Editor's Note

Editor's Note: The shame of it

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“Is OSHA’s ‘shaming’ (via press releases, etc.) of employers who violate safety rules an effective deterrent?”

This was a recent poll question on the Safety+Health website. The responses were almost even: At press time, 53 percent “no” to 47 percent “yes.” The results are an accurate reflection of my ambivalence on certain aspects of the issue.

The poll was spurred by a May 11 OSHA press release announcing more than $800,000 in fines and placement in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program for Pennsylvania duct manufacturer Lloyd Industries. OSHA administrator David Michaels called the company a “serial violator” whose behavior has extended to, on one occasion, refusing to allow OSHA inspectors onto the premises. The agency had to call U.S. Marshals for assistance.

The stepped-up efforts to publicize violators dates back to 2009, when then-Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis announced “a new sheriff in town” and indicated her intent to get tougher on enforcement.

It’s hard to argue that repulsive behavior such as that exhibited by Lloyd Industries shouldn’t be brought to the public’s notice. Yet one poll commenter called attention very succinctly to another facet of the issue of “regulation by shaming”:

“If violations are serious, flagrant or repeating, it might be effective in terms of warning others of how a company operates. Otherwise, if violations are due to minor or simple mistakes and misunderstandings, it only serves to create hard feelings that do nothing to actually correct the root cause of the violations.”

So where should OSHA draw the line? Senior Associate Editor Kyle W. Morrison asked this same question in his “On Safety” blog in late May. If you’d like to weigh in, please submit a comment to Kyle's blog or comment on this Editor’s Note below. We’re very interested in what you have to say.

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