As a country, we have come a long way since the days when workers regularly got injured or died on the job. Workers are safer now than before because of health and safety protections that require employers to provide workplaces free of hazards like toxins that cause disease and injuries. These rules and laws, however, are only strong when they are enforced.
We can’t always rely on employers to do the right thing, so we have to keep vigilant. AFGE is holding a conference in June to educate AFGE activists on key and emerging occupational safety health problems and solutions. The conference was originally for Department of Veterans Affairs health and safety activists, but this year we're opening enrollment to AFGE activists governmentwide.
If you haven’t been to one of these health and safety conferences before, this is your chance.
After the new Secretary of Labor took office, the assaults on workers’ safety have intensified. With the urging of industry groups, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under the Trump administration has delayed the effective date for two important rules – the silica standard and the beryllium rule – that protect workers from being exposed to excessive amounts of sand and metal particles that cause lung cancer, lung disease, and kidney disease in an effort to get rid of it altogether.
An important OSHA recordkeeping requirement was also repealed so OSHA would not be able to cite employers with long-term patterns of underreporting of on-the-job injuries. As a result, employers would be more likely to hide injuries, falsify injury records, and willfully violate the law without any accountability.
OSHA has also formally withdrawn the so-called Sallman letter, which allows workers without a union to designate someone affiliated with a union to represent the workers in an OSHA walkaround inspection.
These new attempts to weaken safety rules would result in more on-the-job injuries and deaths. Currently, 50,000 people die from illnesses caused by exposure to workplace hazards while 6,000 people die from workplace injuries. In addition, 6 million workers suffer non-fatal workplace injuries at an annual cost to U.S. businesses of more than $125 billion.
For the fiscal year 2018, the new administration has proposed a budget cut of 21 percent from the Department of Labor, whose job is to enforce labor laws that protect workers. Considering how the U.S. has eight million worksites to inspect and a little over 1,800 state and federal inspectors to do the work – that’s one inspection for each place every 98 years – the budget cut would mean even more injuries and deaths.
We don’t have details on which programs are going to face the axe yet, but we know one program that’s been targeted: the Susan Harwood grant program, which offers grants to non-profit organizations including several unions to provide safety training to workers.
The new Congress has repealed two safety and health rules: the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule, which required businesses competing for federal contracts worth more than $500,000 to disclose and correct serious safety and labor law violations, and the rule strengthening employers’ workplace illness and injury recordkeeping requirements.
The House has passed a slew of outrageous anti-regulatory bills, but industry groups have pinned their hopes on a Senate bill – the Regulatory Accountability Act that would basically block new consumer protection rules. The bill was introduced by Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and co-sponsored by Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. If the Portman bill had been in place decades ago, we wouldn’t have had rules requiring toys to be safe, factories to limit their pollution, and passenger jets to have two pilots in the cockpit.
Join your union brothers and sisters and register now for the health and safety conference taking place in Las Vegas on June 20-22.
After the conference, you will be able to exercise your rights under the contract and the Occupational Safety Health Act and develop action plans to address key occupational hazards that are workplace specific.
We are facing a serious threat that could tip the workplace safety scale in favor of anti-worker lobby and greedy corporations. Weakened health and safety protections also affect the federal workplace. We’re counting on you to help prevent injuries and deaths on the job and make our workplaces safer. Register now!
For more information, please contact Health and Safety Specialist Milly Rodriguez at [email protected].
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