There’s always so much to talk about. Luckily, you have me to distill it for you.
Zatezalo to MSHA: The Senate voted 52-46 along party lines to confirm David Zatezalo as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety. Zatezalo will how head up the Mine Safety and Health Administration with which he has some familiarity as his former company, Rhino Resources, was a frequent flier on MSHA’s enforcement agenda. During his confirmation hearing, Zatezalo was grilled by Tim Kaine (D-VA) over a pattern of violations notice that MSHA had sent to Rhino. He blamed it on the actions of a rogue manager. WV Senator Joe Manchin (D) announced prior to the hearing that he would oppose Zatezalo’s nomination because he was “not convinced that Mr. Zatezalo is suited to oversee the federal agency that implements and enforces mine safety laws and standards.” Zatezalo was also ex-con Bob Murray’s favorite candidate, which is kind of like being endorsed by Roy Moore. He has a challenge ahead of him. Fourteen miners have been killed on the job this year, compared with eight coal miners who died in workplace incidents last year. Color me skeptical, but we here at Confined Space World Headquarters try to keep an open mind. So good luck. We’ll be watching.
Injury and Illness Reporting — If You Haven’t Done So, You Have Ten Days to Do So: Only 10 days before the final December 1 deadline, the Office of Management and Budget has approved OSHA’s delay of employers’ deadline to submit their injury and illness summaries to the agency. Last June, OSHA proposed to delay the deadline from July 1 to December 1. The rollout has been plagued by OSHA’s delay in putting up the website, false accusations of a data breach and a delay in issuing the final change in the required submission deadline. Other parts of the “electronic” recordkeeping regulation are being challenged in court. Some in the business community don’t like requirements that more detailed information on injuries and illnesses be sent to OSHA starting next year, or that OSHA has prohibited employers from retaliating against workers for reporting injuries. At last week’s Congressional hearing, Secretary of Labor Acosta falsely stated that the regulation “was asking for some information that was very detailed and that identifies individuals.” The final regulation should be published in the next few days.
Terrible: Acosta and Worker Centers: Just as I finished writing a post about how Labor Secretary Acosta was “not terrible” in his appearance before the House Education and Workforce Committee — at least regarding safety and health issues — Sharon Block, Executive Director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, brought be back to reality in an article about how Acosta threatened the viability of worker centers at the hearing by imposing burdensome new regulations on them. Block points out that as the power and reach of labor unions declines, these organizations (such as Korean Immigrant Workers Advocates, OUR Walmart, Retail Action Project, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Restaurant Opportunities Center, Workers Defense Project and Fast Food Forward) are “increasingly critical and growing role they play in the evolving landscape of organizations dedicated to protecting the rights of workers and giving them a voice in our economy.”
Because these organizations are often better able to reach vulnerable and hard-to-reach workers than OSHA inspectors are, OSHA worked closely with many of these groups during the Obama administration. Some received Susan Harwood Training Grants in order to improve their ability to address health and safety concerns of their members, and some of these have been crucial to protecting workers during national disasters like Superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey, and Hurricane Harvey in Texas. I guess under this administration, burdensome regulations are only bad for business, but not for organizations that help workers.
EPA and Pruitt – A Case Study in Cluelessness: Every time I start to get depressed about OSHA and the Department of Labor, I thank the political Gods that DOL doesn’t have to deal with the likes of Scott Pruitt. There’s no shortage of articles about how Pruitt and his appointees are rolling back Obama era protections, appointing industry insiders, ignoring their career staff and meeting almost exclusively with business lobbyists. Yet some evidence of cluelessness still manages to shock me. Pruitt was quoted in a Washington Post interview today justifying his close relationship with the business community by stating that his corporate buddies are really concerned about the environment because “They breathe the air. They drink the water in these areas.”
Really? How many of his corporate buddies live right across the fence line from refineries and chemical plants, or next to Superfund sites? And if somehow their faucet water is polluted, do they have trouble affording bottled water for all of their cooking and washing needs? It’s because of environmental inequality that the EPA created its Office of Environmental Justice during the Clinton administration. And it’s this office that Trump proposed to abolish, leading to the resignation of the office’s long-time head, Mustafa Ali.
