Weekly Toll

I’m back. Yet again. For the third time.

It’s almost Halloween. The Dodgers are poised to win the World Series — again.  I’ve been retired for almost 5 months, had a grandchild, traveled, read books, wrote a few articles, posted numerous incredibly clever and insightful Tweets that have won many friends and changed many minds, and enjoyed the summer.

Meanwhile, the world has changed. When I re-retired from the House Education and Labor Committee last April, OSHA was on its way (belatedly) to issuing a comprehensive COVID worker protection standard, Biden’s approval was at 54%, COVID was on the decline, and Delta was an airline.

Now things are, well, different. OSHA, a tiny agency that relatively few people had even heard of, and even fewer people cared about, has – depending on how you look at it — now been elevated into either a) the nation’s savior from the COVID-19 pandemic, or b) the prime purveyor of big (Democratic) government tyranny and destroyer of patriotic citizens’ God-given “freedom” to infect their neighbors with a deadly disease.

While OSHA has always been favorite punching bag for anti-government, anti-regulation, anti-labor types, it is now seen as Public Enemy Number One for every crazy from QAnon adherent to numerous Republican legislators and Governors.

Meanwhile, beneath all the politics, COVID-19 has presented the biggest, most serious threat to workers in 51 years that OSHA has existed. We have little real idea how many thousands of workers have gotten sick or died from workplace exposures. But we know it’s a higher worker death toll over a year and a half than this country has ever seen. At the same time, all of the other workplace hazards that OSHA has struggled to address – falls, chemical exposures, musculoskeletal injuries, trench deaths, explosions, etc., continue to threaten the lives and health of workers.

In other words, OSHA – or more precisely, worker safety — needs more support and more defense, and although I’m retired, I’m not withdrawing from the fight. As I always say, retirement is just doing many of the same things you did before, only for no money.

So, Confined Space 3.0.

As many of you are aware, I started Confined Space for the first time in 2003 to defend OSHA and worker safety during the years of the Bush Administration. I ended it in 2007 when I went to work on the Education and Labor Committee in the House of Representatives and then OSHA. Confined Space reappeared when I retired (for the first time) in 2017 on this site to help workplace safety advocates fight back against the worker-hostile policies of the Trump administration. When the Ed & Labor Committee re-drafted me after the Democrats took the House back in the 2018 election, Confined Space closed shop again. Now I’ve retired (again.)

This time will be somewhat different. First, it will be the first time I’ve written this newsletter during a friendly, Democratic administration.  Most workplace safety and health issues remain the same no matter who is President: workers will continue to get sick, injured and killed in preventable incidents,  employers will be employers, and Republicans, along with the business community, will remain generally hostile to new OSHA standards and strong enforcement of those standards.

On the other hand, the Biden administration, led by “the most pro-union President” since the New Deal, is generally friendly to the goals of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and has shown that it will support the agency’s mission and budget. Nevertheless, there have been, and will continue to be, OSHA issues, initiatives and programs that I disagree with. (To be honest, I didn’t even agree with everything we did when I was helping to run the agency.) And I plan to pull no punches when discussing those issues.

Those of us who have been around the block a few times know that even Democratic administrations rarely move with the speed and aggressiveness that they should, or could, to promote workplace safety. The political opposition is often too great, adequate budgets are too difficult to get passed and labor, and worker advocates are too weak to convince the political world of the importance of workplace safety. But the benefit of a Democratic administration (compared to a Republican administration) is that most Democrats’ hearts and politics are basically in the right place and workers and activists who organize for progress can convince them to do the right thing.

Let me be clear, however, that this newsletter is not just about OSHA; it’s about worker safety and health. OSHA is an important means to ensure safe workplaces, but not the only one. Ultimately worker safety depends on empowered workers – those with the knowledge, tools and power to confront their employers and their government to ensure a safe workplace. And I’m happy to help provide any tools and knowledge they need.

Now, some full disclosure: I have been friends and colleagues with the many of the political appointees running OSHA and the Department of Labor today.  And I have long working relationships – and many friendships – with many of OSHA’s career staff – some of the most dedicated and hard-working people in the federal government.

I will try not to let those personal relationships color my writing. And I want to assure all of them that none of my criticism is meant personally.

Finally, the two previous versions of Confined Space became all-consuming, occupying most waking and dreaming hours. Now Jessie and I have a grandchild that we’re helping to care for, so I’m going to try to moderate my obsession and not write quite so often as before. We’ll see if I’m successful.

To that end, I also invite guest-contributors. I you have something to say related to workplace safety, I’m happy to discuss including it here.

So off we go….

But first, a few “business” issues.

Contribute: I’m a simple retired government/union employee, living on a pension. While the labor I put into this comes free of charge, the worn-out hardware, technology, fixes, computer-things-I-don’t-understand, etc. often require assistance from very helpful experts who are also trying to make a living. So, if you have a few bucks handy, make liberal use of the “Tip Jar” up on the right. PayPal or Venmo (@jordan-barab) work for me. But if you’re strapped or have more worthwhile things to do with your disposable income, don’t even think about it.

Subscribe: Never miss an important development! If you look to the right, there’s a “Subscribe” widget which will provide you with an email every time I post something. For those of you who are always complaining that they don’t get enough email, what could be better? I’m still using the subscriber list I used for the last version. If you’ve moved on and don’t want to hear from me any more, feel free to unsubscribe. I promise not to think less of you.

Spread it around: If you like reading it, spread it around. I’m not just writing this for policy wonks in Washington. This is mainly for workers who need to know more about their safety and health in the workplace, the political context in which they work and what they can do to improve working conditions. I’d like to have this linked in as many local and national union and COSH webpages as possible. And make full use of Twitter, Facebook, etc., social media platforms.

Write me: I’d like your opinions. What you like, don’t like, what there should be more of, less of….  There’s also a comment box. Use it. But don’t abuse it. Right now, they’re un-moderated — anything goes. I welcome healthy discussion, even from those I don’t agree with. But if a comment is inappropriate (and you know what that means), I will delete it. If there are too many inappropriate comments, I will start moderating them.  When it comes to comments, I am God-almighty. Don’t mess with me. For those who need more “colorful” and profane “debate,” that’s why God give us Twitter.

Ideas and leads: I want to make sure I cover as many significant events in workplace safety as I can, but even the massive staff at Confined Space can’t read the entire internet every day. That means things happening in local areas around the country that I’ll only learn about if you send me stuff.

14 thoughts on “Confined Space is Back”
  1. I now have a wonderful vision of Jordan working away on a 486 PC, which was state of the art circa 1992. And an old daisy-wheel printer with perforated paper.

  2. Hooray, it’s the Return of Confined Space! As the AFSCME union button used to proclaim “Health and Safety is a Way of Life.”

  3. Welcome back! Just when the employers thought that it was safe to crawl back out from under their rocks with you incommunicado in an “undisclosed location”! Some people just won’t go away — luckily for us!

  4. This makes me so happy! Thanks for your 3rd reiteration of Confined Space. You will again be a great source of information for all of us, including my students at Rutgers in the OSHA class I teach. Maybe you can be a guest speaker this spring? Especially since every “retired” H&S person I know isn’t really retired at all … 🙂

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