Four years ago, we emphasized that the President’s cabinet appointments go a long way in setting the practical direction of an Administration,” recalls LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “From the perspective of the union sector in American construction, President Obama’s picks have been good ones.”
Yet, some OSH commentators are disappointed that the President has not accomplished more. Specifically, these critics complain that OSHA has not published more standards, such as a new silica standard.
The President could have done more, but the relentless clamor from business lobbyists and conservative politicians to halt regulatory efforts made progress difficult. “After the failures of the Bush Administration, President Obama has turned OSHA and MSHA around,” says O’Sullivan. “He’s installed a more proactive approach to solving workplace health and safety problems in our country.”
Here are a few examples. (A more detailed list can be seen here: What has the Obama Administration Done on Occupational Safety and Health?).
- Enforcement. The Administration declared, “There’s a new sheriff in town.” More inspectors were hired. Penalties were doubled. Severe violators were targeted. The Administration cracked down on companies that use incentive programs to discourage reporting. State programs came under closer scrutiny. New protections were established for whistleblowers.
- Immigrant workers. Immigrant workers are at much higher risk of injury on the job. The Administration conducted extensive outreach to immigrant workers through conferences, consulates and worker centers.
- Workers’ rights. OSHA and MSHA each made a major push to emphasize the right to a safe workplace. A workers’ rights module is now required in the OSHA 10-Hour for construction.
- Outreach. In numerous areas like heat stress, falls in construction, nursing homes and combustible dust – topics where regulatory action is not needed or too slow – OSHA has stepped up outreach to increase awareness and protection. The best example was protecting clean-up workers during the BP oil spill in the Gulf. Unlike the World Trade Center clean-up, aggressive action from OSHA ensured that BP clean-up workers were protected from hazardous exposures.
“The Obama Administration has set a new tone and direction for its regulatory agencies that is respectful of Labor and the needs of working families,” O’Sullivan summarizes. “In considering your vote this fall, you should decide if you want this trend to continue or if you want to risk going back to the policies and approach of the past.”
[Scott Schneider, LHSFNA Occupational Safety and Health Division Director]