State agency can zero in on local safety concerns


One on One is a weekly feature offering excerpts of interviews conducted by The Evening Sun with newsworthy government and business leaders. Craig Lowry is chief of enforcement for the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health agency.

Q. Can you tell me what MOSH's responsibilities are?

MOSH has the responsibility to ensure and assist employers in meeting their obligation under the law. And that obligation is to provide a safe, healthful workplace for their employees.

A.Some states use OSHA. Maryland has MOSH. Can you explain the difference and why we have our own state-administered program as opposed to the federal program?

Q. Well, Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act. It pre-empted the existence of all state programs where enforcement and occupational safety and health were currently in place. Maryland at that time had an industrial safety commission. So it put them out of business. Congress also put a provision in the act that, if the states wanted to participate in enforcement, they had to make application under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to do so. Maryland, putting the initial steps together in 1973, got enabling legislation passed allowing us to have our own plan. So since 1973, Maryland has had jurisdiction over both private and public sector employers in the state of Maryland.

A. What is the advantage of having a state-administered plan as opposed to a federally administered plan?

Q. Well, a federally administered plan would be responsive to national concerns, whereas a state-administered plan operated by state people would have the ability to respond to local compelling needs. . . Whereas nationally there may be a problem associated with people working in oil and gas drilling, that problem will not exist here in Maryland . . . In 1978, Maryland adopted a confined-space regulation, and we did that because of confined-space deaths in Maryland and incidents here in Maryland. [Confined space refers to a work area where ventilation and access are limited.] And today -- even though they tried years and years to get a national standard -- there still is not a final standard on the federal level to protect people working in confined spaces. So that was a local compelling need that we needed to address here in Maryland.

A. How many people work for MOSH?

Q. About 125 in the entire program.

A. And of those, how many are inspectors and how many are industrial hygienists?

Q. Budgeted positions for enforcement of industrial hygiene are 18. On budgeted positions for safety, I believe it's 39. As of last week, I think we have eight vacancies in safety and five in industrial hygiene.

A. Have these vacancies had a serious effect on your abilities to do the work that you feel needs to be done?

Q. Well, as all state agencies have done, we've had to buckle up a little bit. . . We've gotten permission to fill those vacancies and we're in the process now of looking at that.

A. In addition to enforcing the law and inspecting, you also help in consultation and training, right?

Q. MOSH has a consultation program where we will offer free on-site consultations for employers upon their request. I might say, too, that a lot of employers do not use that because they feel as though by calling in the government to take a look at their problem, that they're in some way going to be on our list in the future, and that's not true. As a matter of fact, federal regulations prevent the interaction between our consultation and enforcement units. . . There is one requirement in that program. And that is that if you want a consultation from us, you have to agree to fix the problems we bring to your attention.

A. And also, you do the training and seminars?

Q. We provide training and educational seminars scheduled at various times throughout each quarter. We do that based on information about problems in those geographic areas. And we also respond to employer requests. You have to understand that we don't have a tremendous amount of resources to share with employers, but what resources we do have, we certainly are willing to do that.

A. Are there certain areas that you're emphasizing at this time in regard to workers' safety, certain industries or certain problems?

Q. Well, certainly the construction industry, the building trades, continue to be a focus of this program in consultation, enforcement and in education. The reason for that is quite obvious. It's the mortality that exists in that area and also the high degree of injuries. The construction industry employs about 9.5 percent of the working population in Maryland, and yet it's responsible for an inordinate amount of injuries and deaths.

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