From Surviving to Thriving -- Emergency Waiver of Health, Safety, and Environmental Rules
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters.
On August 23, 2017, Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency as Hurricane Harvey approached the Texas Coast. That state of emergency was ultimately expanded to 60 counties in Texas. Emergency declarations in Texas (as in many states and for the federal government) allow the governor to unilaterally suspend specific rules and regulations if they are expected to hinder disaster recovery. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) asked Governor Abbott to suspend dozens of environmental rules on August 28, 2017, as Harvey was continuing to pummel Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast area.
The waiver request specified air quality rules related to emission “upset” events as well as monitoring and releases of unpermitted Volatile Organic Compounds. Predictably, the request indicated that it was necessary because of immediate Harvey impacts and hurricane recovery efforts. Specifically, the TCEQ’s request noted that compliance with air and water pollution laws:
may not be possible as a result of hurricane effects, such as lightning, floods, fires, wind or wind-blown damage, and power outages[;] and suspending these requirements would remove a potential impediment to disaster response.
However, these waivers were still in place months after the direct effects of the hurricane (lightning, floods, fires, wind, or wind-blown damage) had passed and
From Surviving to Thriving -- Worker Health and Disaster
by Katie Tracy | September 18, 2018
This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters. Lachlan Brain, a 22-year-old electrical lineman from Tennessee, traveled to Houston following Hurricane Harvey to help with the relief effort, working for T&D Solutions, a company that specializes in maintaining and repairing power lines and related equipment. While working inside a bucket truck on August 25, 2017, Brain leaned across an electrical line, came into contact with a
Trump's OSHA Backtracks on Electronic Recordkeeping Rule over Bogus Privacy Concerns
The Trump administration has aggressively sought to undermine public safeguards since taking office, all under the guise of making America great (again?). Nowhere has this been more evident than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where Trump appointees have sought to attack most every standard adopted during the Obama era, as well as long-standing analytical procedures (see here and here) designed to ensure any new standards are evidence-based and scientifically sound. These attacks do not stop at EPA, however. Trump has
Baltimore Sun Op-Ed: Baltimore Employer of Smothered Worker Should Be Held Criminally Accountable
This op-ed originally ran in the Baltimore Sun. On June 5, a 19-year-old construction worker named Kyle Hancock was smothered to death when a deep trench where he was working collapsed. R.F. Warder Inc., the construction company that hired Hancock to help fix a leaking sewage pipe, and the bosses it employed are responsible for his death, plain and simple. Their failure to shore the trench to prevent a collapse was grossly negligent, readily foreseeable, eminently preventable and, therefore, criminal. The
Trump's OSHA to Roll Back More Worker Safeguards, Slow Walk Others
The White House released its Spring 2018 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions on May 9 with little fanfare. A close examination of the agenda for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) shows that protecting worker health and safety is anything but a priority for the Trump administration. Rather, the agency will continue to focus on weakening worker protections. OSHA's spring agenda lists 20 planned activities – 15 carryovers from the fall agenda, four agenda items moved from
Workers at Risk from USDA's Proposed Swine Slaughter Inspection Rule
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA/FSIS) proposed a rule on Feb. 1 to alter inspection procedures for hog slaughter plants by revoking the existing cap on maximum line speeds and transferring key inspection tasks from USDA inspectors to private plant workers. These changes to current practices raise numerous concerns for worker health and safety, all of which the agency fails to address in the proposal. Because of these concerns, Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) Member
Workers' Memorial Day 2018
On Saturday, April 28, CPR will observe Workers' Memorial Day by remembering fallen workers whose lives were taken from this world too soon and by renewing our pledge to fight for all working people. Every day in this country, 14 workers leave for work, never to return home. One worker is killed on the job every two hours in the United States. In 2016, 5,190 workers died earning a living, the highest number on record in eight years. That doesn't
Oversight Needed for Maryland's Occupational Safety and Health Division
Maryland's Occupational Safety and Health division (MOSH) is struggling to carry out its mission of ensuring the health and safety of Maryland workers, according to CPR's analysis of a mandatory performance report the agency provided to the state legislature late last year. The Maryland legislature mandated the report as a condition of releasing $250,000 of MOSH's FY 2018 funds. Our review of the report and other agency materials leads us to conclude that the agency's limited budget is a key
Blowing the Whistle on Workplace Hazards
