This week, the Maryland General Assembly will review new legislation that could help ensure safer workplaces in the state’s construction industry. The proposal, which is a type of “responsible contracting” legislation similar to other policies being tested out in states and municipalities across the country, would require companies that put in bids for work on public works projects in Maryland to attest that they have workplace health and safety programs and that they would implement the programs in construction projects done on the public dime.
It’s an important piece of legislation, given the dangers in the industry. As we noted in our Winning Safer Workplaces manual,
"Construction is one of the most hazardous industries for workers. Frequent injuries and deaths from falls, electrocutions, and striking objects impose unbearably high costs on individuals, families, and local economies. Public Citizen estimates that, between 2008 and 2010, fatal and nonfatal construction injuries cost the states of Maryland $713 million, Washington $762 million, and California $2.9 billion in medical services, lost productivity, administrative expenses, and lost quality of life. The firms responsible for many of these injuries and fatalities, and those with histories of citations for unsafe practices, continue to receive contracts from state and local governments."
Today, the House Economic Matters committee will hear testimony on a proposal to use the Maryland government’s vast purchasing power as a tool for promoting safer construction work practices. I submitted testimony in support of the bill because it is a smart way to ensure workers are being protected in a state where the AFL-CIO estimates it would take 108 years for occupational health and safety inspectors to visit every workplace.Full text
Our intrepid colleague Celeste Monforton, who writes at the Pump Handle blog, recently passed along a neat example of a tool that we wrote about in our Winning Safer Workplaces manual. Minnesota’s Office of the Legislative Auditor released a report on the state’s regulatory protections for meatpacking workers. As we noted in the Winning Safer Workplaces manual, state-level oversight of government regulation can be a valuable tool for advocates who are fighting for stronger workplace protections. The results of new audits can clarify what is working—and what is not working—about the regulatory system, giving advocates critical information that they might use in new campaigns. The audit process itself, by focusing outside attention on programs that may be insulated from regular or public oversight, can also have positive effects for the programs’ intended beneficiaries (here, workers).Full text
In Kansas and Maryland, two states separated by geography and politics, Republican state lawmakers are touting plans that could seriously alter the institutions that workers in those states rely upon to keep them safe on the job.
Two weeks ago, Maryland Delegate (now State Senator) Andrew Serafini introduced a bill that would make drastic changes to the way the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health agency (MOSH) does its job. So drastic, in fact, that the feds would likely have to step in and take over the state’s program. The biggest problem with the bill is a requirement that the agency send employers a letter, warning them that MOSH inspectors are on the way. Tipping off employers is bad policy for an enforcement agency trying to regulate conditions that can be easily be disguised or altered. In many cases, it’s also a criminal act.
The bill has a few other features that likely wouldn’t sit well with the federal OSHA auditors, who annually review state-plan agencies’ policies and practices to ensure that they continue to operate programs that are at least as effective as what Fed-OSHA is doing in other states (not all states run their own state-plan programs). For example, the bill would prevent MOSH from issuing fines in a number of circumstances that would lead to citations in other states. Given the evidence that shows inspections and citations lead to safer workplaces, this kid-glove approach to enforcement puts workers at risk and creates a policy that is not as effective as the Fed-OSHA approach.Full text
Tomorrow, the House is set to vote on the Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act (SBRFIA), a piece of legislation that CPR Senior Policy Analyst James Goodwin has explained would “further entrench big businesses’ control over rulemaking institutions and procedures that are ostensibly intended to help small businesses participate more effectively in the development of new regulations.”
As Members of the House prepare for Thursday’s vote, CPR has something to add to their files: a new Issue Alert with details about how the Regulatory Flexibility Act is failing small businesses. In The Small Business Charade: The Chemical Industry’s Stealth Campaign Against Public Health, CPR President Rena Steinzor, Senior Policy Analyst James Goodwin, and I explain how the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and other large trade associations manipulated the procedures outlined in the Regulatory Flexibility Act to protect their profits at the expense of the public interest—all while wasting taxpayers’ money and silencing legitimate small business input into the regulatory process. We take a close look at emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (h/t Center for Effective Government) and explore how ACC tried to manipulate OSHA’s ongoing efforts to better protect workers from respirable crystalline silica, a ubiquitous and under-regulated carcinogen.Full text
Last week on The Pump Handle, Kim Krisberg highlighted an interesting pilot program in Rockaway Township, New Jersey that puts an extra set of eyes on the lookout for workplace safety concerns that might otherwise have gone unnoticed by government inspectors. As she explains here, restaurant inspectors in Rockaway are pilot testing a simple modification to their inspection responsibilities—while they check refrigerator temperatures and cleanliness for food safety concerns, they’re now also looking for good practices that ensure workers are safe. Inspectors have a checklist of basic worker safety issues and they’re keeping tabs on which restaurants are making the grade.Full text
We are closing out the “Path to Progress” series for this year with a potential bright spot. In its Fall 2014 Regulatory Agenda, the Obama Administration set a target date of March 2015 for finalizing new rules designed to prevent and minimize the consequences of derailments in trains carrying crude oil and other highly hazardous materials. If the Department of Transportation is able to accomplish that feat, it would beat even our own proposed schedule—a welcome achievement. We are looking forward to seeing that entry on our arrivals board turn over to “arrived.”
