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Absences at Cal-OSHA Standards Board cause problems

California's Cal/OSH Standards Board members work without pay, volunteering their time to advance the cause of occupational safety and health in California. Most of them spend countless personal hours poring over rulemaking records to understand the issues and prepare for votes or public hearings. Active board members participate in sometimes mind-numbing variance hearings and intelligently deal with many other issues and tasks crucial to the safety and health of California's workers.

So what happens when a board member consistently fails to show up?

The entire safety and health community found again out not long ago when one member – one of two labor members – one Jose Moreno – one who has failed to attend most of board meetings since his appointment – was missing again. The missing Mr. Moreno would have been the tie-breaking vote on an emergency heat illness regulation, which was not adopted because of the tie.

The Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) was turned back in its attempt in June to enact emergency revisions to General Industry Safety Orders §3395, regarding heat illness regulations. The board invited the Division back with revisions narrowing provisions to those DOSH believed were truly of an emergency nature.

The emergency proposal ultimately failed because of the 3-3 tie. Moreno, notably, also was absent for the June vote, too.

The facts speak for themselves: Mr. Moreno, according to official records, has been a consistent no-show at board meetings since he was first appointed in 2002. A review of Standards Board attendance records from fiscal-year 2006 through fiscal-year 2008 shows that Mr. Moreno was absent from board meetings 75 percent of the time, attending only nine meetings but missing 27. Moreno was similarly missing during his first term.

By virtue of comparison, during the same period, board chair John MacLeod and occupational health representative Dr. Jonathan Frisch missed only four meetings. More recently appointed members Bill Jackson, Jack Kastorff and Willie Washington also have good attendance records, missing very few meetings.

The occasional absence of a board member does not adversely affect Standards Board business. But the consistent absence makes it not only impossible for the Board to function properly but impossible for the missing member to understand with institutional knowledge and perspective what the underlying issues really are. One has no choice but to ask if the missing Mr. Moreno actually cares.

Missing a meeting where an emergency situation existed is symptomatic of the missing Mr. Moreno. It was not as if he could have misunderstood the importance of this particular meeting. The entire community was hanging on its outcome.

The situation is no longer tolerable by anyone concerned.

What's worse, as the missing Mr. Moreno might understand, heat illness is an issue of particular interest to labor. Yes labor representative Mr. Moreno was absent for a vote on a topic critical to labor. It is an issue towards which other labor related individuals have been working hard for some time.

The people of California, the Cal/OSH Standards Board, and California's workers and employers deserve a member who cares enough to be a full participant.

After fellow labor representative Steve Rank resigned from the board earlier this year to accept another gubernatorial appointment, Mr. Moreno's attendance briefly picked up. But it is obvious to the community that the missing Mr. Moreno quickly reverted to type after the appointment of Guy Prescott to the other labor seat.

It is clear that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger needs to quickly replace the missing Mr. Moreno with someone who cares what happens to California's workers and employers.

And this time let's hope there is a commitment in advance that the new member can and will devote the time necessary to board business.

Ed's Note: A video depiction of this commentary is available at http://www.cal-osha.com/assets/0/130/80273bd1-09f7-4ce1-8a8d-e577ab8bfce0.swf

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