Worker safety wishlist for Obama's second term

Hurray! The Presidential election is over.  Let's hope this means that Obama Administration officials will come out from under their beds and embrace their regulatory authority to issue some strong public health and environmental regulations.  At the Labor Department (DOL) there's much work to do to expand workers' rights, ensure workers' lives and health are protected, and improve the information provided by its agencies.  Leave a comment with your ideas for immediate action by the Labor Department.

Here's my short version of my wish list for major DOL activities for the next 6 months:

  1. MSHA issues a final rule to protect coal miners from black lung disease, and proposes a rule to protect all mine workers from exposure to respirable crystalline silica.  MSHA's proposed rule addressing black lung disease was published more than two years ago.  The agency's yet to publish a proposal on silica, despite projections in its most recent regulatory agenda that they'd do so in May 2012.  We've written much about this topic, e.g., here, here. here, here, here, here, here.
  2. OSHA proposes a rule to protect workers who are exposed to respirable crystalline silica and holds a public hearing to receive feedback on it.  The agency submitted its proposal to the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in February 2011---more than 630 days ago.  We've written much about this topic, e.g., here, here, here, here, here, here.
  3. BLS announces its plans to improve the annual Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII) by using additional statistical techniques to adjust for SOII’s well-documented undercount.  We've written about this topic here and here.
  4. MSHA issues a final rule defining the criteria and procedures for repeated violators of mine safety and health regulations to be place in a "pattern of violation" status.  This provision of the 1977 Mine Act has only been used twice in MSHA's history---in April 2011 to a coal mine in West Virginia and one in Kentucky---despite evidence that other mine operators are deserving of the special designation.
  5. OSHA issues a final rule to protect construction workers from hazards of confined spaces, like storage tanks and pipe work.  A rule of this sort has been in place since 1993 for workers employed in manufacturing and other industries, but no such rule is on the books for construction workers.   It's been five years since OSHA proposed a rule on this topic and held public hearings.
  6. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis reports on the resources devoted, funds spent and contact hours recorded in her promised safety education programs for agricultural workers aged 15 years and younger.  The Secretary made that promise in April 2012 when her Department abruptly withdrew a proposed rule to protect these young workers from serious safety hazards.  We've written about this topic e.g., here, here, here, here.
  7. OSHA revises its Field Operations Manual (FOM) to incorporate the administrative changes it made in April 2010 and October 2010 to its formulas for calculating proposed penalties.  The 22 States that administer their own OSHA programs for private sector employers have not been required to adopt comparable penalty changes.  Apparently these State programs will not be asked officially to do so until federal OSHA makes the revisions to its FOM.
  8. OSHA improves the inspection-specific information on its website by providing the current status of each case.  The agency's "Establishment Search" tool indicates whether a case is open or closed.  But, when a case is still open long after the inspection date, the public is left in the dark as to why it remains open.  Is it in contest and awaiting a trial date?  Is the company following a payment plan for the penalty?  Getting the answer to why a case is still open means an individual has to bother the OSHA Area Office staff or the Regional  public affairs officer for the answer.  Look at the "Establishment Search" result for this December 2009 fatality case.   The case is still open.  One wouldn't know from looking at this info that the case remains open because the employer has failed to pay the $2,400 penalty.  The delinquent fine has been referred to a debt collection agency.

What do you think of my wish list?  What's on your's?


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Great list! Another thing I'd like to see in the next six months is OSHA continuing its recent trend of cracking down on employers who violate whistleblowers' rights.

+ Updated Worker Protection Standard from EPA for pesticides

Though I'm not holding my breath.

A great list - I would also add:
1 – OSHA’s work on providing a more meaningful voice to whistleblowers and extending their efforts to address injury reporting as a result of employer blame the worker programs.
2 – OSHA to move forward on a proposed rule protecting workers exposed to beryllium in the workplace. This rule and the unique process of industry and labor cooperation in bring a proposal for this rule is very innovative.
3 – OSHA to continue the injury and illness prevention initiative. The need is vast for comprehensive health and safety programs to be implemented in workplaces. These programs should include protections from programs that keep people from reporting injuries and include real and meaningful leading indicators/metrics. This has a huge impact on safety and will result in reduced injuries and illness in virtually all covered workplaces.
4 – OSHA needs to issue the draft rule covering workers exposed in highly hazardous combustible dust environments. This rule will save workers lives!

Outside of DOL – the US Chemical Safety Board needs to fill the three vacant seats on the board.

Jim from Pittsburgh,
Thanks for the very specific suggestions to add to my list.

I would agree with Jim's list. Especially combustible dust....big issue out there and changes need to be made. I would also like to see the excuse of grandfather clause being used less and maybe using the General Clause Duty more.

Great Article Celeste as always.

By Tonya Ford (not verified) on 09 Nov 2012 #permalink

My wish list has to include naming you, Dr. Monforton, as the head of OSHA. Then workers would truly have someone in government on their side!