It has now been 41 days since OSHA has issued an enforcement-related press release. In 2016, OSHA issued 486 enforcement-related press releases. And if we do the math, at this rate, the Trump Administration’s enforcement press releases will come to approximately…. ZERO.
Below is the second batch of large (over $40,000) cases that OSHA has issued — these since February 14 (with a few earlier ones that had been missing from the previous table.) When I published the first batch a week ago, I noted how OSHA press releases have been used as an effective tool to discourage employers from cutting corners and violating the law — actions that inevitably lead to the preventable injury, illness and death of workers. This list is a rather poor substitute for press releases that can actually serve an educational purpose for employers and workers. But it’s all we have to work with at this point.
What is striking is not the difference between the Obama and Trump administrations, but the difference between the Trump administration and every other preceding administration, Republican or Democrat.
Publishing this information on Confined Space has suddenly attracted some attention. Jennifer Gollan from Reveal published an article yesterday describing how we have been forced to publicize public government actions on a private blog because the Trump Administration’s OSHA — in a historically unprecedented action (or non-action) — has refused to publicize large enforcement cases. Gollan writes:
The list is a striking display of how the Obama and Trump administrations differ in their approach to enforcing the nation’s workplace safety laws. Under Obama, OSHA trained a spotlight on companies to try to bring them into compliance. But the recent decision not to publicize citations signals the dawn of an era in which regulators may stress voluntary compliance with safety laws instead of aggressive enforcement.
This is not completely accurate. What is striking is not the difference between the Obama and Trump administrations, but the difference between the Trump administration and every other preceding administration, Republican or Democrat.
Obama’s OSHA has been unjustly criticized for publicizing enforcement cases before a final settlement, and accused of inserting unnecessarily inflammatory language. But as I’ve said before, Obama’s OSHA director, David Michaels, did not invent the press release, nor was he the first OSHA head who used “inflammatory” language. I give you one example. Linked here is a press release issued by OSHA in 2008, during the Bush administration, announcing a citation against Imperial Sugar as a result of a catastrophic explosion earlier that year that killed 13 employees and hospitalized 40 others, many with severe, permanently disabling burns.
“I am outraged that this company would show a complete disregard for its employees’ safety by knowingly placing them in an extremely dangerous work environment,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Edwin G. Foulke Jr. He added, “What is even worse is that a month after the devastating catastrophe in Port Wentworth that claimed the lives of 13 people, this company had done little to ensure abatement of the combustible dust hazards at its other plant. If OSHA investigators had not inspected and posted an imminent danger notice regarding areas at the second plant, the same thing could have happened again.”
Local press releases also delivered a message in the Bush administration, as this 2006 Press Release describes: “When an employer chooses speed and not safety, tragedy follows,” said Roberto Sanchez, OSHA’s Birmingham area director. “Safe work practices would have prevented this accident.”
In fact, it has always been common practice of enforcement agencies — whether OSHA, the Department of Justice or EPA — to issue press releases announcing major enforcement cases. What is not normal is the silence we’re now hearing from OSHA. I certainly appreciate the recognition (although being labeled a “dissident” by the Reveal headline writer sounds a bit Soviet or Putin-esque), but I resent that I have to publish this information when it is OSHA’s job to use every legal tool available to protect workers from employers who put them in dangerous situations.