After eight years of Bush, can OSHA be fixed?

Original source: The Bush administration left a lot of wreckage in its wake. The crumbling economy, the home foreclosure crisis and a broken health care system are getting most of the recent headlines and calls for immediate repair.

But for the men and women who get up and go to work every day—and want to come home alive and without injury—there is something else the Bush administration trashed that needs fixing and fixing fast—the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

A special edition of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NYCOSH’s) newsletter “Safety Rep” asked nearly three dozen safety and health experts from the union, scientific and academic worlds this question:

After eight years of Bush can OSHA be fixed?…During the last eight years, tens of thousands of workers died or were injured on the job—a direct result of the failure of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to promulgate new standards and stringently enforce the law.

Writing in the special edition’s introduction, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka says the first major step must be bringing in new leaders, including

the administrators of OSHA and MSHA [Mine Safety and Health Administration] who are actually committed to a strong federal role in worker safety and health and who see their roles as advocates for worker protection.

And in stark contrast to the Bush administration, the new leaders should bring workers and their unions and safety and health professionals, as well as employers, into the process of developing agendas and setting standards.

The U.S. Senate took a first step toward that goal yesterday when it finally confirmed Obama’s nominee for labor secretary, Hilda Solis.

Denis Hughes, president of the New York State AFL-CIO, says growing worker power through unions is a key factor in the health and safety fight.

The first and foremost thing workers can do to protect their safety and health is to join a union. Without a union to protect them, rights to safe and healthful working conditions are a legal abstraction.

Hughes says workers now have the best opportunity in years to fight for stronger enforcement of workplace safety laws and tougher penalties for safety and health violations. But he adds:

Our demands for safer workplaces will be met with stiff resistance from the business community. Passage of the Employee Choice Employee Act and increasing our numbers is a necessary first step in the fight for safe and healthful workplaces.

Several of the special edition’s contributors—including those outside the union movement—wrote that the Employee Free Choice Act and its resultant growth of workers’ unions will be a major factor in improving worker safety.

AFT President Randi Weingarten says the new Obama-led OSHA should restore the ergonomics standard the Bush administration wiped off the books in the first few months after Bush took office.

That standard, which was the product of painstaking work, was an important step in combating work-related musculoskeletal disorders that now affect 1.8 million U.S. workers each years.

Public employees are not covered by federal OSHA’s standards, although some states have extended coverage to public employees. A number of the writers call for bringing public-sector works under OSHA’s umbrella.

Among other issues the health and safety experts discuss are:

* The immediate need for a mandate from the Obama administration to issue standards already in the pipeline; * Increased funding for worker training programs; * Programs to aggressively reach out to immigrant workers and the organizations that work with them; * Strategies to protect worker safety and health during disaster response; * New requirements to prevent underreporting of injuries and illnesses; and * The need to establish mandatory labor-management safety and health committees.

NYCOSH, is a non-profit coalition of 200 local unions and more than 400 individual workers, physicians, lawyers, and other health and safety activists dedicated to the right of every worker to a safe and healthful job.