Last week (April 28) was Workers' Memorial Day, remembering and honoring all those workers who have been injured or killed in the workplace. While we've come a long way in our country toward protecting workers, current politics and politicians are actively working to undermine a century of progress.
I encourage everyone to read the following informative post on the current statistics of workplace injuries and the effort to encourage less protection for workers: The Health and Safety of America's Workers Is At Risk.
The author, Kathleen Rest, provided a detailed list of the Trump administrations intention on "rolling back public protections and prioritizing industry over the public interest":
- Right off the bat, the president issued his two-for-one executive order requiring agencies to rescind two regulations for each new one they propose. So, to enact new worker health and safety protections, two others would have to go.
- OSHA has delayed implementation or enforcement of several worker protection rules that address serious health risks and were years in the making-i.e., silica, the cause of an irreversible and debilitating lung disease, and beryllium, a carcinogen and also the source of a devastating lung disease.
- OSHA has left five advisory and committees to languish-the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health; the Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee; the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health; the Federal Advisory Council; and the Maritime Advisory Committee-thus depriving the agency of advice from independent experts and key stakeholders. Earlier this week, a number of groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, sent a letter to Secretary of Labor Acosta asking him to stop sidelining the advice of independent experts.
- President Trump signed a resolution that permanently removed the ability of OSHA to cite employers with a pattern of record keeping violations related to workplace injuries and illnesses. Yes, permanently, because it was passed under the Congressional Review Act. And Secretary Acosta recently seemed hesitant to commit not to rescind OSHA's rule to improve electronic recordkeeping of work-related injuries and illnesses.
- Having failed in efforts to cut some worker health and safety protections and research in his FY18 budget proposal, the president is going at it again with his FY19 proposal. He is calling for the elimination of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board and OSHA's worker safety and health training program, Susan Harwood Training Grants. There is, however, a tiny bit of good news for workers in President Trump's proposed budget for OSHA; it includes a small (2.4 percent) increase for enforcement, as well as a 4.2 percent increase for compliance assistance. Of note, employers much prefer compliance assistance over enforcement activities.
- The president's budget also proposes to cut research by 40 percent at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-the only federal agency solely devoted to research on worker health and safety-and eliminate the agency's educational research centers, agriculture, forestry and fishing research centers and external research programs.
- He has also proposed taking NIOSH out of CDC, perhaps combining it later with various parts of the National Institutes of Health. Never mind that NIOSH was established by statute as an entity by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.
- The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has also jumped on the regulatory reform bandwagon. The agency has indicated its intent to review and evaluate its regulations protecting coal miners from black lung disease. This at a time when NIOSH has identified the largest cluster of black lung disease ever reported.
- EPA actions are also putting workers at risk. Late last year, the EPA announced that it will revise crucial protections for more than two million farmworkers and pesticide applicators, including reconsidering the minimum age requirements for applying these toxic chemicals. Earlier in the year, the agency overruled its own scientists when it decided not to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, thus perpetuating its serious risk to farmworkers, not to mention their children and users of rural drinking water. And the agency has delayed implementation of its Risk Management Plan rule to prevent chemical accidents for nearly two years.
- The Department of Interior is following up on an order from President Trump to re-evaluate regulations put into place by the Obama administration in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010, which killed 11 offshore workers and created the largest marine oil spill in United States' drilling history.
- And then there's a new proposal at the U.S. Department of Agriculture that seeks to privatize the pork inspection system and remove any maximum limits on line speeds in pig slaughter plants. Meat packing workers in pork slaughter houses already have higher injury and illness rates than the national average. Increasing line speeds only increases their risk.
Scary times. I fear we may be remembering more and more injured workers moving forward.