In this issue of LIFELINES, we address an age-old problem of Laborers: Pain.
If you work construction, you know about pain. In 2009, 92,500 construction workers lost work time due to an injury or illness. A lot of this pain could have been avoided with proactive injury and illness prevention programs (I2P2s) that seek out worksite hazards for elimination before they produce a pain-causing exposure or incident.
That’s why we are also discussing OSHA’s proposal to adopt an I2P2 standard. This standard would require each American employer to investigate and address hazards at its worksites. Since the I2P2 standard was proposed in September, certain anti-worker, business lobbyists have reached deep into their bag of tiresome laments to complain about OSHA’s intrusion on business prerogatives. Crying wolf yet again, these lobbyists assert that federal regulation is burdensome and unnecessary.
The debate is worth having because it provides the public with another opportunity to consider whether it wants Congress to restrict OSHA’s regulatory agenda. Almost every adult American is a worker, and research by the prestigious National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago shows that 85 percent of workers consider workplace safety the most important of all government-regulated labor standards – ahead of family and maternity leave, minimum wage, paid sick leave, overtime rules and the right to join a union.
Given this kind of concern, it is vital that the nation’s political leaders focus on making work safe, and it is to OSHA’s credit that it has come up with a regulatory proposal – the I2P2 standard – that doesn’t just impose task- or job-specific rules but, rather, makes a sweeping attempt to change the safety culture across the board at American jobsites. With so broad and deep a purpose, it is hardly surprising that OSHA’s initiative has attracted the ire of the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. As we can see (page 4), these bastions of the “unregulated way” have always insisted on the right of businesses to pay as little attention as each owner may wish to ensure on-the-job safety and health.
Divergent views over federal involvement were also behind the long delay in adoption of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, which Congress finally passed on December 22. Though the House version was scaled back to $4.3 billion by the Senate, the act provides permanent funds to ensure care and compensation for Laborers and thousands of other workers who put their own health at risk in the rescue and recovery operations after the 9/11 attack. Some senators, reluctant to commit any federal funds, had blocked a vote earlier in the lame duck session. Refusing to let the bill die, proponents – including LHSFNA Research Division Director and New York State Laborers’ Health and Safety Trust Fund Administrator Dr. Jim Melius, who chairs the Steering Committee for the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program and worked for years to secure permanent funding – stressed that 9/11 was an attack on the nation as a whole and obligated a federal response. Drawing comparisons to Pearl Harbor, when civilian rescue workers received government compensation, the bill’s advocates insisted that the heroism and sacrifice of 9/11 responders be acknowledged, not only with fine praise, but also in real care and compensation.
As OSHA’s I2P2 proposal and the Zadroga debate show, the appropriate role of government in addressing health and safety issues of all sorts continues to be a source of debate in American politics. It is a discussion worthy of your careful consideration.