White House again uses worker safety regulations as a whipping boy

The White House’s regulatory czar Cass Sunstein announced today agency roadmaps for a 21-century regulatory system, and the results of the Obama Administration’s “unprecedented government-wide review” of existing regulations. I don’t know what history books Mr. Sunstein has been reading, but for at least the last 20 years, every Administration has engaged in these regulatory review exercises to identify rules that are “out-of-date, unnecessary, excessively burdensome or in conflict with other rules.” It’s a real stretch for him to call this review “unprecedented.” I only quibble about that tidbit in order to temper my distaste for the rest of what Administration officials said today.

In their ongoing effort to pander to the business community, the regulatory czar offers an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) dissing worker safety rules as examples of just such “regulatory burdens.” This is the second time in four months that Mr. Sunstein has used the WSJ platform to show his true colors about worker protections. As I wrote on February 8, when President Obama launched this initative, the reg czar boasted that the White House was already making great progress to eliminate allegedly onerous regulations. Two of the four examples he used involved initiatives to advance worker health and safety. I’ll repeat what I wrote then:

It’s a sad day when OSHA becomes the whipping boy for a Democratic Administration.


In today’s WSJ op-ed, read how the Obama’s reg czar characterizes one OSHA rule on the chopping block. Ditching this rule will elminate

“…1.9 million annual hours of redundant reporting burdens on employers, saving tens of millions of dollars every year. Businesses will no longer be saddled with the obligation to fill out unnecessary government forms, giving their employees more time to be productive and do real work.” [emphasis added]

The Administration asserts that this OSHA rule also drained employee productivity. Now, without this requirement, workers can do real work.

I’m not going to get into the substance of that requirement (which has to do with keeping a record showing that employees received training on how to use properly use respirators) and whether or not it is wise to eliminate it. I am more concerned today about the dangerous and damaging rhetoric used by the Adminstration to describe these regulations. I expect this toxic language from the Chamber of Commerce and other powerful anti-regulatory forces. I don’t accept it from this Administration that promised to “protect public health, welfare, safety and our environment.” I’m getting awful tired of hearing one thing, but seeing the opposite.

This is the same White House that held hostage for six months a simple change to an OSHA form used by some employers to record occupational injuries. Eventually, OSHA decided to withdraw the proposal, hold another stakeholder meeting, and reopen the comment period on the rule until June 16. If a simple change to a one-page form takes more than a year to accomplish, Mr. Sunstein should keep his “21st-century regulatory system” to himself.

I just recently completed my work on the independent team investigating the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. At that worksite, like many others across the country, workers and managers have grown up on the rhetoric about excessive government regulations, burdensome rules, and intrusive regulators. They hear it from politicians, pundits, trade associations and even their company leaders. At some point, the words are internalized into action. At the Upper Big Branch mine, key requirements for recording, ON PAPER, the identification of serious hazards, were disregarded. Some of the foreman, and up the chain-of-command, came to consider these vital safety activities: JUST PAPERWORK. It was utterly lost on them why these requirements were important, in fact, how the items they recorded, if acted upon, could be life-saving. Instead, these workers and foreman were following the script repeated today by the White House’s own Cass Sunstein:

“Businesses will no longer be saddled with the obligation to fill out unnecessary government forms, giving their employees more time to be productive and do real work.”

As if identifying hazards and writing them down ON PAPER, so they can be corrected, is not REAL WORK.

A 21st-century regulatory system would recognize the value of such records AND would engage workers and employers in developing new technologies so the data is recorded electronically without the need for PAPER or pencils.

A 21st-century regulatory system would permit a Senate-confirmed agency head to proceed with his or her rulemaking priorities—and live with the consequences of their success or failure—instead of one that causes months of delay with needless White House reviews. (A final rule on general working conditions in shipyards (e.g., housekeeping, illumination, sanitation, and first aid) was stalled in the White House’s reg czar’s office for six months (September 2010 until April 2011.))

A 21st-century regulatory system would streamline the process for promulgating rules on hazards that date back to the 20th century and are still harming workers: respirable crystalline silica and coal dust, noise, confined spaces, combustible dust, beryllium, metal working fluids….etc.

A 21st-century regulatory system would embrace the goal of ensuring workers are not abused by employers who may view safety protections as a threat to profit.

Comments

  1. #1 Dunc
    May 27, 2011

    Why do I get the feeling that their ideal 21st century regulatory system would look an awful lot like the 19th century regulatory system?

  2. #2 GregH
    May 27, 2011

    I think the 19th C regulatory system will go nicely with the Feudal society we’re building.

