By Michael Wood
By most measures, Oregon's efforts to encourage workplace health and safety have been successful. We can always do better, but we have seen steady decreases in injury and illness rates for the past two and a half decades. And we have seen worker fatality rates drop during the same period.
Here at Oregon OSHA, we get positive feedback from other worker health and safety programs – as well as private sector advocates – around the country. And our most recent federal OSHA "audit" of the program identified no formal findings or recommendations – a relatively rare achievement, but one that we have managed more than once during the past decade.
There are a number of elements that have helped the Oregon approach achieve this relatively high level of success. We rely upon effective collaboration with employer and worker organizations. We use a variety of tools, including enforcement, on-site consultation, and a wide range of educational tools. But, in the midst of discussions about methods and strategies, it is sometimes too easy to overlook one of the primary reasons for any organization's success: its people.
Over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to recognize several Oregon OSHA staff members for their years of public service. We sometimes talk about the special initiatives or extraordinary projects as though those are the reasons for our success. And they can certainly help. But as I remind the staff members at those events, it is the day-in, day-out efforts of enforcement staff, consultants, administrative staff, and others who truly make a difference. The reason that Oregon OSHA is as successful as we are has more to do with the work they do every day than it does with any particular special initiative.
When I arrived here nearly a decade ago, I was told that one of my jobs was to be the "public face of Oregon OSHA." That's true in a sense. I do get speaking invitations and other opportunities to represent the organization. But the real "face" of this organization is a composite portrait of all the staff members who have interacted with the public in the past week, the past month, the past year, or the past decade. The organization you know as Oregon employers and workers is not primarily the organization that I present when I speak – it is the one that those hardworking safety and health advocates exhibit to you.
Last month, I spent a day with Tom Hoffman, a long-time Oregon OSHA employee who has been the "face" of Oregon OSHA on the south coast. Tom truly exhibits the best of this organization, and as he approaches his long-planned retirement, we are scrambling to make sure that we can pursue our mission as effectively after he is gone. Another of our long-term employees, Regan Danielson, will be stepping into the role.
It will be a change, of course. We are the same organization. We have the same rules, the same policies, and the same publications that we always have. But whether the work is done by Tom or Regan, it will be the front-line staff who truly make a difference on behalf of workers on the southern Oregon coast. And that same reality plays out, every day, throughout Oregon. ▉
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