Name’s Kluge. KLOO-GEE. Sam Kluge. I work for OSHA: S.Kruge, license 24680. One other thing you should know: I hate Christmas. No surprise they call me Skrugj.
So why do I hate Christmas?
You ask why? Easy. The week before we get this glut of work – employers working the butts off their employees to get orders finished, packages sent, letters answered- all to get the work done before the 24th. What these CEOs won’t do: safety guards removed, illegal overtime, child labor – the complaints skyrocket. And they get weirder and weirder.
Take this week. We get this anonymous complaint about a factory in Finland. Typically, we don’t investigate anonymous complaints- but this one came with pictures- lots of pictures. Nasty. And we’ve never investigated a factory in Finland before, either. But heck, everyone knows OSHA’s trying to expand their turf. Some people call it over-reaching. But this workplace was registered to a company incorporated in Maine. Truth to tell, I’d rather have been sent to the toy factory in the Bahamas -but my buddy, Virginia, got that one. Yeah, she believes in Santa.
So, I fly up to Finland and get transported to this remote factory – by dog sled, mind you, in some way-off place over the Arctic Circle Line. Factory’s called, get this: Santa’s Workshop.
Six reindeer are harnessed outside. Place is lit up like – well, like a Christmas tree. I ring the buzzer. Nice-looking chap - about 60, slight paunch, nicely trimmed beard, answers the door. Dressed kinda funny though. Red velour pajamas trimmed with white fake-furry stuff.
I look at the citation. The place is registered to a K. Kringle.
“Mr. Kringle,” I say, “This your factory?”
“Yessir, but I’d say it’s more like a workshop than a factory,” the guy answers.
“No matter. Name’s Kloo-Gee. OSHA Inspector. Got a few complaints about your work practices. Mind if I come in to investigate?”
“I suppose if I don’t let you, you’ll get a warrant? Well, never mind, follow me, Mr. Skrugj.”
How did he know my nickname, I wondered. Anyway, I unbundled myself, dropped my overcoat, hat, and gloves on a low table, and started looking around. I count a dozen tables, each about 15 feet long and two feet wide, five workers to a table, plus one guy (who kinda looks like a robot) trailing Kringle, so I’d say about 60 workers are scrambling about, place decorated for Christmas.
“Wait!” I call after him. “Is that mistletoe?”
“Of course it’s mistletoe; what else would you expect?”
“It’s a biological hazard! OSHA regulates all types of biological hazards, microbes, insects, even plants, you know. And that stuff’s dangerous to kids.”
“We don’t have any children working here.”
“It’s dangerous to animals, too. And you got those.”
“What makes you such an expert on mistletoe?” He turns to face me, stroking his beard.
“Susan Goldhaber, she just wrote this fantastic article for ACSH. Very informative and useful.”
“Perhaps. But you don’t have jurisdiction over reindeer.”
“Ahhh… Right.” Now I’m really pissed. I start walking up and down the aisles — one worker dashes in front of me to catch something. But there’s something funny. He’s two feet tall! He picks up what fell and jumps on the shoulders of another worker. I don’t believe this. There aren’t 60 workers; there are 60 pairs of workers.
“Mr. Kringle, your workers… they’re all midgets.”
“Elves, Mr. Skrugj, elves. And we don’t use the term midgets. It’s pejorative.”
Right. He’s got me again. Anyway, if he uses dwarves, the American Disability Act kicks in. I make a note to check what special regulations apply when I get back.
“Yes, but the tables, they’re too high,” I say, measuring them.
“They’re standard counter height- 36 inches high.”
“Yes, but for dwarves….”
“Sure. Elves. But for elves, they’re ergonomically inappropriate.”
“That’s why they stand on each other’s shoulders.”
“I see that. That isn’t good for the bottom elf- excess stress on the scapula, and for the top dwarf, he’s still got to reach. No good. No good at all.”
“First, Mr. Skrugj, what’s wrong with standing on someone’s shoulders to accomplish noble work? If it was good enough for Newton, it should be good enough for you. And secondly, Mr. Skrugj, there are no ergonomic standards anymore.”
Drat. He’s right. They repealed them.