But before you get too depressed, there are a couple of pieces of good news. One of Pruitt’s worst nominations — tobacco industry defender Michael Dourson for Assistant Administrator for Toxic Substances — seems to be at risk as two Republican Senators from North Carolina announce their opposition to his appointment. More about how terrible Dourson is here. And second piece of good news: There are rumors that Pruitt may want to run for Governor of Oklahoma in 2018. Bad for Oklahoma, but good for EPA, the country — and the earth.
Happy Thanksgiving — Yeah, Good Luck With That: We wrote last week about the poultry industry’s campaign to speed up poultry processing line speeds which will inevitably increase the number of worker injuries and cases of food contamination) In case you were planning on actually enjoying eating a bird on Thanksgiving, Katie Tracy of the The Center for Progressive Reform provides some guidance for enjoying Thanksgiving:
This Thanksgiving, we should all take a moment to express our gratitude for the workers, across every industry, who make our family festivities possible – from poultry plant workers to the store clerks who have to skip out of dinner early to go to work at midnight in preparation for Black Friday. I’m not talking about merely expressing thanks at the dinner table – that’s the minimum we could do. Begin by acknowledging those workers you encounter. Tip a little more over the holidays. And stand with workers by speaking out against the unfair policies and dangerous working conditions they face day in and day out.
And in case you want to let USDA know how you feel, click here.
States Rights for Me, but not for Thee: California is the world’s sixth-largest economy, ahead of France, India, Italy and Brazil. Which is why when California sets environmental or health & safety standards, it has a national impact. In fact, according to Lauren Coleman-Lochner at Bloomberg News, ” The Golden State has long acted as a de facto regulator for the rest of the country, with its mandates on everything from auto emissions to marijuana having a broad impact.” So it’s not surprising that corporate America is attempting to pass laws that would pre-empt California’s ability to lead the way. The main target of these efforts is California’s Proposition 65 which requires labeling of anything containing chemicals that may cause cancer. And last year, California passed a low to improve labeling of cleaning products. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the American Chemistry Council and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives are among 50- organizations advocating for a national chemical labeling standard that would pre-empt California’s law.
The recent update of the Toxic Substances Control Act passed last year on a wide bi-partisan basis grandfathered in laws like California’s. But these are Trump times, deconstruction of the administrative state and all that, so the chemical industry and those who use chemicals that may be hazardous are re-thinking their previous support for the TSCA update. The business-led Coalition for Accurate Product Labels is very concerned that different state laws will only confuse poor struggling consumers, and that “science-based, uniform, national standards for government-mandated ingredient disclosure and warning label programs” would be better — especially if the Trump administration and people like Scott Pruitt were setting those standards.
I guess states rights are only acceptable if they don’t obstruct the right of business to poison people.
Protect the Caregivers: The only thing worse than chronic absenteeism is chronic presenteeism. A new study has found that 40% of health care workers don’t stay home when they’re sick with the flu. This is bad enough during a normal flu season, but can be catastrophic if or when we’re faced with a major pandemic. Why that behavior? The study suggest a number of reasons, some of which having to do with short staffing and lack of adequate sick leave. If we are to protect the country from major and minor pandemics, we need to protect the health care workers who are on the front lines of any health crisis. If they’re not encouraged and enabled to take time off when sick, they will infect not only patients, but other health care workers as well. And to make sure they aren’t getting sick despite working around sick people, it would also be helpful to have strong OSHA standards that protect health care workers from infectious diseases.
Nothing Sharpens the Mind Like The Prospect of Time In Jail: Do you think we’d have fewer workers killed in trench collapses in this country if we regularly put their employer’s in jail? This from Canada: “In a rare move, the director of an excavation company has been sentenced to jail time for his role in a trench collapse in Edmonton that killed a contract worker in April 2015.” Sukhwinder Nagra was sentenced to four months behind bars in connection with the death of 55-year-old Brian Frederick Tomyn.” The trench was almost 12 feet deep. OSHA requires any trench more than 5 feet deep to be protected by shoring or other means. Tomyn was killed on April 28 — international Workers Memorial Day.