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Howard Spielman

President, Health Science Associates (HSA)

Howard Spielman

A longtime advocate for California industrial hygienists, Spielman is an IH leader in the Golden State.

Resume: After college he worked for the Los Angeles City Health Department as a public health sanitarian, then joined the Air Force, serving as a medical service administrator. He returned to the Los Angeles health department as an industrial hygienist until 1963, when he went to work at Northrop Corp. as an industrial hygienist. He moved to Hughes Aircraft Co. in 1967 as head of Industrial Hygiene and Safety. Since 1974 he has been with HSA, which provides a range of consulting and technical services to industry, government, academia, associations and professionals. He is a longtime member and leader of the California Industrial Hygiene Council.

Schools:  Spielman received his master’s degree in health and safety science from California State University, Los Angeles in 1967, and a B.S. in public health from UCLA in 1956.

Certifications/Designations:  He is certified as an industrial hygienist, a safety professional, asbestos consultant, lead inspector, lead project designer and lead project monitor. He is also a registered Environmental Health Specialist, Registered Professional Engineer and credentialed community college instructor.

 

Q&A

 

What are the top issues in California occupational safety and health today?

That is not an easy one to respond to. First of all, you’re looking at the changing nature of employment in this state. We continue to lose manufacturing jobs. The typical workplace is changing. We’re becoming a more service-oriented state. Those things are going to affect what the employer health and safety programs are going to be.

I think Cal/OSHA needs to look at that and get some sense of the changing dynamics in the workplace. We continue to have agriculture in this state. They have turned their attention to agriculture, and rightly so.

There is an area that I have particular interest in that has to be reemphasized. That is the issue of health standards in the workplace. I have not seen any significant focus on keeping occupational exposures to toxic substances in the limelight. I don’t think employers at this point in time worry too much about whether Cal/OSHA is going to be paying attention to those issues. I think that needs to be stepped up a little bit.

 

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

I still read in “Cal/OSHA Reporter” what I think are accounts of too many fatalities. When I look at the employment venues in which those fatalities occurred, it seems to me that those are the employment venues that need to be given some special attention. It is one thing to have injury and illness rates going down, but the severity issues when you’re dealing with still having facilities, there is no reason for them to have happened. There is just an inattention to the issues that could have been prevented.

I’m going to get on my soapbox. I think Cal/OSHA needs to encourage employers to utilize the services of certified industrial hygienists and safety professionals. There are plenty of good consultants out there that offer their services. I bet if they looked at the record of fatalities in particular, and perhaps even serious injuries, while I don’t know it for a fact, I would put my money on it, in those situations there was no CIH or CSP involved in advising those employers what the serious risks are. I’m a serious proponent of that is something Cal/OSHA can do. Instead of running around telling people to call a consulting service or use their workers’ comp carrier to help them out. They can’t get that kind of help with those resources. It is attractive to employers because it’s free. They might get some service of a narrow nature, on a narrow problem. But they have to recognize first the need to make that request.

If they had good health and safety professionals, like CIHs, PSBs working for them, working with them, I believe the fatality rate would be way down.

 

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

The problem there could be to some degree language, not training in their language. I don’t want get into social factors on that because, if they are the low guys on totem pole, they should not be viewed as expendable by employers. They should be included in organized efforts in terms of doing things like the job safety analysis. If you are going to employ someone whose primary language is Spanish, you take responsibility for training them in that language.

 

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 the California IIPP is fine as it is. The key is implementing it. The devil is always in the details. At the federal level the one big potential addition to it might be to put in a requirement for safety committees. But I think that’s a whole other subject. You can talk about bringing on committees, but there should be some way of making them useful and effective in the running or implementation of the program. Just calling up safety committees doesn’t make a lot of sense all by itself. I think the California IIPP is a good regulation. It is just like any other good requirement. If it’s well written and well put together, the next question is how well is it being implemented. Now who is making those evaluations? I don’t know.

 

If you could change anything about Cal/OSHA, what would it be?

                a. Should enforcement be increased?

                b. Communications

                c. Training for inspectors

It would sure be nice if we could somehow minimize the partisanship that takes place and the pressures on Cal/OSHA. You have labor pressures. You have management pressures. You even have people like me who come at them from a professional point of view. It is a tough place to be. I admire anyone leading Cal/OSHA who can bring all these factions together with the objective of preventing injuries and illnesses. I think the leader of Cal/OSHA has to have those talents, those capacities, to bring those factions together and marginalize the political bent of some of the pressures on them. It is hard to do.

Some of it even comes from the governor’s office and things like that. Dealing with the politics is probably, if I could change it, I would like to figure out a way to minimize the politics and maximize the preventive approaches to protecting workers.

In areas of enforcement, I think equal enforcement has to be looked at. Cal/OSHA should look at the concept of equal enforcement. For example, if they had occasion to write significant citations and an establishment within a certain industry, I think that would suggest from an equal enforcement point of view, they should look at that entire industry, so that they are not creating an unequal competitive advantage for one or another. That’s a very unpopular view, by the way.

 

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?

From my experience, I have never found it to be a serious problem in personal and professional experience. I do think where this is discovered it should be prosecuted. That would put people on notice that this is not a good thing to do.

 

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

One I am personally involved with, I am a member health expert advisory committee, lovingly known as the HEAC Committee. That is part of Cal/OSHA’s administrative effort to update the PELs in California, municipal exposure limits. As you may be aware, federal OSHA’s record of setting and updating PELs, the best word I can use for that is abominable. They don’t do it. They know this is a problem but don’t know how to address it or don’t want to. So what is happening on the federal level, employees who are under the regulation of Fed-OSHA are essentially governed under the 1968 ACGIH TLV. There have been substantial changes in PLVs since then, as you might imagine. Cal/OSHA has always, about every two years, simply put a small committee together to basically update the PELs by adopting the updated TLVs as the new PEL.

