Southeast trains students in OSHA regulations

Monday, February 20, 2006
Greg Boyd, a professor at Southeast Missouri State University, talks to a class about OSHA regulations. (Diane L. Wilson)

Greg Boyd has a better opinion of OSHA (the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration) than he did 20 years ago. Boyd, an associate professor in the Department of Industrial and Engineering Technology at Southeast Missouri State University, said when he worked in the aerospace and food processing industries in California, OSHA was "positively evil. Very difficult to work with. Adversarial."

Boyd said OSHA was started in 1970 and was a hindrance to business for many years. Now, however, the agency has softened its demeanor and is more willing to work with employers instead of against them.

Boyd said OSHA has a field office in St. Louis and often sends inspectors into this area.

"OSHA in Missouri has matured to where if employers have a problem, they can actually call them without fear of retribution, and they'll help solve the problem," he said. "They can be invited here for assistance, and employers can sign-up for a program. Of course, they still make unannounced inspections."

Boyd teaches a class at Southeast called "Industrial Safety Supervision." The class has 35 students this semester. Boyd said many students at Southeast are trained to become project engineers, process engineers, safety engineers, first-line supervisors and construction-cost estimators. All are required to take his safety class.

"The fundamental thrust of the class is OSHA regulations," said Boyd, a private-sector businessman for 20 years before he became a teacher. "For our discipline, there are two bibles of OSHA regulations -- one for general industry, one for construction industry.

"We talk about compliance, risk assessment, how OSHA works, and then we get into specifics like personal protective equipment."

Boyd said a major safety issue is falling off structures, particularly during construction. He said if a worker is more than 13 feet off the ground, OSHA requires a restraint be used. He said if a person walks around Cape Girardeau and looks at roofers, he'll see direct violations of OSHA.

"People do fall off those roofs and get hurt so right now OSHA is paying close attention to this," he said.

Businesses should call OSHA and tell inspectors what their concerns are, Boyd advises. He said businesses can invite inspectors for a courtesy visit, and inspectors will point out hazards and potential problems -- free of charge.

"The time that money comes into the picture is when they start to fine you. Then it can get pretty ugly," he said. "It is written law that OSHA can make unannounced inspections."

Boyd said businesses benefit from providing safe working conditions and establishing safety programs. He said if employees get hurt, businesses can be sued or have to pay high workers' compensation premiums.

"Companies used to think that safety programs cost more money than the cost of accidents," said Boyd. "That's changed. An accident is way more costly than a safety program."

Boyd said people face certain risks in every profession. Bank tellers are at risk for soft-tissue injuries such as cut fingers. Information processors and assembly-line workers often develop repetitive stress syndrome.

Regarding the recent deaths of coal miners in Virginia, Boyd said the Bureau of Mines was one of the first federal agencies to establish safety guidelines, which date to the 19th century. He said miners are semi-skilled laborers, "and you can't afford to lose them." It's a matter of economics.

Boyd said there are heavy industries in this region that haven't had a lost-time injury in a long while. He said those companies are taking workplace safety seriously. Boyd recently visited CPS Trailers, a trailer manufacturing company in Oran, Mo. He said the company is "rabid about safety" because their workers are very skilled and the company can't afford to lose them.

"It costs more money to injure a worker than to put a good safety program in place," said Boyd. "It's about economics, it's about money."

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