OSHA: We don’t need no stinkin’ advice — from workers

OSHA AdviceOSHA seems to be devaluing advice from outside stakeholders — or at least from workers.

We’ve written before about the Trump Administration’s proposal in its FY 2019 budget document to kill two OSHA federal Advisory Committees. ProPublica, along with the Santa Fe New Mexican has has now published an article on the demise of OSHA’s five Advisory Committees which provide advice to the Assistant Secretary on general OSHA issues, construction, maritime, whistleblower and federal employee health and safety issues.

“The boards are tremendously important for the functioning of OSHA. Each one is vital,” said David Michaels, a professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health and the assistant labor secretary in charge of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under President Barack Obama. “Clearly the Department of Labor doesn’t value expert advice. That is the message here.”

“Clearly the Department of Labor doesn’t value expert advice. That is the message here.” — Dr. David Michaels

The committees do far more than just meet occasionally. The Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH) had been working on recommendations to protect workers from being run over by construction vehicles and OSHA is required by statute to consult with the committee before any new construction-related standards or policies are developed. The Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee (WPAC) had produced a publication on, and was working on worker retaliation issues in the rail industry.  And the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) had spent three years developing a report for OSHA on how to better train and monitor temporary workers. The Federal Advisory Council (FACOSH), which deals with the health and safety of federal workers has been instrumental in developing policies to protect federal workers, such as TSA officers, from being infected with communicable diseases such as novel flu viruses and Ebola. And the Maritime Advisory Committee (MACOSH) publishes valuable safety and health fact sheets for the maritime industry.

The committees, which normally meet for two or three days, two to three times a year, have been dormant. Only one committee — ACCSH — has met during the Trump administration and that meeting was held by teleconference, lasted only an hour and a half and was only held because the committee’s approval was legally required in order to move forward on a revision of OSHA Cranes and Derricks standard.

Cooperation over Confrontation? Not so much

As I’ve written before, Republicans in Congress and Secretary of Labor Acosta perpetuate a myth that the Obama administration was all about confrontation (enforcement) at the expense of cooperation (compliance assistance.)  While that characterization of the Obama administration couldn’t have been further from the truth, apparently the Trump administration’s commitment to “cooperation” is also fake.

The membership of the Advisory Committees have the distinction of being tripartite — management, labor and government. And they have the reputation — proven by the products and recommendations they produced — of being one of the few places in the federal government where all three parties work cooperatively and constructively together.

The administration has defended its actions (or non-action) by stating that

“The Department of Labor has an open-door policy with stakeholders. Through meetings, correspondence, reports, hearings, visits, and advisory committees the Department seeks stakeholder input to ensure that their concerns and viewpoints are considered as part of the policy process.”

 DOL’s “open door” for stakeholder input is pretty much only open to the business community and not to organizations representing workers:

But according to intrepid Bloomberg Law reporter Ben Penn, the Department of Labor’s “open door” for stakeholder input is pretty much only open to the business community and not to organizations representing workers:

When the Labor Department convened top stakeholders in October for a closed-door briefing on reversing regulations, business representatives filled the room almost exclusively, according to a document obtained by Bloomberg Law.

Eighty individuals RSVP’d that they would attend the Oct. 2 event at DOL headquarters, titled “Cut the Red Tape: Liberating America from Bureaucracy.” A Bloomberg Law review of the list shows the scheduled guests break down as follows: 53 from industry trade associations; 10 business lobbyists; eight management attorneys; five GOP congressional staffers; and four people from an array of neutral, safety-focused offices. The final list of those confirmed to attend doesn’t include anyone representing workers.

Federal Employees and Whistleblower Committees: R.I.P

Trump’s FY 2019 budget plan proposed eliminating both the FACOSH and WPAC. WPAC was established in 2012 to help OSHA “improve the fairness, efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency of OSHA’s administration of whistleblower protections.” WPAC was one of the many initiatives undertaken in the Obama administration to improve the operation of OSHA’s troubled Whistleblower Program, including creating a separate directorate and a separate budget item.  Achievements of the committee include the publication of the first-ever Recommended Practices for Employers for Addressing and Preventing Retaliation which assists employers in creating workplaces in which employees can voice their concerns without fear of retaliation. Note “Recommended Practices for Employers…” The whole point of the publication was to help employers prevent any whistleblower problems before they occurred. What could the Trump administration possibly have against that.

After asking repeated about why WPAC wasn’t meeting, WPAC Chair Emily Spieler finally received a response.

Anthony Rosa, the deputy director of Whistleblower Protection Programs, sent her an email saying the Labor Department was not convening meetings because of the president’s March 2017 executive order calling for a plan to reorganize the executive branch.  “The intent of the [executive order] is to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the Executive Branch,” Rosa said in the email. “We do not know when this process will be completed.”

Efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability?  I’d say none of the above.

And Elsewhere

OSHA is not the only agency whose committees are languishing.  According to ProPublica, a nuclear advisory board, created by Obama to help sick workers get medical benefits, has lapsed, threatening the prospects of numerous sick workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory and other national labs who have struggled for years to get medical benefits.

In addition,

The Union of Concerned Scientists raised concerns about the Trump administration’s approach to scientific advisory roles in a January report. Beyond the stalled OSHA committees, all advisory committees at the Interior Department have been frozen, and select committees at the Energy Department and the Food and Drug Administration have not been appointed or have been disbanded, according the union’s analysis of 24 departments.

Moreover, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s science advisory board has lapsed for the past six months, which officials there have attributed to “delayed paperwork,” according to an article in Scientific American. And in December, members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS were dismissed by form letter, after more than half the members resigned in protest of the Trump administration’s health policies, The Washington Post reported.

OSHA

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