Posted with permission from Confined Space, a newsletter of workplace safety and labor issues.
One of the first actions of the Republican Congress after Trump’s election was to repeal OSHA’s recently issued “Volks Rule” that allowed the agency to cite companies for continuing failure to accurately record injuries and illnesses.
Now an article by Will Evans at Reveal shows how real workers are suffering because of automaker Tesla’s failure to record numerous serious injuries and how the company will likely get away with it because of the action of Congressional Republicans and Donald Trump, who signed the repeal bill.
Reveal published an article earlier this year describing widespread health and safety problems at Tesla — and under recording of injuries and illnesses. The automaker had lots of excuses for not recording injuries they didn’t require medical treatment until later on, or they received new medical records or other new information, etc., etc…
OSHA requires employers to keep a log of their employees injuries and illnesses for 5 years. That time period enabled OSHA to identify deliberate patterns of under reporting and to force changes, not just on those employers’ recordkeeping practices, but on their unsafe work practices. Accurate records are the main way workers and employers can identify health and safety problems in the workplace, and correct them.
|These major recordkeeping violation cases were not just useless “red tape” or “paperwork.” These cases led to major improvements in workplace safety and health in the auto, meatpacking, petrochemical and other industries.|
For the first 40 years of the agency’s existence, OSHA was able to consider that entire five year period a “continuing violation” and cite any violations during that entire period. Throughout those years, Republican and Democratic administrations have issued major citations for widespread recordkeeping violations. And these major recordkeeping cases were not just useless “red tape” or “paperwork.” These cases led to major improvements in workplace safety and health in the auto, meatpacking, petrochemical and other industries. You can read about a few examples here.
In 2012, a court overturned OSHA’s ability to cite 5 years back, but provided an option for the agency to issue a new rule explaining more clearly an employer’s ongoing obligation to keep accurate records for five years: the Volks rule that Congress them repealed, essentially taking away OSHA’s ability to cite long-term patterns of under reporting and use those violations as leverage to force employers to address chronic health and safety problems.
So, Tesla will likely get away with it. .
And it’s not just the bad companies, like Tesla, who are getting hurt by OSHA’s inability to cite these violations, according to former OSHA head David Michaels:
Some members of Congress, like Rep. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Ca) are trying to change the law to allow OSHA to pursue chronic recordkeeping violators like Tesla.
California, which runs it’s own state OSHA program, is not required to follow OSHA’s lead in this case, althouth CalOSHA has chosen to do so. Some state legislators are looking into changing California’s law.
And, of course, a change in who controls the US Congress might help as well.