I love Peggy Noonan. If you read The Wall Street Journal, you probably do too. If you don’t know who she is, she’s a columnist for that paper and was once a speechwriter for Ronal Reagan. If you loved the way Ronald Reagan turned a phrase at critical times in our history, chances are Peggy Noonan provided the raw material. In fact much of what she writes tends to live beyond the context for which it’s written.
I realized that when I read an OSHA press release this week. In some managers’ minds, OSHA is staffed by bureaucrats who live off taxpayer money and like to lord their authority over managers of industry workplaces. What does this have to do with Peggy Noonan? Stay with me, the punchline’s coming.
The press release announced OSHA was withdrawing a proposed rule to amend its regulations for the federally-funded On-site Consultation Program. This program offers free and confidential safety and health advice to small- and medium-sized businesses. Those who successfully complete a comprehensive on-site consultation visit from an OSHA inspector, correct all hazards identified during the visit and implement an ongoing safety and health program to identify and correct workplace hazards are exempted from OSHA's programmed inspection schedule during a specified period. Great program, right?
Well, leave it to bureaucrats to screw up one of the few OSHA programs industry managers liked.
A couple years ago OSHA started considering revising this program so that certain types of “high priority federal enforcement inspections” could interrupt one of those hands-off consultation visits. It also considered changing the length of time an employer that qualified for this program (ironically called “SHARP”) may be exempted from OSHA’s programmed inspection schedule.
This caused enough concern among managers in small to medium businesses that an impressive number of them challenged OSHA on these proposed changes. The big worry was that the proposed changes would increase OSHA enforcement activities at worksites that have already demonstrated excellence in their safety and health management systems. Others believed the Agency was trying to eliminate exemptions entirely or take incentives away.
OSHA was shocked…shocked that people could believe such things of them. In a rare concession to such pressure from the taxpayers who feed them, the Agency issued the following statement (if you’re a fan of the movie Casablanca, read it in your most magisterial Claude Rains, prefect of police, voice):
“[We] did not intend any of these results. However, in light of the magnitude of the concerns expressed compared to the relatively minor changes OSHA intended, the Agency has decided to withdraw the proposed rule. All rulemaking participants agree with OSHA that the consultation program and the SHARP recognition program are valuable ways to assist and recognize small employers who are working to improve their workplaces. If the small changes OSHA proposed could have the effect of discouraging participation in the programs, the Agency does not believe it is worth amending the rule.”
Far be it from OSHA to discourage anybody.
I couldn’t help reading into OSHA’s statement a kind of imperious, catlike quality. And that brings me to Peggy Noonan. In her most recent column, she uses the difference between cats and dogs to characterize the relationship between taxpayers and the bureaucrats whom their taxes feed:
“When you get up in the morning and feed your dog he looks up at you and thinks: ‘She comes, finds my food and pours it for me—she must be a god.’ A cat thinks: ‘She comes, finds my food and pours it out for me—I must be a god.’”
Let this mini rebellion of the regulated be a reminder that right makes might—even to those cats at OSHA.