Profile: Kevin Bland

When he was an employee at a firm inspecting cranes, Kevin Bland sometimes found himself frustrated with policymakers and attorneys whose first-hand knowledge was lacking. That frustration inspired him to start a new career.

“I thought, ‘I can always learn the law, but they’re never going to understand cranes,” recalls Bland, 59. “If I know the technology stuff, and if I can go to law school to learn the law, I can be effective.”

Looking back, the notion seems improbable, even naive. Bland remembers growing up poor on a Missouri farm, “dirt poor,” he tells Cal-OSHA Reporter, having never been to college and working in construction-related fields since graduating high school.

Today, the Mission Viejo resident is in his 24th year as an attorney. He passed the California and Colorado Bar Exams on his first try in 2000. He is an equity shareholder in Ogletree Deakins in Orange County, which he joined in 2011.

This improbable tale began outside Farmington, Missouri, a small town about 70 miles southeast of St. Louis. “We didn’t even have indoor plumbing until I was about 8 years old,” he says about the 150-acre homestead where he grew up.

With a mother who was just 18 years old at his birth and a father who was in the Navy and largely absent, Bland was raised by his grandparents on the farm. As he grew up, he developed ambition. “I felt like if I was going to get somewhere in life, I was going to have to do something different,” he says.

“I felt like if I was going to get somewhere in life, I was going to have to do something different.” – Kevin Bland

Shortly after graduating high school in 1983, Bland went to a pay phone to call his father, an ironworker living outside of Whittier, to ask if he could help him get a job. “He said, ‘If you can figure out how to get out here, I can probably get you in,’” Bland says. “So here we are.”

With the $50 he had saved from working at the local grocery store at $4 an hour, Bland hitched a ride in the back of his aunt’s station wagon as she and her family headed to California to visit Disneyland.

The trip paid off. Soon, Bland was walking on structural steel and helping build high rises in Orange County, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Oxnard, where he was on the construction crew for that city’s first high rise. “I was the guy who climbed and walked on the iron,” he says. “That was even before body harnesses.”

Injury Spurs Career Changes

Seven years on the job took a toll. Bland worked through back pain until finally having surgery for a herniated disc. With construction work slowing down, he began a job search for something different. He found one with Diversified Inspections in 1990.

He left in 1994 to work in sales for Bragg Crane, but Bland would return to Diversified after a year, eventually working his way up to vice president. He performed testing on construction crane equipment and became an expert consultant for the corporation, accredited by Fed-OSHA and Cal/OSHA’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Bland also participated in rulemaking advisory committees for various Cal-OSHA projects and helped develop construction contractor Snyder Langston’s Mobile Crane Safety Manual Policies and Procedures, which won the International Risk Management Best Practice Awards in 1999 for loss control, risk financing, risk transfer, and risk analysis.

The experiences were eye-opening for the former construction worker, who saw another career opportunity.

“When I was an ironworker, in the crane business, and actually doing the work, I would find that sometimes what was on paper wasn’t always the safest way when you’re actually doing it,” he says. I thought I could help marry that together.”

As someone who had been in construction crews, in management, and as a union member, Bland knew he could be a valuable asset in policymaking. He set his sights on becoming an attorney.

“I’ve worked with attorneys, and I thought, ‘They don’t know what a hinge pin is, what a sheave is,’” he says. “I thought this could be something I could do. So I went out and got my bachelor’s degree at night and took the LSAT” (Law School Admissions Test).

After earning his BA degree from the University of Phoenix, Bland entered Whittier School of Law, graduating cum laude in 2000. “What gave me my first big break as an attorney was the work that I was enlisted to do on residential fall protection,” he says. “We went step by step on how to frame a house. I drafted probably 60-to-70% of the language that ended up in the final regulation.”

He helped create General Industry Safety Orders §1716.2, and it’s still one of his proudest achievements. Now, it is threatened by Fed-OSHA’s insistence on a six-foot fall protection trigger. Bland is one of the chief defenders of the now 20-year-old California rule.

“That standard makes sense to the folks in the field doing the work,” he says. “The companies understand how to comply with it. It just drastically changed safety in California for framing workers.”

Bland also has strong memories of defending a company appealing a $280 citation for its step-up bench. The citation referred to the three-step bench as a ladder, and its maker was fined for violating the rule against standing on the first two steps. The judge agreed with Bland’s argument that the bench was a unique tool, not a ladder, and the regulation would have made the device unusable.

While the fine would have been small, the repercussions for the company, which made thousands of the devices, would have been great.

The hearing was memorable in another way.

During the pandemic shutdown, it was the first Cal/OSHA teleconference hearing, and countless people tuned in to watch.

“That part was pretty scary,” Bland says. “There were hundreds if not thousands of people logged in because they had never seen a Zoom trial. I was thinking this is not one I want to lose. Talk about pressure.”

Bland represents employers all over the state in their dealings with Cal/OSHA and the Cal/OSHA Appeals Board.