The Fall Meeting is ISEA’s largest national meeting. It’s a time for product groups and committees to do the essential work of the association - developing standards, formulating legislative and regulatory positions and planning for the future. It’s also a time for member company representatives to network with peers in the industry, as well as regulators and other government officials who cross the Potomac to meet with us.
Here are highlights of the 2012 Fall Meeting.
Members heard Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels review the successes of his agency, reducing the annual worker death toll from 14,000 in 1970 around 4000 today. That is still too many, he said, but it is evidence of OSHA’s effectiveness. He described an important part of OSHA’s role as “leveling the playing field” for the responsible employer, eliminating a company’s ability to save money by shortchanging safety and health. In fact, he said, the opposite is true, and he cited studies showing a clear economic benefit to companies with strong EHS programs.
Dr. Michaels described what he calls the “deterrence strategy” for improving worker safety and health, using a variety of tools to abate hazards and thereby prevent injuries, illness and fatalities. These tools, include compliance assistance, standards and enforcement, effectiveness data and random inspections. He said his goal is to increase the number of workers whose employers have good EHS programs, reducing the number of workers at risk. He portrayed OSHA as taking advantage of opportunities to expand its reach, citing a national heat stress campaign that derived from the cleanup work after the Deepwater Horizon incident. He also defended the random inspection policy, noting that data shows that such inspections do reduce injury rates, and safety improvements save companies money as well.
Regarding his plans to move toward injury and illness prevention programs, Dr. Michaels cited studies of the effectiveness of a systems approach to health in safety in California, where companies cited for having no written plan did not improve, but companies cited for violations of specific parts of their plans lowered their injury and illness rate. He concluded his presentation with a wide-ranging question-and0-answer session with ISEA members, fielding questions about fall protection, noise prevention, agency funding, VPP and other topics.
Dr. Michaels’ presentation
Energy Industry Worker Protection Initiatives
The centerpiece of the Thursday general session was a panel of safety and health experts from the oil and gas sector, describing the challenges to safe operation of offshore rigs and shale gas extraction operations, and industry approaches to loss prevention and control.
James Watson, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and Charlie Williams, executive director of the Center for Offshore Safety, described the offshore industry’s transition from prescriptive to performance measures of health and safety and the implementation of a comprehensive Safety and Environmental Management System (SEMS). Watson’s agency was established in October 2011 to develop and enforce standards and regulations for operational safety, spill response and environmental enforcement on all offshore oil and gas facilities. He described the development of SEMS as a flexible, systematic approach designed to reduce human error and operational failure, developed in cooperation with operating companies and implemented industry-wide.
Williams provided a detailed look at how the industry puts this system into practice, describing the process as “managing your business every day so that the business delivers safety.” He demonstrated how it incorporates standards and work practices, skills and knowledge development, and operational decision-making. Training is an important part of the process, he noted, but it is important to go beyond training to competency, making sure that workers know what they are doing and put their knowledge into practice.
Ralph Tijerina, vice president for safety and environment at Range Resources and co-chairman of the Marcellus Shale Coalition safety committee, described the numerous hazards facing workers at land-based drilling and hydraulic fracturing sites. Workers at these sites, often under the control of employers that are new to the practice of safety management, face an array of dangers – dust, noise, trips and falls, exposure to silica and potentially hazardous chemicals, traffic congestion, and the physical hazards of heavy industry. These sites often require that massive quantities of water be trucked in, contained and reused while ensuring environmental integrity of the site. Challenges facing the industry include training a growing work force, ensuring that they use the proper PPE, coordinating the work of many contactors on a site, exposure monitoring, and developing engineering and administrative controls in a rapidly evolving work environment.
In the Q&A session following their presentations, the panel elaborated on their PPE utilization and needs, and opportunities for the safety equipment industry in this vital market.
James Watson, BSEE
Charlie Williams, Center for Offshore Safety
Ralph Tijerina, Range Resources/Marcellus Shale Coalition
TIME Magazine’s chief political correspondent Michael Duffy and editor at large Nancy Gibbs gave the luncheon audience on Thursday an up-to-the-minute look at national politics, matched with a broader perspective on the institution of the Presidency.
Duffy said the post-election period is usually “a pretty collegial time, which is almost guaranteed not to last,” especially with the Administration and Congress locked in battle over the deficit. He noted that after an election that cost $6 billion, not much has changed either in the Administration or the Congress, and he saw little impetus to move toward a solution of the deficit crisis until the very last moment.
In the next four years, he said he expects to see tax reform bills that would maintain low rates and eliminate deductions, but that there is no “muscle memory of compromise” in the current House and Senate. Immigration reform will be back on the table, but the barrier to passage may be Democrats who did well with immigrant populations in the 2012 election, and don’t want to give Republicans an opening. Democrats will also resist entitlement reform, he said, referring back to President Clinton’s efforts to reform Society Security that were killed by his own party. As for the election of 2016, he suggested the “dream matchup” could be Hilary Clinton and Jeb Bush.
Duffy took the view that there would not be a deficit settlement, and that the government would indeed go over the “fiscal cliff.” He noted that tax rates automatically go up next year when the current tax cuts expire, and Congress will see that increase as an opportunity to back off somewhat from the higher rates, taking credit for a tax cut while taxes actually go up. Gibbs added that the effect of this inaction may not be as serious to the world economy as the earlier debt ceiling crisis, as the rest of the world may have decided that the US government is just dysfunctional, and will not overreact to its failure to act.
Gibbs provided a unique look inside the exclusive club of past Presidents, based on research she did while writing the book (coauthored with Duffy) The Presidents Club. Noting that there are only a few men who have ever held the office, she described how their relationships with each other and the sitting executive have shaped policies and politics. For example, Harry Truman enlisted Herbert Hoover to organize U.S. aid to a devastated world after World War II, JFK consulted with Eisenhower at Camp David after the Bay of Pigs, and Johnson called Ike for counsel when he suddenly was thrust into the Presidency. Bill Clinton is a business partner with George Bush, even consulted Richard Nixon when he was in the White House. Despite their differences, the former Presidents are linked by a common understanding that, as George W. Bush told Barack Obama, “We all want you to succeed. All of us who have served in this office understand that the office transcends the individual.”