We’re looking forward to it because crude shipments by rail continue to expand, and millions of us are living in a blast zone.
As our 13 Essential Regulatory Actions explains, domestic crude production is booming (at least for now) because of this administration’s regulatory acquiescence to—and the oil industry’s unbridled advances in—fracking and horizontal drilling. In North Dakota and elsewhere, oil companies are simply sucking so much oil out of the ground that the producers are looking for any possible way to transport it to refineries. One of the non-conventional methods is to load the crude oil on trains. But because the shipments originate in shale formations that are far removed from refineries, the risks of derailment are significant.Full text
Today, Nebraska Appleseed, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and several allied organizations sent a letter to OSHA requesting a response to their petition for a rulemaking on work speed in poultry and meatpacking plants. The groups originally submitted the petition to OSHA over a year ago, and it’s been radio silence ever since. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of workers, most low-income and socially vulnerable, continue to work in conditions that lead to crippling musculoskeletal disorders.
The workers’ advocates who submitted the petition had the misfortune of dropping it in the mail just days before the 2013 government shutdown, so at the time some commentators cut the agency some slack, noting that 90 percent of the agency’s staff—including everyone in the standard-setting office—were laid off. But that excuse is no longer relevant, and evidence of the need for the rule continues to pile up.Full text
When 29 miners died at Upper Big Branch or 11 workers died on the Deepwater Horizon, when 64 people died from tainted steroids, or when hundreds got Salmonella poisoning from peanut butter, did you ask yourself, 'Why not send the people responsible to jail?'
You're not the only one. In her new book, Why Not Jail: Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction, CPR President Rena Steinzor asks the same question and concludes:
The criminal justice system is as important to the ultimate embodiment of a society's values as it is in keeping the public peace. ... When the vicious cycle of racially discriminatory mass incarceration of poor people is juxtaposed against the vivid descriptions of the crimes committed by well-heeled corporate executives, it is hard to imagine the contrast does not have a corrosive effect on people's confidence in government institutions. Quite apart from the intrinsic unfairness of the failure to prosecute white collar crime far more aggressively, we sacrifice the benefits of deterring events that harm ordinary people.
Why Not Jail is available now on Amazon (including a Kindle edition) and from the publisher, Cambridge University Press. It's a great read, using five case studies to explore the problems--and potential--for criminally prosecuting corporate malfeasance that harms public health, worker and consumer safety, and the environment. Order one now for yourself and your friends. 'Tis the season!Full text
This Giving Tuesday, I hope you'll consider donating to the Center for Progressive Reform. We've had a banner year and are looking forward to many great things in 2015.
Above all, CPR's staff and Member Scholars promote a positive and progressive vision for environmental policy and workers' rights. We need your support to continue that work.
Two days after the midterm elections, we released "Barack Obama's Path to Progress," an Issue Alert laying out an affirmative and politically realistic vision for real progress over the next two years. The Alert identifies 13 essential regulatory actions that the President can and should finish before he leaves office, steps that allow him to save thousands of lives, lock in significant environmental gains, and leave a solid legacy on the regulatory front. Importantly, finalizing these rules is entirely within the province of the Executive Branch, so obstructionism aside, he can get this done.
I hope you've seen the wonderful infographics and blog posts that staff have put together to accompany the Alert. We'll continue to provide regular updates on the Obama Administration's progress on the "Essential 13," and we'll also work with our allies to press the administration into action.
This year we also put forward a positive vision for reforms to state and local laws that would better protect workers' health and safety. Our "Winning Safer Workplaces" manual was a big hit with our allies, and now we're working to help turn the ideas from the manual into reality.
Developing these forward-thinking products is no easy task, but our staff and Member Scholars get them done and still find the time to coordinate advocacy with allies, host webinars, meet with decisionmakers to promote our ideas, write case briefs, and blog with thoughtful and incisive commentary on the latest developments in regulation, environmental policy, and workers' rights.
Your support will help us to continue this great work in 2015. I hope you'll make a donation.
Thanks very much for your support.Full text
Next week in this space, we’ll ask you to think about the food on your Thanksgiving table and what FDA ought to do to keep it safe. Today, I want to focus on how the food gets there—in particular, the work children contribute to the farms where our food and other crops are grown. Many people hold on to the image of children gathering eggs in the yard or dumping a pail of slop in front of an appreciative sow as the true and full extent of child farm labor. But the reality of life on a farm can be much different. In fact, the awful truth is that hundreds of kids who enjoyed Thanksgiving with their families last year won’t be able to this year because they died in an agriculture-related incident in the last twelve months.Full text