Here are comments from Eric Frumin, director, occupational safety and health program, Workers United/SEIU, presented to OSHA officials at the OSHA Listening Session, March 4, 2010, Washington, DC:

Enhancing action on workplace hazards“If the job of protecting workers were simply left to employers and the magical economic theories about marketplaces and incentives, we would continue to see the same devastation – known in modern economic theory as “creative destruction”— that has recently afflicted former jobholders, displaced homeowners and struggling communities across the nation.

“We know from bitter experience that but for strong OSHA standards and strict OSHA enforcement, many more workers would be hurt, sickened or killed on the job than are already facing workplace hazards every day.

“But the benefits of strong standards and strict enforcement are sorely limited to too few workers and worksites. OSHA inspectors are still too few and their inspections are too “far between”. Worse, while many employers make legitimate efforts to protect workers, too many other employers make little or no effort. And the worst part of this picture is that many of those employers have virtually nothing to fear, even if, in the rare case, an OSHA inspector actually shows up and catches them red-handed. The penalties and other sanctions are so low as to eliminate whatever deterrence employers felt when the OSHAct was first passed in 1970, or when OSHA took innovative enforcement action since then.

“It is high time that OSHA join with workers, their unions, and their supporters make job safety a visible priority for employers, communities and political leaders.

“So what does it take to convince employers to take action to, as OSHA asks, “identify and address workplace hazards?

“First, OSHA needs the authority to impose the same substantial sanctions that are currently used by federal enforcement agencies who deal with the same employers under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and other environmental laws – serious jail time for reckless corporate managers who kill, injure or even just endanger people.

“But short of that option, OSHA needs to make clear to the CEO’s and Board of Directors of large companies – who employ the majority of the workers covered by the OSHAct – that OSHA knows where they work, that OSHA intends to hold them accountable for the actions of their local managers, and that abusive violations in one location will trigger strong action everywhere in the company.

“OSHA has the authority to undertake broad investigations of corporate lawbreaking, and it’s high time that OSHA started doing so in earnest. Millions of workers would be better protected, and their managers more concerned about workplace hazards, if the top corporate leaders see OSHA regularly taking their investigations up the ladder to the people with real responsibility to change company policies and prevent these patterns of rampant misconduct.

There is a “New Sheriff in town”“And she’s hiring a lot of new deputies and marshalls. That’s good.

“But she also needs an enforcement corps equipped with the modern tools of law enforcement to find out where are the best places to send them. That means information systems that other agencies have used for years:

  • “detailed reporting requirements on workplace hazards, at least for the large employers who cover so much of the workforce and often already have data systems capturing critical reports on job-related injuries and workplace hazards
  • “coordinated enforcement programs that track employer compliance throughout the country, not just one job site or one state at a time.
  • “Effective investigations that force employers to disclose hazards and violations before workers suffer injuries or death, not just afterwards.

“With effective tools like these, the employers who think they are “slipping under the radar” will realize that there is no longer an easy hiding place. Combined with the aggressive investigative approaches and enhanced worker rights, OSHA can use new information sources to leverage its limited resources and get the most “bang for the buck”.