The steady stream of enforcement announcements issued by OSHA – which identified companies who commit major safety and health violations and revealed the fines levied against them – may have stopped on inauguration day, but a former OSHA official is getting the information out there, by posting it on his blog.
Jordan Barab, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA form 2009 to 2017, says that naming names in press releases provides a strong deterrent to would-be violators and helps OSHA leverage its limited resources.
With just 2,000 inspectors (in federal and state plans), OSHA personnel are only able to visit a fraction of the eight million workplaces whose safety is their responsibility.
Terrified of being mentioned
“Industry attorneys repeatedly told me and Dr. Michaels (former Assistant Secretary of Labor) over the past several years that their clients don’t really care about the low fines that OSHA issues; what terrifies them is being mentioned in a press release,” Barab writes in his Confined Space blog. “The attorneys’ universal response: ‘Well then, make sure your workplace is safe.’ And if that’s the message that OSHA press releases are sending, then mission accomplished.”
Barab believes that the deterrent effects of a strong press release will go beyond the company named in it – to other companies in the same geographic area and in the same industry.
The Obama administration, he points out, did not invent the enforcement press release. It reduced the penalty threshold for the cases reported on to $40,000 and added more detail – such as steps that could have been taken to prevent the violations.
Nonetheless, “business associations and some Republicans in Congress have vilified OSHA press releases for allegedly “shaming” employers,” says Barab, who also worked for the House Education and Labor Committee, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board and the AFL-CIO.
"OSHA is tiny and under attack"
Why did he launch his blog? Because “what happens inside the Beltway matters outside the Beltway,” he says.
“Over 4800 workers are killed every year in the workplace — 13 every day. Thousands more die of work related disease and 4 million workers are seriously injured every year. Although the Occupational Safety and Health Act gives workers a right to a safe workplace, and provides for OSHAto enforce that right, workplace safety and health protections are increasingly under attack. OSHA is tiny and under attack from the Trump administration. Today, the agency is only able to inspect workplaces on average, only once every 140 years. In order to prevent getting hurt or ill in the workplace, workers and the groups that assist them need information about workplace hazards, the tools to fight for workplace safety and information about how to ensure that a workplace is safe. They also need to understand the political context in which these rights exist, and how to ensure that they aren’t weakened.
“There are millions of people in this country who go to work every day fearing that they won’t come home alive or healthy at the end of the day; or that they won’t live long enough to enjoy their retirement. Some are in unions, most aren’t. Most speak English, a lot don’t. Some know their rights, most don’t. They all need to know that there are technical resources out there. And they all need to know that politics matters, voting matters — in national and local elections. Politics and voting affect workers’ likelihood of coming home alive and healthy, how much they’re getting paid and what their rights are. Everything is connected — tax cuts, growing deficits, federal budgets, executive orders, regulatory “reform” — it all affects workplace safety every day.”
Click here to visit the Confined Space blog.