“Err, I can get you under the general duty clause. Right here, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act: “In addition to compliance with hazard-specific standards all employers provide a work environment "free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm."
“I’m very sorry, Mr. Scrugj, but you are required to establish four separate elements to prevail under the general duty clause, including that “The employer recognized the hazard “and that the hazard was causing, or was likely to cause, death or serious physical harm.” Frankly, I don’t recognize shoulder-standing as a hazard, and you may be correct that this might cause a serious injury to a human worker, but you have no evidence that such harm would result in elves.”
He's right, of course - again. Jeezuz – how does this guy know so much? I start looking around for something else to nail him on. (No pun intended,).
The roboty-looking one waddles up to me with a cup of coffee in his hand.
“Drink?” he says.
“No thanks.” I stare at the thing. It surely doesn’t look like an elf. “Say, Kringle, that looks like a robot.”
“It is, my good man. It surely is.”
“You get it maintained?”
“By all means. Regular check-ups and self-diagnostics. Wait a moment, and I’ll bring you the log.”
“You know robots have killed workers on assembly lines. We’ve even had reports of deaths caused by robots in operating rooms. Over 100 so far. You can’t be too careful with these things.” He hands me the log – I check it quickly – it all looks OK. And the robot-looking thing doesn’t look any more dangerous than the typical household vac-robot.
“Hey Kringle, how many employees you got here?”
“100, not including R2d2 here.”
“Waaitt a second. I count 60 pairs – that’s 120, not including r2d2, here.”
“Yes, but 20 of those are temporary, gig workers, independent contractors; my house-elves are on loan for the holidays. They LOVE to help out. So we have 100 regular workers.”
“You take a paycheck?” I ask.
“Surely, every hard-working man or woman deserves to be paid.”
“OK, that makes 101 regular workers. You got your crew vaccinated?”
“Vaccinated. For COVID. You fall under Biden’s vaccine mandate. You’re incorporated in Maine – you got no excuse not to vaccinate.”
“I’m very sorry, Mr. Scrugj, but there is no need.”
“What do you mean?’
“Elves are immune to COVID. Didn’t you know that?”
“Bobby - BFK Jr. We call him Beefcake. Spreads regular misinformation – very useful against Scrooges like you. Anyway, the mandate doesn’t take effect till Jan 4- and by then, the Christmas season will be over, and all my elves will be on a much-deserved vacation. And besides, these house-elves LOVE their work – that makes them live longer. There is no such thing as a workplace hazard for them.”
“Well, Hermione Granger, of course.”
“Who?” I have no clue what he’s talking about. It’s rather embarrassing. I’m supposed to be an expert on health hazards, and I don’t’ know a damn thing about the health and safety stats of house-elves, or any other kind of elves, for that matter.
Kringle shakes his head sadly and mumbles something about Harry Potter. Then he curses his competitors in China. He’s right here too. Probably they made the anonymous complaints.
This is not going down the way I expected it. I keep looking. No radiation hazards that I can see. No safety problems – all electrical cords neatly secured. I walk up and down the aisles, looking intently at the elves. Wait. I walk over to one and look at his arm. He’s got a rash. I look at the guy next to him. Similar rash. Same on the next.
“Hey, Kringle, these guys all have rashes on their arms.”
“Yes, looks like it might be an allergy to tinsel. We had a party last night, and the elves all wrapped themselves in tinsel leis. Seems like the manufacturer might have put a new colorant in them. We had the doctor in this morning. Said it wasn’t a big deal. Temporary thing.”
I make an entry in my e-pad, trying to juggle it in my hand while holding the measuring tool. Drat! I hate these e-pads. So cumbersome. This could well be dangerous, but if the exposure happened off-the-clock, I can’t really get him on it. It should be reported to the Consumer Safety Product Commission; if I could just juggle my epad with all my other paraphernalia. You know, of all the frustrations of being an OSHA inspector, the one I find most irksome is trying to juggle my epad with all my other equipment. I’d be one hell of a happy inspector if I could only figure out how to sprout another hand to hold the damn thing.
Next thing I know, the robot-y looking one waddles up to me and hands me a new kind of epad that hooks on to my belt with an extender.
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Scrugj,” he says and waddles off.