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Judith Freyman

Management Representative, Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board

Judith Freyman

With long experience in safety nationally and in California, Freyman often works behind the scenes but has played a key role in many initiatives, notably efforts to prepare employers for possible pandemics or other disasters.

Resume: She served previously as vice president for Western OSH Operations Mercer/ORC and as assistant general counsel for ConAgra Refrigerated Foods. She began her career with Eschem and later Swift & Company, which was eventually sold to ConAgra Foods.

Schools:   Freyman received her law degree from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and undergraduate degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia.  

 

Q&A  

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

I think that, in terms of risk, exposure to chemicals and hazardous substances is one. That’s reflected in the struggles we’re with having around the permissible-exposure limits. Also I think ergonomics as it relates to an aging workforce. We have a continuing issue with immigrant workers and the very hazardous jobs that they do. Being able to train them and trying to make the workplace safe for them. My perspective is a business perspective. Generally speaking, we’re not particularly interested in having the state mandate, intervene, etc., further in the workplace. We think that businesses should take care of these issues themselves, with Cal/OSHA focused on the outliers and recalcitrant employers.

 

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

My organization, my members, have issues with injury and illness rates. We don’t believe they’re good metrics for measuring occupational safety and health and performance. In fact, we’re in the process of working on alternate metrics that we think reflect more comprehensively the efforts a company is making in occupational safety and health.

We think those injury and illness rates are the wrong measure. The fact that they are decreasing doesn’t tell me anything. I want to know about assessing risks in the workplace. I want to know about addressing risk in the workplace. I want to know about the level of employee engagement. I want to know about precursors to serious injuries and fatalities. There is a very robust suite of metrics that should be used to get an accurate picture, not injury and illness rates.

Activities that reflect proactive approaches are leading indicators to lagging indicators. Not to say that lagging indicators wouldn’t be included in a robust suite of metrics. But the work we’re doing focuses on the leading indicators and what are the appropriate ones.

 

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

I think it’s generally understood that those workers are found in jobs that have the greatest hazards: construction, agricultural jobs. They’re not sitting behind desks. I think that is an obvious reason. Then it is often difficult to engage them on the part of management, even if they are in a job with less risk. I think California is doing great. I have been following all outreach efforts. I am aware of efforts across the country and I think California has done very well. I was on the national advisory committee with federal OSHA back in the early 2000s. We looked at this particular issue of immigrant workers, and California really leads the way in getting out into the community with their outreach efforts.

 

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 would be surprised if federal OSHA came out with an IIPP anytime soon. So California should not have to revise its IIPP to follow federal law. At least that’s the assessment I have come to. Since there won’t be reasons driven by federal OSHA to revise the IIPP, I can’t see a stakeholder consensus forming around that. A compelling case would have to be made that it needs to be changed. I don’t believe we have the data to show that it needs to be changed.

 

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

                a. Should enforcement be increased?

                b. Communications

                c. Training for inspectors

I think one of my principal concerns, and that of business community, is the fact that Cal/OSHA gets directed to take action by the Legislature. Whether it’s needed or not, whether it’s reasonable. It is concerning to the business community that we have to divert our attention to efforts on the legislative side to get Cal/OSHA to do things. If there were anything I could change, it would be to somehow figure out a way to allow Cal/OSHA to not have to dance to the tune the Legislature is playing. If they could somehow figure out a way to not have to make rules and take enforcement action solely on the say-so of the Legislature. AB2774 is exactly the kind of legislation I’m talking about.

 

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?

Anytime you put pressure on numbers, it drives behavior in a lot of different directions, some of it good and some of it bad. When you take enforcement actions driven by injury and illness numbers, when you target employers based on injury and illness numbers, you’re not encouraging them to report. I think we need to move away from numbers like injury and illness rates, as I indicated earlier, to get a better picture of what is happening in our workplaces. And get away from the game of what is the number.

 

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

Hopefully, none in near term. I think we’re in a moment in time, with the economy and the state of business in California, where we should just take a pause and not look to crafting groundbreaking regulations. We should look for other creative solutions to address the issues we think are serious concerns without mandating particular actions on the part of employers.

 

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 think the jury is very much out. I think it could go either way. I think that when you look to legislation to solve problems, you can get a very mixed bag. I don’t think we’re on a really effective path by looking to legislation to solve problems. I think we could have come to a better solution if we needed one through stakeholder discussions and administrative actions and not legislation. I come at this from a much more critical place than others might be. I think we’re on wrong path just by having the Legislature drive this. I think we’re going to create new problems.

 

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?

Yes. I agree with that, absolutely. It should be a goal, I would think. Inspectors have been trained to operate a certain way. They would have to receive a very strong signal to change. When it comes to the details of how an inspection would change to accomplish that, I’m not the person to talk to because my members focus on best practices. We’re not spending a lot of time dealing with inspection issues and citations. We’re spending our time on figuring out how to do new things to advance safety and health in the workplace. 

 

What about safety do employers struggle with the most?
I think we have continuing issues around resources, around employee engagement and employer commitment.

OSHA does not drive a lot of behavior in my members’ workplaces. We operate beyond compliance. For my members, they’re operating around the world. They set global standards that are best practices and they hold all of their operations accountable. So it is a very different mind-set when you’re driven by OSHA-generated regulations and constantly having to be concerned about meeting the regulations that are generated by a government entity. Those regulations do not give you a safe workplace. They just address issues as they come up. 


Are there reliable and knowledgeable training people available?

I’m assuming there are. I know my members will talk from time to time about various sources they’re using.

 

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

I think hazard assessment is critical training. But I also believe, having worked in a lot of different workplaces, that different training programs and schemes resonate in different workplaces. Everything needs to be tailored to what is going on in your workplace. You really need to be locally focused, but have the larger picture in mind as you’re constructing your training program.

 

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

I listen to my colleagues. I have a part of my practice that is based in Washington, D.C., so my colleagues operate at a federal and global level. We also hold forums so we get global input. I get information from the Web like everybody else. I get information from my members. We have quarterly meetings where we share best practices. We get information from experts in the occupational health and safety field. We also track developments from the various agencies. We’re in contact with lots of different sources.

 

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? What’s interesting about it now?

I was working for a meat and poultry processing company that had serious occupational safety and health issues. I became involved with the OSH function in that company because they really needed help. They were actually under intense regulatory scrutiny. They presented some real challenges in terms of workers’ comp costs and also in terms of labor relations issues.

It was quite an interesting workplace. We had employees out there in 25 facilities around country. They were killing turkeys and boning them, standing shoulder to shoulder with sharp knives in a cold, wet environment with lots of equipment that was noisy, and lots of equipment that presented lockout/tagout issues. I ended up getting engaged with federal OSHA at the federal level.

 

What’s interesting about it now?

What I find exciting today is that we’re entering a whole new arena, and it’s called corporate social responsibility. Some people call it sustainability. My members are having to report about OSH performance to rating organizations. And also include them in public reports that are published online and to shareholders and other stakeholders. All of that opens up a lot of new areas of scrutiny and issues of concern. That is going to take us to the next level of occupational safety and health. All of that is being done on a voluntary basis and it is market driven. There is an investment community called socially responsible investors. They use this information not only related to occupational safety and health, but environmental issues, outreach, philanthropy, all of the various areas of corporate responsibility. They use that to direct their investment dollars. That is a very emerging and growing area. My companies are large, global, publicly traded companies. They are at the forefront of those activities.

 

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