inspectors, an interpretation of statistics that many other jurisdictions and politicians could make.  This type of decision is one that union OHS advocates and researchers often fear when they state that workplace injury rates are vastly understated.  In Australia many enforcement decisions are based only on workers’ compensation claim numbers which is an absurd representation of true incident rates.

Significantly the issues of safety incentives were raised again as a major reason for the under-reporting of incidents.

The Socal report is a terrible indictment of the approach to workplace safety by businesses in California but some of the issues we have heard before in the Eric Schlosser book “Fast Food Nation”.

From a web perspective the Socal site is a great example of providing the original data upon the report is based.

It would be surprising if the issues raised in this report are not followed up or reported on elsewhere.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

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