Workers have the right to speak up about health and safety hazards they encounter on the job. And they should be able to feel comfortable coming forward with their concerns without having to worry that they will be fired, demoted, or in some other way retaliated against for doing so. That is exactly what the drafters of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) had in mind when they included a provision in the 1970 law prohibiting employers from
CPR Letter Calls On Trump Labor Department to Withdraw Tipping Rule Proposal Due to Suppressed Analysis
by Katie Tracy | February 05, 2018
Today, six CPR Member Scholars and staff members sent a letter to the Department of Labor's (DOL) Wage and Hour Division, calling on the agency to withdraw its proposal to repeal an Obama-era rule aimed at preventing employers from taking workers' hard-earned tips. Last week, Bloomberg Law uncovered a deliberate effort by the DOL to conceal an analysis showing that the proposal would allow business owners and managers to steal and misappropriate billions of dollars – that's "billions" with a
County Prosecutor in Washington State Indicts Construction Company Owner for Trench Collapse Death
by Katie Tracy | February 01, 2018
On the morning of January 26, 2016, Seattle police were called to a construction site where a worker, Harold Felton, was trapped in a collapsed trench. By the time officers arrived, the rescue operation had turned into a recovery; Felton, 36, had died at the scene. Felton was working as part of a two-man team employed by Alki Construction to replace a sewer line. According to the police report, 10 minutes before the trench collapsed, the man working alongside Felton
OSHA Delays Critical Protections as Worker Deaths Increase
by Katie Tracy | December 20, 2017
President Trump planned and then starred in his own ribbon-cutting ceremony last week, symbolic of all the safeguards for health, safety and the environment that he intends to shred while in office. This mockery of the administration’s obligation to ensure the public is protected from harm caused by corner-cutting businesses coincided with the release of the Administration’s fall 2017 regulatory agenda. What this political stunt — and the rhetoric that goes along with it — really means, however, is that
Beyond the Dinner Table -- U.S. Poultry Plant Workers at Risk
by Katie Tracy | November 20, 2017
On Thanksgiving Day, families across the country will sit down for huge feasts, filling their bellies with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and lots of gravy. My mouth is watering just writing about it. In many households, it's tradition for each person at the table to say what they're thankful for and express their appreciation for the meal in front of them. But when it comes to that delicious meal, we often overlook the workers inside the poultry slaughter facilities and
Questions for Scott Mugno, Trump's Pick to Lead OSHA
by Katie Tracy | November 02, 2017
Scott Mugno, Vice President for Safety, Sustainability, and Vehicle Maintenance at Fed Ex Ground in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is President Trump's pick to head the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Although whispers of Mugno's possible nomination had spread across Washington, D.C., over the past several months, not much has been said about his credentials for the job. One major concern is Mugno's connection to the notoriously anti-regulatory U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for which he is currently the chairman of the
CPR Launches New Database on State Prosecutions of Crimes against Workers
Too often, workplace injuries and deaths result from company policies and practices that encourage and reward unacceptably risky behavior under the false pretense that cutting corners is standard practice and no one will get hurt. As a result, an average of 13 Americans are killed on the job every day, and many more are seriously injured. In many cases, these tragedies and the grave pain they impose on the victims' families, friends, and communities are preventable with basic safety measures.
No Job and No Paycheck After Harvey and Irma
by Katie Tracy | September 15, 2017
In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, thousands of Texans and Floridians are out of work, some indefinitely. Without knowing when their employers might reopen for business (if at all) , many are uncertain how they're going to afford their next meal or purchase basic necessities, much less repair their damaged homes and property. At the same time, monthly bills are coming due. Vice News recently shared one Houston family’s gripping story of how Harvey has devastated them financially.
Is OSHA Out of the Worker Protection Business?
When President Trump released his spring Unified Agenda last week, he made it abundantly clear that he has no interest in protecting workers from occupational injuries and diseases. The White House released the agenda amid what it called “Made in America” week, but instead of recognizing workers and advocating for safe and healthy jobs and fair wages, Trump brought manufacturers to the nation’s capital to show off their products. When it comes to working families, Trump is ignoring what should
OSHA to Expand Voluntary Protection Programs without Assessing Benefits to Workers
On Monday, July 17, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) convened a public meeting to hear input from stakeholders about how the agency might grow and strengthen its Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP). Given the change in administration, the announcement was no surprise. Growing the VPP had also been a priority of the George W. Bush administration, during which time OSHA made plans to add thousands of new participants despite having no evidence the program improved worker health and safety.