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“Twenty Years of Dilapidation”

That’s how Christine Baker, Director of Industrial Relations bluntly described Cal/OSHA’s current condition to a packed audience at the recent Safety Expo in Elk Grove. She has taken on the task of rehabilitating the Division and early results are encouraging.

To us, Baker’s most encouraging comment was that she is determined to make Cal/OSHA’s teams accountable for their actions. She wants inspectors to treat California’s employers less like criminals and more like clients, to act more like problem solvers and less like meter maids. Cal/OSHA’s energies could be directed toward the underground economy – finally! – using payroll data and inter-agency communications to better identify the state’s bad actors are.

The most visible evidence to date of Baker’s determination to change is the open attitude of Baker’s new Chief of Cal/OSHA, Juliann Sum. In Sum’s talk at Safety Expo she asked as many questions as she answered and was disarmingly frank about admitting what she didn’t know. She actually encouraged dialog and took notes about new information she received. Refreshing!

The obvious take-away is that Cal/OSHA’s new leadership is making an effort to change the culture of the Division, never an easy task. If successful, Cal/OSHA should be better staffed, more even-handed in its approach to employers and even humble where warranted. We applaud the effort, while recognizing the enormity of the challenge.

As to staffing, there are two developments of note. The first is that there will be a delay in promotions to District Manager. It seems that the promotion list created by the former Chief’s staff did not follow the rules and had to be tossed. The process of applying, testing, interviewing and selecting now has to start all over.

The second is that the Process Safety Management unit has gone on a hiring binge, which is good news for PSM auditing but bad news as these new hire will have a sttp learning curve.  This is not really a new condition, as in recent years we have seen industrial hygienists inspecting logging operations and machine guarding accidents where they had no clue how the regulations applied to what they were looking at.

All in all, we are gladdened by what we are seeing at Cal/OSHA. Time will tell if these changes take root and prove beneficial to workers, employers and Cal/OSHA itself.

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