This process came under some scrutiny a few years ago. The HEAC process was established to make that evaluation process more transparent. It is a slow, plodding process and some people would like to see that speeded up by bringing in elements of the California EPA to set those standards, but that process still needs what I call due process and scientific due process.

This is a process that California is engaged in. I know Fed-OSHA has taken note of it, but I don’t know where they can adopt it. But if it has success here in California, I think it may help give Fed-OSHA some idea of how to go about getting this problem solved at the federal level. I think this is an important area. It is current and it could even be the “next one.”

 

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?

It helps. It is still fresh. Time has to go by to see how well it works. If it’s not working, there should be a group of knowledgeable people [to] sit down and take a look at it. This was a good example, actually, of the Cal/OSHA chief’s ability to bring the factions together and get something done in this area. I’d give it a chance to work.

 

Should DOSH approach enforcement with more of an eye toward achieving compliance, rather than looking for violations to cite? And if so, would such an approach work?

It is kind of hard to separate that. Part of compliance is whether or not there are violations. For example, I have had some experience in my work history, some things that might be given some thought is the issue of the so-called unannounced inspection, walking in unannounced. I know some people think that’s the right way to do it.

Some think if you announce, people are going to run around and hide things. But I have some experience, years ago, with the state Department of Radiological Health, when they were doing their inspection of radiological licenses.

They would call for an appointment and pressure you to keep that appointment within 10 days. Quite frankly, the fact that they made the appointment and you knew they were going to be coming in, you more or less did a self-inspection before they walked in. You found your areas of noncompliance, or not keeping your records right. You spent a lot of time before they came, before they came in, making sure your program was correct and up to date. So in my opinion, the mere calling for the appointment created a huge amount of compliance before they ever walked in the door. I think that’s something that maybe should not be just thrown away.

There could be some advantage to Cal/OSHA calling to say we’re coming in to review your safety program. And review your IIPP and see how you’re doing with it. That in itself would create a whole lot of compliance. Those more interested in catching violations and setting fines would probably not be in favor of that kind of program.

The other thing that could go a long way to help compliance happen: when large fines are identified, if the employer corrects those serious matters in a reasonable amount of time, or shall we say posthaste, some percentage of those fines could be credited back. Some of that money then would be used to create compliance, as opposed to going into the government coffers. Those are concepts that really ought to be discussed. I know there are factions that would be completely opposed to that. I think if you put things on the table and have those discussed by knowledgeable people, you probably bring the factions more together with those approaches than the hard-line enforcement.

 

What should Cal/OSHA do to help small employers create safe workplaces and comply with Title 8 regulations?

I think putting out guidance documents, which they do, which is important. They should continue to do that. Back on my soapbox, they should encourage small employers to take advantage of the services of CIH and CHP. Yes, that might cost them a little money, but who said that employers are entitled to have safety programs that don’t cost them anything? I just don’t understand the philosophy of providing safety and health services free to small employers or any employers when in fact they don’t get to have free legal services. They don’t get to have free accounting services. Where they have program and business operational needs, they get the technical people and the qualified people to help them and they pay for that. I just don’t see the idea that consulting and insurance companies are going to help these employers with their programs.

To some degree it is not a total negative. It’s not integrated with their operations. It’s not integrated with their culture, unless they have the health and safety expertise working with them on a regular basis.

 

What about safety do employers struggle with the most?
That depends on the employer, doesn’t it? I think it’s a matter of their perception of what safety is. Some employers will just do it because there are laws that require them do it. And particularly a lot of the small employers and some of the marginal employers, I don’t think they get it. I don’t think they understand that safety is good business. Somehow they need to get that message. Some of them will look at the requirements to comply as the nuisance as opposed to something that helps them be prosperous. It is a matter of changing perceptions and buying into the culture. It is interesting to me. I have been in the heath safety business close to 50 years. It is amazing to me we’re still selling it. It still has to be sold.

 

Are there reliable and knowledgeable training people available?

There are a lot of people out there. There are people within corporations that are knowledgeable that do good training. There are people in consulting world who do good training. There are people who specialize in training. Their materials and approach to training is quite good. It is a matter of using it.

 

What kind of training is the most crucial for employers to provide?

It is the job-specific training. I think the employers need to go to a core procedure and that is to do the job safety analysis. Now they may need some help to do that. They may need professional help to do that. But once a job safety analysis is done, then you know what the hazards of that job are and you know the processes to minimize those hazards. That’s what you might call step two of the IIPP training. Step one is the general rules and regulations of safety.

Step two is the specific job training. That should be based on job safety analysis. If they do that and do it in language the employee understands, then the serious injuries and the fatalities would just go away. And your injury rates would be just hopefully finger cuts.

 

What else do you read to get your occupational safety and health information?

A variety of journals. There is the BASSC journal and the industrial hygiene journals that we get. We get a lot of government publications. Stuff out of NIH, National Institutes of Health. There are publications put out by Fed-OSHA. There are publications by Cal/OSHA and there is “Cal OSHA Reporter.” I think what I see “Cal/OSHA Reporter” doing, stepping up activities and involvement, I think that is all positive.

 

How did you get started in safety? Was there any particular experience in your career that triggered your interest in safety? What’s interesting about it?

I got a bachelor’s degree in public health from UCLA. My first job was with the City of Los Angeles in the health department. I found my way into their industrial hygiene and occupational health division. So that’s how I got into the industrial hygiene end of it. When I went to work for Northrop Grumman Corp. I was housed in the safety organization and became exposed to the safety profession as well. I began to function in safety as well as industrial hygiene. This is back in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

 

What’s interesting about it now?

No two days are alike. That keeps me energized.

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