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Fairfax talks recordables, ‘knuckleheads’

March 28, 2012

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It seems that whether or not an injury is work-related – and thus recordable – can catch even a seasoned OSHA employee by surprise, as the agency’s assistant administrator Richard Fairfax suggested during a recent presentation.

Speaking at a conference on March 27 for TRSA, a trade organization representing the textile industry, Fairfax told the story of how a doctor told him the soreness he was experiencing in his thumbs likely was due to his Blackberry use. The doctor said he could either receive a shot or perform a series of exercises to reduce the pain.

Noting the Blackberry use was for work, Fairfax came to a realization.

“[Shoot], that’s recordable,” Fairfax said with slightly coarser language not fit for this blog, and later reacted to the laughter of the audience by saying he probably shouldn’t have used such a word.

In an ostensibly “OSHA 101” speech before the crowd explaining OSHA’s philosophy and general agency mechanisms, Fairfax sprinkled in a few humorous tidbits when providing insights on his agency.

Responding to a question about how OSHA goes about entering a facility, Fairfax told a story from his personal experience as a compliance officer. After waiting for quite some time for a particular person to go with him on an inspection in a facility, the individual came rushing into the facility exclaiming the key to the hard hat closet had to be found because an OSHA inspector was about to enter.

Although OSHA attempts to enter a facility without delay, they do try to be cooperative and reasonable, such as if the employer wants the inspector to wait for the site’s safety manager, Fairfax said. Needless to say, in that instance, Fairfax decided he could wait no longer.

When asked if all OSHA compliance officers are as rational as he is, Fairfax replied the agency was the same as any other organization.

“You’ve got good employees, and you’ve got bad employees,” he said. “We have a lot of really good compliance officers; we have a lot of knuckleheads.”

When employers feel they’re dealing with a “knucklehead” inspector, Fairfax encouraged employers to contact OSHA’s area director or regional director about their concerns. The agency does have “couth training” to teach inspectors how to get along with people and, in some cases, OSHA has fired people for their behavior, according to Fairfax.

He also touched on incentive programs, and said, contrary to some belief, OSHA is not opposed to them. The problem, Fairfax said, is that some incentive programs can lead to penalizing employees if the program ties prizes to injury rates. In one facility, an employee was made to wear a bright orange shirt that read “I’m an idiot” because he fell down some steps at work, leading all employees to lose out on a prize.

That’s an example of a bad program, Fairfax said. In a bit of irony, he also noted that the stairwell the employee fell down had no hand guard installed.

Check out sh.nsc.org and this week’s Membership News Alert for more of what Fairfax had to say at the event.

And for those wondering, Fairfax opted for the exercises to relieve his hand soreness, but he didn’t tell the audience whether or not an incident report was filled out.

The opinions expressed in "Washington Wire" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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