Alabama Congressman Blind to Constituents’ Workplace Hazards

Photo: Revealnews.org

“President Donald Trump repealed an Obama-era health and safety regulation this week that could leave Alabama workers more at risk from health and safety violations,” leads an article in the Alabama Media Group’s website.

Mobile, Alabama, is the home district of Congressman Bradley Byrne. Byrne, chair of the House Education and Workforce subcommittee on Workforce Protections, led the fight to repeal OSHA’s Volks Rule, thereby taking away the workplace safety agency’s ability to enforce accurate injury and illness recordkeeping.

The Volks rule would have restored OSHA’s traditional ability to enforce recordkeeping violations five years back, instead of just 6 months. The repeal of the OSHA rule will hurt workers.

“This means that in the worst cases OSHA won’t be able to take enforcement action, and the employers are going to be able to keep doing what they are doing because there are no consequences,” said Peg Seminario, Safety and Health director at AFL-CIO, a a national trade union center and the largest federation of unions in the United States. “It essentially takes away OSHA’s ability to enforce patterns of record keeping violations, and what that means is that worse employers that have a pattern of hiding injuries or falsifying records will escape punishment.”

Al.com journalist Christopher Harress points out that  it is Byrne’s constituents who work in Mobile’s shipyards that may suffer most from the repeal of the Volks rule:

Experts in OSHA regulation say that the rollback of the rule could see employers hide injury data and recurring hazards from regulators, making it harder to identify problems at specific business and across wider industries. This is particularly troubling at shipyards where the injury-accident rate is around 80 percent that of construction and general industry, according to recent Labour statistic records. Between 2005 and 2015, for example, there were 76 deaths at private shipyards around the country.

Harress points to a troubling article published recently by Jennifer Gollan of Reveal about amputations in Mobile’s Austal Shipyards from a tool, nicknamed “the widowmaker” that had been modified from its intended use

At least 53 Austal workers have been injured by the tool, losing fingers and suffering deep gashes on their faces, necks and arms, according to injury logs from January 2011 to March 2015 obtained by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

But Byrne seems unaffected by the lost fingers and deep gashes of his constituents, calling the Volks rule unlawful “power grab” that “would have done nothing to improve workplace safety while creating significant regulatory confusion for small businesses.”

In reality, the Volks rule only affected larger employers, and far from “creating significant regulatory confusion,” it simply allowed OSHA to resume its enforcement practices of the past 40 years.

Ironically (or tragically), Austal was given awards last year for “Excellence in Safety” and “Improvement in Safety” from the Shipbuilders Council of America, despite the fact that Austal management was well aware of the dangers of the “widowmaker” and the company has also  been cited a number of times by OSHA.

Congressional Review Act Shipbuilding Volks Rule

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