Thursday, March 1, 2012

OSHA Says They Don’t Kill Jobs; Here’s Proof To The Contrary

Dr. David Michaels, head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), once famously defended his agency’s issuance of new OSHA safety regulations by stating: OSHA is not working to kill jobs; we're here to stop jobs from killing workers.”  However, unilateral decisions recently made by OSHA, a federal agency housed under the U.S. Department of Labor, seem to run counter to the job-killing portion of that philosophy, and it has nothing to do with the issuance of workplace safety regulations.

As you probably know, OSHA developed and has administered a very successful OSHA Outreach Training Program for several years, resulting in millions of workers receiving valuable training on OSHA regulations and hazard avoidance, much of it provided by self-employed individuals and gainfully employed OSHA-authorized Outreach trainers working for safety consulting firms. And for the last several years, these OSHA Outreach courses have been available for students to take online too. Love them or hate them, the online Outreach courses are here to stay, as OSHA recently announced the continued acceptance of these courses. However, OSHA suddenly decided to restrict how these online courses are made available to the general public.

OSHA has decided to no longer allow the online Outreach courses to be offered by “resellers” on their websites as of April 1st; the courses will only be allowed to be sold on the internet directly by those select few companies and organizations that OSHA recently approved as online providers. It has also been revealed that in a closed-door meeting, OSHA said they will restrict the use of the generic term “osha” in the URL of websites of firms selling online Outreach courses. Furthermore, OSHA said they will allow no safety consultant (nor anyone else for that matter) to make a profit by placing any button or ad that links back to an online course provider’s website.

When these new policies takes effect, the hundreds of safety consulting companies who have offered links to these courses on their websites for years and receive a commission will instantly be restrained from supplementing their income with online course sales. To many “mom and pop” consultants, this extra income is often the difference between staying in business and shutting their doors. So these policy changes will no doubt put a few of them out of business and their employees on the street. And the many workers employed as website developers, marketing reps, and sales and service agents for companies acting as resellers or advertisers for these courses will soon be getting pink slips too. Not exactly a job-friendly scenario.

There was no explanation given by OSHA for their sudden change of heart. I can only speculate that OSHA is possibly concerned about unethical marketing practices by some resellers (a big problem in the past that seems to have been all but wiped out). Or perhaps they do not have the resources to monitor the resellers. And as for the restriction of the URL’s, maybe OSHA thinks some poor soul could mistake a website with “osha” in the URL for the federal OSHA website. But these issues are easily addressed without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

OSHA could develop and publish mandatory policies for resellers on the OSHA website, just like they have done for the live Outreach trainers, and hold the resellers or course providers accountable for meeting the rules. Or they could turn the delivery and administration of the online Outreach Training course over to a self-funded, non-profit organization made up of the Online Outreach Training providers, similar to how the OTI’s run their Outreach programs in various areas of the country, and then hold them accountable for enforcing any necessary rules or guidelines.

As for the restriction on URL’s, take it from someone who once owned over 100 websites with “osha” appearing somewhere in the URL; I have received hundreds of calls and emails over the years from people looking for assistance because they could not locate the telephone number of their local OSHA Area Office on the federal OSHA website, but not once has someone called me thinking I was OSHA.  But if OSHA is truly concerned that a private website might be mistaken for their own, I’m sure the owners of those “offending” sites would be more than willing to place a disclaimer on their websites.

I would encourage the powers to be at OSHA to rethink their decisions, hold discussions in an open forum that incorporates input from affected individuals (just like when a proposed OSHA standard is issued), then work out solutions that preserve these jobs instead of throwing people out of work. And for all of you OSHA-authorized trainers who conduct live 10 and 30-hour training classes and are not affected by these changes to the online programs (and who may even loathe the online courses), you should be concerned too. For it could be just a matter of time before OSHA makes similar changes that affect your ability to market and offer live on-site Outreach classes directly to your customers.

In the interest of full disclosure; I used to be a major reseller of the online OSHA Outreach courses. But I sold off all my websites that offered online courses over a year ago, so I no longer make a profit from selling online OSHA Outreach courses. I do have links on one of my new websites to online Outreach courses offered through a buddy’s website, but I receive absolutely no compensation for any sales of their courses. Nor do I speak for the online training industry; my opinions are my own. And, no, I am not an OSHA-hater either; I actually have a general appreciation for many employees of the agency who perform what is often considered to be a thankless job.

But even though these changes do not affect me directly, I do feel compelled to act as an advocate for the many businesses and individuals that will see their livelihoods negatively affected by these unnecessary infringements on their ability to make a living.

In closing, I’d like to share a quote about the purpose of Government, attributed to the late, great President Ronald Reagan, which I read in an editorial written by Rep. Tim Walberg (R – MI), that recently appeared in the Washington Examiner:

"It is not my intention to do away with government. It is rather, to make it work-work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it."

Readers: If you agree with this philosophy, and feel these changes to the Outreach Training program are detrimental to the economic well-being of American workers and businesses, and/or that OSHA should focus on regulating workplace safety instead of the internet, contact Dr. Michaels [http://www.osha.gov/as/index.html] or his boss Hilda Solis [talktosolis@dol.gov], head of the U.S. Dept. of Labor (ironic, huh?), and let them know what you think. Better yet, share your concerns with your Senator, Congressman, or even President Obama [http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml], as they all profess to be focused on preserving jobs instead of eliminating them. And especially to you safety professionals who offer Outreach training courses (live or online), you’d better speak out now if you are at all concerned, because the job you save may eventually be your own.

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