As some of you may know, Social Media Today has been partnering for the past few months with Ogilvy360 and Dupont Sustainable Solutions to give birth to our newest, editorially independent site, SustainableBusinessForum.
The site's mission is to bring together in online community the best bloggers about sustainability and safety, two related concerns for big businesses that are seldom seen together in one place. We're just launching the site now, and we've brought together such leading bloggers on sustainability as Marc Gunther; leading bloggers on social responsibility such as Aron Kramer; President and CEO of Businesses for Social Responsibility Ted Coine on leadership; and others. However, we've found ourselves a bit short on bloggers who focus on safety, especially workplace safety and health.
So last week, Marc Gunther and I, aiming right for the top of our recruitment list, interviewed the head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, David Michaels, at his offices in D.C. Marc is covering what is going on at OSHA for SustainableBusinessForum, but I'm taking a few minutes here to talk about OSHA's communications objectives, for all you bloggers out there who are interested in Government 2.0 and the implications of social media in regulation and improved business processes.
For bedrock business conservatives, perhaps nothing better symbolizes noxious business regulation than the agency created in 1970 to oversee protection of worker health and safety. And perhaps some of this is justifiable, since many of the regulations adopted early on were formulated as long ago as the Sixties and are not relevant to today's work force. Under the Bush administration, in fact, increased regulation was discouraged in favor of voluntary compliance and attention to potential problems. However, nothing better demonstrates the ongoing need for continued government oversight than the recent explosions in the Gulf, preceded spectacularly, with even more fatalities, by BP's Texas City disaster in 2005.
Michaels, whose previous work at DOE and in academia led him to write Doubt Is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health, is taking not only a more pragmatic approach to curtailing workplace hazard, which involves voluntary compliance as well as regulation, he is also looking to social media and communications in general to enhance the reporting ability that will both promote good practices and punish through public opprobrium those who ignore safety. He's done this before, revealing how powerful corporate interests can mask scientific evidence about health and safety by burying it in a lot of unnecessary detail. According to a recent interview with ScienceProgress.org, he found in his research for the book, "some very powerful smoking guns," which he made available at www.defendingscience.org "so anyone can download them and read exactly how these people work."
Under Michaels, the OSHA communications team now regularly distributes press releases in which companies are cited for their infractions. A believer in "sunshine being the best disinfectant," Michaels also is looking to expand the inbound communications from people who notice workplace hazards, beyond the 800-number published on OSHA's site, and to improve listening on the Web. But the agency is also cooperating with non-governmental organizations such as the National Safety Council to improve the dissemination of best practices and virtually reward good behavior.
As Michaels notes, "knowledge management is becoming better than ever before," and at OSHA, he's advising, "let's rethink how we're initiating standards." One of the social media tools that Michaels would like to bring to OSHA is crowd-sourcing, which would lead to something that will ultimately benefit the agency and American workers: a reliable and sufficiently extensive data source that will help predict with some certainty, and to prevent, workplace disasters, most especially ones in smaller businesses and our most hazardous industries. We're delighted to meet such a forward-thinking official at the helm of one of our most important federal agencies.