How OSHA has dealt with the workload it got handed by the pandemic

The pandemic has made things busy and a little difficult for OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

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OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is in the business of ensuring safe practices in the nation’s employment sites. The pandemic has made things busy and a little difficult for the agency. Here with an update, the director of the Baltimore-Washington OSHA area in Linthicum, Maryland, Nadira Janack.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Ms. Janack, good to have you on.

Nadira Janack: Good morning. Thank you for having me on today.

Tom Temin: And in this Washington-Baltimore area that your office covers what’s happened over the last couple of years with the pandemic and workplace all sorts of uncertainties? Has this affected OSHA, and how have you dealt with it?

Nadira Janack: Well, speaking from my perspective, and experience as the area director for the Baltimore-Washington area office, it really hasn’t changed much. I mean, we continue to be responsive to complaints. And we continue to do inspections, as we have done prior to the pandemic. And for complaints that we’ve received in relation to the pandemic OSHA has published responses summaries with data for the federal and the state programs nationwide on their website. So we continue to respond to complaints, and we continue to do our inspections. It just varies the complaints that we get from day to day, but nothing much has very much changed in our work process, except that we’re working remotely as well.

Tom Temin: Sure. Got it. And do you also cover public official, public workplaces, public government workplaces, for say, the state of Maryland and also the federal government, which is, you know, in good degree located in the Baltimore-Washington area? I mean, you’ve got Social Security, for example.

Nadira Janack: Yes, as the area director for the Baltimore-Washington area office, our jurisdiction does include federal employees within the D.C. metro area and the state of Maryland. There is a state program in the state of Maryland, and they have jurisdiction over public sector and private sector employees in the state of Maryland. So we cover D.C. Metro employees. We do not have coverage over public sector employees in the D.C. metro area.

Tom Temin: Okay and who covers the airport there, BWI Thurgood Marshall, by the way?

Nadira Janack: Well that would be the state of Maryland.

Tom Temin: Okay. All right so you get everything else then? And has the nature of the complaints changed? I mean, have there been COVID-related and safety issues with masking and all of this kind of thing? Does that come into OSHA along with whatever else you normally get?

Nadira Janack: Yes, we do get those complaints, yes.

Tom Temin: And what is your jurisdiction there? And what do you tell people when those complaints come in? What happens?

Nadira Janack: When we get the complaints, we evaluate the complaints to see what our jurisdiction is, and if we have coverage over those, and how we can respond. And then we will address the complaints appropriately based on our coverage.

Tom Temin: Because a lot of times, in OSHA history, there has been systemic problems that, say, in a company they don’t, I don’t know whatever it is, they create a factory or a warehouse or workplace that has some sort of unsafe condition that might affect anybody passing through. And then clearly you deal with the management of that location or that business. But what about where, say there’s a policy in place that everybody has to have a mask, but someone complains, “Well, Joe over here, or these three people over here aren’t following the rules.” What how do you deal with that when the company’s policies are for everyone to say, have a mask?

Nadira Janack: So, that can be challenging from time to time. So we have to address all complaints that come in, and we have to make a decision as to how we’re going to address those complaints. And we have, we will contact the employer because we have a process where we can go on site to address complaints. Or we have a process through a phone and fax process where we can contact management and let them know that we have received a complaint and make them aware of the complaint.

Tom Temin: Because there could be a case of where the policy they have is correct. But the enforcement is not there by the company itself, versus the company harboring something they need to fix companywide.

Nadira Janack: Correct.

Tom Temin: Got it. We’re speaking with Nadira Janack. She’s director of the OSHA Baltimore-Washington area office in Linthicum, Maryland. And Linthicum is not a well known town, but it’s close to Baltimore, we should say, in that region of the country, right?

Nadira Janack: Yes, it’s close to the airport.

Tom Temin: By the way, do you share that facility with other federal agencies or is it just an OSHA office?

Nadira Janack: It’s just an OSHA office.

Tom Temin: Ok, how many people do you have to cover the Baltimore-Washington area?

Nadira Janack: We have six compliance officers that cover our jurisdiction.

Tom Temin: Oh, yeah, so it’s a small group.

Nadira Janack: Yes.

Tom Temin: So don’t complain to these people. Unless you really have a real problem is what you’re saying? Well, I’ll say no.

Nadira Janack: No, not saying that.

Tom Temin: But has the pace of complaints picked up in the pandemic for your office?

Nadira Janack: It varies from day to day. I mean, I can’t really say that it has picked up, it has remained steady. So it’s just that the number of COVID-related complaints has increased since the pandemic versus regular complaints. When I mean regular complaints, I mean, construction-related complaints and complaints related to issues with, say, electrical. We have seen an uptick in COVID-related complaints.

Tom Temin: Yeah, so the implication here then is that the complaints in general, because the uptick, there hasn’t been such a big uptick it’s been steady, that complaints in general, don’t come from offices where people can work remotely, office workers and information workers. As opposed to people pulling wire doing construction, that kind of thing.

Nadira Janack: Correct.

Tom Temin: And if you filter out COVID-related complaints in general, is there a trend? I mean, do you see a certain kind of complaint that comes up most often?

Nadira Janack: Not really. Like I said, it’ll vary and it kind of has remained steady. So it’s just the influx of COVID complaints that we have gotten intertwined with the other complaints that we normally receive.

Tom Temin: Now OSHA then has issued some recent guidance to warehousing, distribution delivery types of companies. And there’s a lot of those in the area, even though you don’t cover the airport, say, but there’s probably a lot of employers surrounding the airport that do all of the physical distribution and movement of goods that end up in the airport. And so what’s the best advice for COVID in general? What are you telling people these days?

Nadira Janack: Well, I would suggest that they include conducting a workplace risk assessment for potential COVID exposure, and preparing or response plans and taking steps to improve their ventilation in areas where there’s transmission. I mean, review online resources and review recommended practices for safety and health programs. And if they need assistance contact a compliance assistance specialist. They can also contact on site consultation program. I mean, we have various programs in place and resources that they can use at their disposal for their use.

Tom Temin: Tell us about your own career. How did you end up in OSHA? And do you like it and what’s it like to be an area director?

Nadira Janack: Well, I do enjoy working for OSHA. I love the mission. I love being able to help employees and employers create a safe working environment. I mean, I ended up in OSHA, because I wanted to make a difference for the workplace and make sure that employees would go home in a safe manner. And it was just a stroke of luck that I ended up working in the safety and health environment. I mean, I started out with the state of Maryland actually. And then I ended up working for federal OSHA. So, and worked my way up. And being an area director does take a lot of time. And it does take a lot of discipline to be able to manage the group. So it is a rewarding job. So that’s what I enjoy about the job.

Tom Temin: Alright. Nadira Janack is director of the OSHA Baltimore-Washington area office that’s in Linthicum Maryland. Thanks so much for joining me.

Nadira Janack: Thank you for having me, I appreciate your time.

Tom Temin: And if you don’t like something in your workplace, contractors out there, give her a call.

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