Call to action on worker safety for future Labor Secretary

Labor Secretary nominee Alex Acosta is schedule to appear next week before a Senate Committee for his confirmation hearing. Senators should formulate their questions for him by reviewing a just released platform on worker safety. Protecting Workers' Lives & Limbs: An Agenda for Action makes dozens of recommendations to improve occupational health and safety policies and practices, including many for the future Labor Secretary. They include:

  • Commit to protecting workers’ health and safety on the job with strong and fair enforcement, promulgation of common sense standards, and outreach and education.
  • Selecting leaders for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration who will promote worker safety and aggressively enforce existing workplace safety laws.
  • Expanding the U Visa program to include workers whose employers violate health and safety regulations.
  • Directing OSHA to ensure that workers who speak languages other than English are able to speak confidentially in their native language to inspectors, without the fear of retaliation.

The policy platform is a project of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH.) It is endorsed by more than 90 organizations from South Florida COSH and the Knoxville Area Workers’ Memorial Day Committee, to the Indianapolis Worker Justice Center and Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest. The groups urge policymakers to embrace the agenda because of its "common sense solutions."

National COSH also announced that delegations of safety advocates will be visiting Members of Congress over the next few weeks to present the platform. I've no doubt those delegations will include workers who will share their stories about the dangerous consequences when employers violate safety regulations. Some will also be able to describe the positive impact on safety of training programs, such as those supported by OSHA's Susan Harwood training grants. But the budget outline released today by President Trump would eliminate the $10.7 million for the Susan Harwood grants.

Current recipients of the grants include:

  • Oklahoma State University ($130,199) to provide training on agricultural safety and rescue operations with emphasis on grain handling operations.
  • West Virginia University ($133,650) to provide training for small business workers in residential construction, logging, and oil and gas extraction.
  • Construction Advancement Foundation of Northwest Indiana ($120,098) to provide training on process safety, industrial, and commercial work within the construction industry in Indiana.
  • Migrant Clinicians Network ($148,500) to provide training to agricultural workers in particular those with limited English proficiency and low literate workers.

When Senators question the Labor Secretary next week, I hope they ask him about the Harwood training grants program. They should urge him to meet with workers and employers who've received safety training because of the grants. I guarantee he will learn about its long-term impact on the recipients and the benefit of having not-for-profit training programs available.

The labor and public health community will be paying close attention to Alex Acosta's confirmation hearing. I'll be eager to see whether the Senators use some of their Q/A time on occupational safety and health topics. They are truly about the prevention of injuries, illnesses, and deaths. Mr. Acosta and the Senators could study up by reading National COSH's Protecting Workers' Lives & Limbs: An Agenda for Action.

 

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