The U.S. Might Be Poised to Go Backwards on Workplace Safety

The U.S. Might Be Poised to Go Backwards on Workplace Safety

When we think of moving forward, we think of progress and advancement. Turns out, that’s not always the case. The simple passing of time does not guarantee forward movement, and many would argue that is nowhere more obvious than in government. Of particular concern recently is the treatment of worker protections and workplace safety standards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has revisited a few Obama-era rules in ways that have left safety advocates extremely apprehensive.

One rule concerns beryllium, an industrial mineral linked to approximately 100 respiratory-related deaths each year. Back in 2015, the United States’ largest beryllium producer even agreed to support tougher restrictions, effectively lowering worker exposure to this dangerous substance. The company called it a demonstration of how “industry and labor can collaborate to better protect workers.” However, several small maritime and construction companies have since formed an industry group called the Abrasive Blasting Manufacturers Alliance and spent tens of thousands of dollars to lobby for changes. Subsequently, OSHA made suggestions that may open the door to major exemptions.

The process for turning an idea into an actual safety rule is a long and difficult one, no matter which political party is in control. Take silica, for instance, a respiratory workplace hazard as similarly devastating as beryllium. OSHA first considered putting more regulations on it in the 1990s, but it wasn’t until 20 years later that it was decided that 700 lives saved each year was enough to finalize reducing workplace exposure to the chemical. However, a lawsuit filed by industry groups seeking to block the rule as “infeasible and unworkable” led to OSHA’s putting enforcement on hold. OSHA has also delayed action on a new rule that requires electronic reporting of workplace injuries. It takes a long time to build high standards that keep workers safe. It takes very little time to knock those standards down.

Experts are worried that turning our backs on establishing and maintaining these types of safety standards is the start of more widespread relaxation of occupational safety regulations. The Trump administration has seemingly hinted at a new, relaxed approach. Its proposed budget has essentially done away with the Chemical Safety Board, the group of people responsible for investigating accidents at chemical plants. It also eliminates an OSHA grant program whose purpose is to provide training in high-risk industries and for non-native English speakers. A White House spokesperson has stated that worker safety is important, but that the new administration hopes to improve upon existing standards and believes the previous approach was inefficient.

Some safety experts believe that the Obama administration’s decision to wait until so late in his term to finalize a number of major rules makes them particularly vulnerable to change. That, mixed with a steadily decreasing budget for workplace safety, could mean tough times ahead.

If you have any questions about this topic, have been hurt on the job, or think your workers’ compensation benefits have been wrongly applied or denied, find out more by discussing it with one of the attorneys at The Mann Law Firm. We have over 50 years of experience helping people, and we can help you. Based in Macon, we proudly serve communities throughout Georgia. Contact us by calling (478) 742-3381 or by filling out our online form.