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Bruce Wick

VP, Risk Management, California Professional Association of Specialty Contractors

Wick is the voice of reason on regulatory matters in construction safety, working with Cal/OSHA to craft standards that promote safety and level the playing field for employers who play by the rules.

Bruce WickResume: He has 25 years’ experience in risk management and insurance, providing education and consultation in workers’ comp, construction defects, Cal/OSHA and workplace safety.

Schools:  He has a degree in business administration from California State University, San Bernardino.

Q&A:  

Injury and illness rates continue to decrease, with some exceptions. What's the next great leap forward in occupational safety and health?  

I do think creating standards for tools and equipment that are almost worldwide in scope would allow manufacturers of these products to do R&D in an informed way so they can put innovative and safer products on the market. That’s especially true in construction. 

We try to make one tool fit many jobs. What if it cost me $100,000 to develop a tool in R&D? Is that tool being sold in California because their regs say one thing, or across the country because federal OSHA says something different? Or how about across the world? The bigger your marketplace, the bigger your opportunity. 

So that is something I think is going to fuel innovation and cost-effective safety innovations. To me it is the idea of industry itself pushing for standards that are effective and achievable. 

We have scientists sitting off in a building somewhere and deciding permissible exposure levels for certain chemicals and things. Cal/OSHA develops its own. Federal OSHA develops its own. Canada develops its own. Europe develops its own. Why not have an industry like construction that says, “Here is a good standardized tool or a good standardized process, that should be accepted anywhere in the world.” And let’s have government agencies follow our lead and say, “Okay, we’ll approve that kind of effective protection for employees.” 

If someone says it is going to cost me so much for R&D to develop worldwide, then it is going to be an innovative, safer tool that is going to be cost-effective?

 

One group -- Hispanics/Latinos -- suffers a disproportionate number of injuries and illnesses. Why? How should California address this problem?  

A lot of it is communication. Communication, language, written skills are a real problem, and training, all those things. So the best thing my folks do to help is just train and work hard at communication.

 

The Injury and Illness Prevention Program is the basic safety requirement for California employers. Now Fed-OSHA is working toward adopting its version of this requirement. Does the California IIPP standard need revision or is it fine the way it is? And if it needs revision, how so?  

I think California’s IIPP, while not perfect, does a very good job. Even large employers can use it as a basic framework for a more sophisticated safety program. But small employers who don’t have the resources to develop a sophisticated safety program can at least use the elements of the IIPP to develop an effective, solid safety program. So I think it’s time-proven as a good foundation for a good safety program.

 

If you could change anything about Cal/OSHA, what would it be?
 a. Should enforcement be increased?
 b. Communications
 c. Training for inspectors

 

Two things I would say, enforcement should be more targeted toward bad actors. And I think they are upgrading training. I’d like to see inspectors who are more specialized in certain industries. That would be a more effective use. 

There are two parts to targeting enforcement. One is trying to discern what kinds of employers might have problems and how to develop a targeted program for them. 

And the other is, if I, a Cal/OSHA inspector, come on almost any jobsite, if I look long enough I can find something to issue a citation for. But if I come on a site and there is an employer who’s got a good safety program, who’s trying hard to be in compliance -- but no employer is going to be perfect all the time -- after a half hour, they can say, “Wow, you got the basics. You’re doing a good job. Way to go, keep up the good work. I’m going to go down the road to find somebody who is not operating like you are.”

But instead that inspector can say, “Well, let me stay another four hours. I’m sure I can find something and I’ll cite you for that.” 

My sense is that has minimized a little over time. But the fact is, when you see someone spending half a day on a jobsite and coming up with a $300 fine or a $150 fine, they really should have been able to say, “Good job, keep it up. And I’m on my way to find someone who is blatant, and has no safety program, and doesn’t care to develop one, or even if they do, they are in a hazardous industry and it is not nearly adequate enough and they know it.” 

That is part of our CALPASC LEVEL Campaign, trying to level the playing field. When you’re in a competitive industry like construction and someone wants to avoid safety rules, they can outbid the compliant employer for a job. So we have to be out there and spend inspectors’ time on people who are substantially not in compliance and spend very little time on people who are in compliance.

 

Some observers say injury and illness rates are higher than they appear because employers find ways to hide injuries, or not record them. Do you agree this is a serious problem and if so, how should it be addressed?  

I’ll refer that back to my last answer. Bad-actor employers who don’t want to comply with the law are going to try to hide. Injuries to workers are paid out of pocket to try to do the minimum. You know, there is a large group of good employers who want to do things right, who know there is really no incentive to hide injuries anymore. There may have been in the olden days of workers’ comp, minimum-rate law.
Employers work hard to do the right thing. I don’t believe it is a serious problem among a broad group of employers. I believe it is the same problem with the bad-actor, noncompliant parties, who often don’t even have workers’ comp. Or they aren’t paying workers’ comp, or who are paying or reporting one-tenth of their payroll. They are the ones who are going to try to hide injuries. So in other words, we don’t need to try to crack down on employers who might be hiding injuries. We need to crack down on the bad actors who are noncompliant with safety regulations, with labor law, and they are also noncompliant with reporting workers’ comp injuries.

 

California  has a long history of crafting groundbreaking regulations that the rest of the country eventually picks up. What's the next one?  

Not that I’m aware of. I think we’ve done a good job. I’m not sure we need another groundbreaking regulation. I think we may have too many regulations as it is. Let’s focus on enforcing the important ones. 

 

Will AB 2774 resolve the problems cited by DOSH on serious violations and provide a more equitable appeals system? If not, how should it be reformed?  

I do think it will help. It will be a step forward.

 

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