Short stuff: News you might want to know
Posted with permission from Confined Space, a newsletter of workplace safety and labor issues
♦ From Mitch to Donald, with Love: Looks like we may have a Secretary of Labor by Thursday. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell is preparing a gift for the President making sure he has a full cabinet before his 100 Day anniversary. McConnell filed for cloture (ending debate) Monday on Alexander Acosta’s nomination. The Senate is expected to vote on cloture today and a floor vote is expected tomorrow. After that we should start seeing some political appointees at DOL (maybe even OSHA) and some nominations for Senate approved positions.
♦ April 28: April 28 has special meaning for workplace safety and health activists because it’s Workers Memorial Day. It’s also the day the government will run out of money if the FY 17 budget is not passed, or if the Continuing Resolution that has been funding the government since last year is not extended. Health and safety-wise, health benefits for retired coal miners runs out with the expiration of the current Continuing Resolution. Trump ran as a champion of miners and now that he’s gotten all of their jobs back, they’re wondering whether he’s going to advocate for permanent extension their health benefits. And, of course, April 28 is day 99 of Trump’s term. More on what he has accomplished (or demolished) in his first 100 days later this week.
♦ Missing Something? And speaking of Workers Memorial Day, OSHA has announced that it will recognize the day:
American workers are the backbone of our nation’s prosperity and a focal point of President Trump’s “America First” agenda. With the recent increased growth in manufacturing, mining and construction industries, OSHA renews its commitment to making safety a priority through education, training and collaboration with American workers, businesses and state partners.
And I’m sure you all will notice without me pointing it out that there is not mention of the “E” word in this statement (that would be “enforcement.”) And please join me in a warm thanks to President Obama for whatever growth we’ve seen in manufacturing, mining and construction.
Basic Math: AFL-CIO health and safety director Peg Seminario doesn’t think Donald Trump’s deregulatory policy is helping workers. She’s particularly concerned about his Executive Orders on regulatory protections: “He has an executive order that says for every new protection issued, two protections must be taken off the books. I say 1 minus 2 is a negative number. That means less protection for workers, and that’s not good.” And his budget cuts will lead to “more injuries and deaths.”
Do Not Pass Go: Steelworkers President Leo Gerard says the United States needs a law that holds supervisors and corporate officials criminally accountable and exacting serious prison sentences when workers die on the job, like they have in Canada. “The only way to make workers’ lives matter is to make prison a real possibility for CEOs and supervisors. Lethal greed must be tempered by frightening ramifications. Fines are no threat. Only prison is.”
Stupid Headline of the Week: “Keeping up your cellphone service has killed 35 people“ screams a headline in the New York Post about the hazards of cell tower work. The article isn’t bad, but blaming cellphone users for the deaths of tower workers is like blaming someone who flushes the toilet for killing a wastewater treatment plant worker who dies in a confined space. Safe workplaces are the responsibility of the employer, not the consumer.
Hazardous Hotels: California’s OSHA program is considering a standard to protect hotel workers against musculoskeletal disorders. “The Cal/OSHA plan will require employers in hotels and other lodging workplaces to develop and implement a written musculoskeletal injury prevention program. Employers will also be required to conduct a worksite evaluation to assess each housekeeping task, control exposures, and train employees. ”
April: The Cruelest Month: I wrote earlier this week about anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster that killed more than 1100 workers. This week was also the 30th anniversary of the L’Ambiance Plaza collapse in Bridgeport, Connecticut that killed 28 workers. And last week was the 7th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and led to the biggest environmental disaster in American history. The 4th anniversary of the West Texas fertilizer explosion that killed 15 was on April 17 and the Upper Big Branch mine explosion that killed 29 miners occurred on April 7, 2010. And, as a kind reader alerted me in the comments, April 27th is the 39th anniversary of the Willow Island, West Virginia power station scaffold collapse where 51 construction workers fell to their deaths as the concrete scaffolding they were on failed. It was the worst construction accident in U.S. history.
Hold your breath. Only a few more days of April to go.
Review and Replace: Trump has renominated Heather McDougall for the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission which adjudicates contested OSHA citations. McDougall’s current term runs out at the end of the month leaving Cynthia Attwood as the only commissioner, and no quorum to decide cases. McDougall still has to be confirmed by the Senate.
OSHA? Whoa. Cool Dude: Oregon OSHA has fined a marijuana business $5300 for failure to ventilate an area that led to an butane explosion that hospitalized one worker. The company, Higher Level Concentrates, was also cited for not reporting the hospitalization to Oregon OSHA.
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