I just looked up the definition of common sense. Google defines common sense as; “good sense and sound judgement in practical matters”. Merriam Webster defines common sense; “the ability to think and behave in a reasonable way and to make good decisions”. The first definition actually uses one of the words of the subject, “Sense” in the definition. How can you use one of the subjects words in your definition of itself? Webster uses the term “reasonable way” and adds “to make good decisions”. Now we need to define reasonable. The problem is no two people would call the same things reasonable and who decides if a decision is good or bad. The point is “COMMON SENSE” is very illusive, both in definition and in society. I have always said that common sense implies common experiences that allow two or more people to reach common conclusions, and since no two of us have the exact same prior experience, common sense can’t exist.
Oh well… I’m not here to talk about common sense in and of itself. I’m here to talk about OSHA or more appropriately, government regulations. OSHA was signed into law in 1969 by President Nixon. First let me say I’m not here to bash the government or OSHA. There is an obvious need and place for both. If you look at the workplace accident statistics pre-OSHA and after OSHA it is easy to see there is a need. Since the establishment of OSHA there has been a 60% reduction in work place fatalities and a 40% reduction in work place injuries and illnesses. So what does OSHA and common sense have in common? NOTHING, that is the point of this blog.
I have a book on my desk entitled “29 CFR 1910 OSHA General Industry Regulations. This is one of many OSHA publications. Ebsco Spring is covered under the regulations in 1910. The book sitting on my desk is the size of a medium sized city phone book, on thin paper with very small print. Pages and pages and pages of rules and regulations that we are expected to follow. The regulations attempt to define and regulate common sense. That’s the tie in. You can’t regulate common sense. You can’t write laws to cover EVERY possible situation. When you try you get 29 CFR 1910. The problem is that as an employer, Ebsco is responsible to follow all the regulations included in this book. EVERYTHING. It is very difficult to be knowledgeable of all the regulations in a book this size. As with any law, ignorance is no defense. Now let me be very clear about one point. I am talking about the regulations, not the agency. We have had OSHA inspectors at Ebsco and they were great people. They were not here to “get us”. They worked with us, showed us better ways and really improved on safety program. I really feel sorry for the OSHA inspectors. They are responsible for auditing everything in that book. I don’t see how they keep up.
The problem with laws and regulations that attempt to cover everything is that they blur the really important points under the stack of rules and regulations. Companies attempt to follow all the rules and regulations and it is essentially impossible. They get bogged down on minute details and can’t focus on the really important safety issues as they would like. Attempting to regulate everything often leads to accomplishing very little. The Affordable Health Care Act is a perfect example. Affordable health care for everyone is a noble pursuit. After the government finished with it we have an undecipherable, inoperable, stack of paper. The saying goes, The proof is in the details” . The problem with bureaucratic regulations is the sheer number of details.
Safety is a priority at Ebsco. We are currently developing a new safety management system based on ISO 18001. 29 CFR 1910 plays a major role in our program. We are using it as a resource and guide to build our program. I am not saying that OSHA or 29 CFR, 1910 are bad. What a I am saying is that we need to get government back to assisting, providing resources and out of attempting to mandate and control every detail of business. It is difficult to compete globally when American regulations take so many hours and resources to simply understand what they are saying. Many foreign competitors have government agencies assisting their business to compete. American bureaucracies, with the best intentions often hamper business, making them less competitive. It’s time to cut the red tape, simplify and focus agency regulations and get let business compete.
Oh wait….That would require a little common sense. Refer to paragraph one and never mind.
If you will excuse me, I have a couple thousand pages of the 29 CFR 1910 to read.