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The coming OSHA war

November 2, 2009
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I was listening to a right-wing radio talkmonger (is there any other kind?) who warned of the following doomsday-for-conservatives scenario: the Obama administration intends to take over control of healthcare as the first step in a plan to nationalize the entire U.S. economy, in the process destroying millions of small businesses and capitalism as we know it.

Give ‘em an inch and liberal/socialists will regulate, administrate and suffocate U.S. business, according to hard-core conservatives.

The mini-boom of aggressive activity at OSHA in the past half year amounts to little more than a footnote in this supposed vast Obama conspiracy, but it is bound to attract more attention from business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the National Federation of Independent Business.

A response to a recent blog post on the AFL-CIO’s website regarding OSHA’s record-busting $87-million fine of BP’s Texas City, Texas refinery operation is the kind of incendiary rhetoric that will only inflame the business community. Here are excerpts from the commentary, beamed to earth from the World Socialist Web site:

“Why don’t fines and multi-million-dollar judgments cause any change in behavior of these multi-national corporations? A main reason is that these huge penalties are ‘chump change’ to the vast multi-billion dollar profits being made by these corporate giants…

“The only solution is to demand that the entire energy industry be socialized. Socialization, not some temporary nationalization, of the oil, gas, coal, nuclear, electrical, companies etc. would mean these industries would be directed by the needs of society for sustainable, non-polluting energy. The motivation for wars-for-profit would end. The major factors affecting global warming would at last be taken away from capitalists who have caused this crisis in human survival.

“A new labor movement, realizing the destructive nature of capitalism, must break away from being a ‘business partner’ to the system of economics that is destroying us all. A new political party, representing the needs of all working people, must be created to break away from slavishly supporting the Democratic Party.

“All attempts to ‘reform’ capitalism or to try to ‘fine’ or penalize capitalist corporations into a different behavior are forever doomed to failure. The problems generated by capitalism are intrinsic to capitalism. The vast majority of people will continue to be impoverished, without health care, without education, and killed in unending wars for profit.

“A transition to a socialist economy ‘of, by and for’ the people is essential to the survival of working people and humanity worldwide.”

There you have it. More than enough fodder to substantiate right-wing fears that President Obama and his fellow travelers are leading the country to revolutionary upheaval. This is sarcasm, folks.

Sure, this is a lone voice ranting in the immense web universe, but in the hands of the anti-OSHA crowd it can take on all sorts of out-of-proportion exaggerated significance.

We’re only in the first months of Obama’s OSHA regime. Dr. David Michaels, who the Chamber and NAM are already on the record as questioning his anti-business bias and zeal to regulate, has not even been confirmed by the Senate and ushered into his plush OSHA office.

Just wait for the left-versus-right eruption when OSHA, sometime next year or in 2011, tackles again the issue of how to reduce ergo-related injuries.

The irresistible force of 20+ years of organized labor’s pent-up demand for OSHA action will meet the immovable object of organized business resistance.

And the fall out? A battle royale that will benefit attorneys and consultants far more than millions of workers facing daily ergo hazards.
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OSHA 's ERGO mistake

Gary Rosenblum
November 2, 2009
I think if Fed OSHA can get a written generic safety program standard essentially equivalent to the California IIPP finalized during the term of office, it will be 1) an outstanding accomplishment 2) solve the “ergo problem” and 3) allow for smoother global harmonization. I think if they try to tackle ergo as a stand-alone standard they will distract themselves and the agency from a more useful agenda, and they will create the golden opportunity for enemies of OSHA to explode a bunch of headline grabbing heat and controversy where none need be generated. Right now the atmosphere is “change is needed and welcome at OSHA” but going off on an ergo tangent will hand the enemies of OSHA an easy opportunity to coalesce around a soft target and knock the stuffing out of any hope OSHA might have of moving forward into the 21st century.

Why a war

Cole Camp
January 6, 2010
I am still in a quandary as to why the Obama administration has taken the route of enhanced enforcement and fines. The last several years have seen incident ratings fall. The use of industry driven approaches like the VPP now have proven track records. I know that some are arguing that the reporting has become skewed. My experience with several small businesses has shown that they are just now starting to get the reporting done correctly. If anything they were shooting themselves in the foot by over-reporting. The new big stick approach has a less than subtle union flavor that is distasteful for most small businesses. The idea is for government to help the people not to drum them over the head with onerous fines. The Obama administration seems bent on throwing out everything that the Bush administration has accomplished at risk of losing the baby with the bathwater. It appears from the cable news commentators that the SEIU and several other unions possess a decisive bent in support of the OSHA enforcement baton when industry approaches are working. Why a War?

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