  3. #3 SocraticGadfly
    May 27, 2011

    Workplace safety? Obama and Sunstein are just fine with more polluted urban air: http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2011/05/like-dirtier-urban-air-youve-love-obama.html

  4. #4 Tammy S. Miser
    May 27, 2011

    If I hear burden one more time I will puke. It boils down to a squeaky wheel and a free ride. There has been no accountability or transparency. I remember years ago I asked leaders to restore our faith in thier humanity. I think the problem with that is you don’t ask you demand. Then again you can’t give what you don’t have.

  5. #5 Craig Slatin
    May 27, 2011

    Thank you Celeste – Al Gore, who would have been president had not the supremes anointed W, set this in motion with his “Reinventing Government” program. His partner in crime, Bill Clinton, had already ended “government as we know it” – meaning kill the New Deal. W and Cheney put the reinvention on steroids and now Obama can just follow the play book.

    It puts us in such difficult positions – if we oppose the process that leads to the elimination of paperwork that just might not be necessary, then we appear to be rigid and unwilling to make compromises that will help sustain a stronger economy. So often now I hear leaders in the public sector and in our unions say that we have to make these compromises so that we can keep our “seat at the table.” A couple of weeks ago at our annual union meeting I heard too often “If we are not AT the table we will be ON the table.”

    So, concession bargaining – everywhere – and always with the premise that free-market capitalism is what is best for us all.

    Well, maybe easing up on worker training reporting requirements will make time for employers to report on all the money that they try to hide from the IRS.

  6. #6 Mary Vivenzi
    May 27, 2011

    the first quote I could not pass by without answering was.. “… 1.9 million annual hours of redundant reporting burdens on employers, saving tens of millions of dollars every year. Businesses will no longer be saddled with the obligation to fill out unnecessary government forms, giving their employees more time to be productive and do real work.” [emphasis added]” Then stop killing people and spending all that additional money and time lying about it just to avoid a mark on your record. A mark what does that mean really? The company would have something on their record that said someone was killed and we did the right thing and fixed the problem and paid our citations to reach the solution & protect our employees in the least amount of time and saved a whole lot of money in the process. Holy Hindsight Batman.. Why would any company ever want something on their record proving they actually care? Business as usual is… Never forgetting how to do the wrong thing.

  7. #7 Celeste Monforton
    May 27, 2011

    When Mr. Obama said his Administration was going to make the regulatory system work more efficiently to protect the public’s health and the environment, silly me, I believed him. You’re right Craig, this Administration is following the same regulatory play book used by GW Bush and his predecesors. The “roadmaps” announced by the agencies this week, just add more steps to the process.

  8. #8 A Valencia
    May 28, 2011

    Sunstein published a law review article expressing his views: “Is OSHA Unconstitutional?” 94 Va. L. Rev. 1407 (2008).

  9. #9 Celeste Monforton
    May 28, 2011

    A.Valencia:
    Yes indeed he did and as I wrote back in January 2009 (link below) in other writing he expressed his anti-regulatory bent with respect to public health protections. In his article “The Paralyzing Principle” he wrote: “A great deal of evidence suggests the possibility that an expensive regulation can have adverse effects on life and health simply by reducing income.” [He provided no citations.] Mr. Sunstein went on: “…If regulatory policies are expensive and lead to higher costs, less employment, and more poverty, the net effect may be to harm individual health. The empirical question is: How much money in terms of regulatory costs, will lead to the loss of a statistical life because of the wealth-health relationship.”

    As I noted back then and still believe today: There’s ZERO evidence that the cost of any workplace safety or health regulation caused even a blip on our nation’s economic screen, let alone led to “less employment and more poverty.” Moreover, I noted that the true cost of failing to protect workers from toxic materials CAUSES under-employment AND poverty—-and these costs are never measured in economic impact analyses.

    http://thepumphandle.wordpress.com/2009/01/09/worrisome-pick-for-regulatory-czar/

  10. #10 Chris O'Neill
    May 30, 2011

    I just recently completed my work on the independent team investigating the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. At that worksite, like many others across the country, workers and managers have grown up on the rhetoric about excessive government regulations, burdensome rules, and intrusive regulators.

    I daresay this type of failure is party caused by the weakness of unions in the USA compared with Australia. One of the prime purposes of unions is workplace safety.

  11. #11 Anonymous
    June 3, 2011

    Al Gore, who would have been president had not the supremes anointed W

    Incorrect. Bush had the votes needed to win.

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