0SHA is every Republican’s favorite punching bag. Including Florida Governor and Presidential aspirant Ron DeSantis.

In the 1980’s, Vermont Senator Gordon Humphrey accused OSHA of  using ‘Gestapo tactics’ for making unannounced visits to work sites in their search for hazardous conditions. OSHA was the poster-boy of Newt Gingrich’s campaign against regulation in the 1990s.  And OSHA’s short-lived COVID emergency standard that required all non-vaccinated workers to be tested was condemned as the epitome of authoritarian Big Brother government.

All of this is odd, considering that OSHA is a tiny agency with a miniscule budget that has never come close to being able to fulfill its mission of assuring the safety and health of 158 million workers at more than 10.9 million workplaces.

To put this in perspective, OSHA’s FY 2023 budget was only $632.3 million. EPA’s budget, by contrast, is $10 billion. Remember the money that Republicans managed to rescind from the IRS budget in the recent debt ceiling debate so that the IRS was less able to go after rich tax cheats? The amount rescinded was $20 billion, more than 30 times OSHA’s entire annual budget.

Now it’s Ron DeSantis’s turn. Because bashing government “over-regulation” is Republican gospel almost as holy as their new “anti-woke” obsession.

Regulatory Leviathan

In DeSantis’s “best-selling” memoir The Courage to be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival,” he boasts of his hard-scrabble blue collar background, fondly recalling how he took a job as an assistant for an electrician in an electrical company for “a mere six bucks an hour” in order to work his way through college.

But his American dream was soon threatened when he was allegedly sent home on his first day to go buy some “OSHA compliant” boots.

“And so I had to go buy a new pair and it cost me my entire first week’s salary to buy boots that I didn’t really need. So what it taught me was, you know, government was imposing something. I don’t think it made me any safer,” DeSantis said. “It did make me a little bit poorer as a young kid trying to get by.”

The job as an electrician’s assistant “was also my first encounter with the federal government’s regulatory Leviathan.” 

After I was able to control my anger at this distressing event that almost crushed the dreams of a young American trying to pull himself up by his own bootstraps, I decided to look more deeply into DeSantis’s allegations.

You know, the facts.

Are Work Boots Necessary?

First, why does OSHA require protective footwear? Is it just more red tape imposed by faceless, unelected bureaucrats?

Actually, “Foot injuries are among the most common workers’ compensation injuries, including breaks, fractures and heel injuries. The human foot and ankle contain 26 bones, 33 joints and more than a hundred muscles, tendons and ligaments, so it’s no wonder injuries to the foot can be especially painful – and slow to heal.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated in 2018 that there are more than 53,000 foot injuries per year leading to missed work days.

So what are OSHA-compliant boots? For any kind of construction work, OSHA requires steel-toe boots to make sure your feet don’t get crushed in case you accidentally drop a heavy tool or brick on them, while also protecting your feet if you step on nails or other sharp objects. And working as an electrician, workers need non-conductive boots to protect against stepping on a live wire.

So, yeah. Sounds like the OSHA boot requirement makes sense.

Are Work Boots Expensive?

Did buying boots really cost DeSantis “his “entire first week’s salary?”

Let’s examine that statement. First, he was being paid a “mere” six bucks an hour — which sounds “mere,” but $6/hour was actually well above the 1996 minimum wage of $4.75/hour.

And what did safety boots cost in 1996 when DeSantis was 18 years old? Well, search Google 25 years later, you’ll find safety shoes ranging from $80 to $150. Let’s say he took home roughly $5 an hour after taxes. Electrical safety boots these days start and around $100 and up (while shoes are somewhat cheaper.  Suppose he bought a boot for $100 a pair, that would come to 20 hours of hard labor for boy DeSantis. That could be half of a week’s work, if he worked a full 40 hours a week. Of course, maybe he was only working half time.

But wait, we’re talking over 25 years ago. With inflation, how much would a $100 pair of boots cost in 1996? Well, it turns out that $100 in 2023 had the same buying power as $54 in 1996. But apparently footwear inflation has not been that bad. One website estimated that a footwear costing $100 today would have cost around $85 in 1996.  So we’re talking a range of $54 to $85. That comes to somewhere between 11 hours and 17 hours.  So unless he worked a very short week, it’s hard to believe that his boots cost him an entire week’s wages.

Did Work Boots Make Ron DeSantis Safer?

What about his opinion that this government mandate didn’t make him any safer?

Well, from centuries of experience and evidence, the nation’s safety experts think that work boots make workers safer. Not just OSHA, but private sector standard-setting organizations like the American National Standards Institute and ASTM International (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials).

But clearly 18-year old Ron DeSantis knew more about safety than the nation’s leading safety experts.  Or maybe he just figures that because he never dropped anything on his foot or stepped on a live wire, he obviously didn’t need safety shoes.

That’s kind of like working all summer on top of roofs and never falling off, so obviously fall protection is doesn’t make anyone safer.

And what about those expensive smoke detectors and batteries that I’ve been required to purchase over the past 50 years? My house has never burned down, so clearly smoke detectors haven’t made made me any safer.

Cry Me a River

DeSantis has never exactly been a friend of OSHA. After OSHA announced its COVID Testing requirements, DeSantis urged the Florida legislature to consider legislation that would replace OSHA with state oversight. The legislature actually gave the Governor’s office $1 million to study the issue, which came to naught when the Governor’s office realized that even OSHA state plans must adopt federal standards. (I could have told them that for only $500,000.)

Bottom line? Yes, the requirement by the regulatory Leviathan to buy boots undoubtedly made young Ronny DeSantis “a little bit poorer” as he struggled to get by. Although not as poor as he now pretends.

On the other hand, DeSantis should probably be thanking OSHA.

His safety boots may have been the only thing that’s keeping Donald Trump from nick-naming the Florida Governor “Limpin’ gimpin’ Ronny DeSantis.”



13 thoughts on “OSHA: Ron DeSantis’s “Regulatory Leviathan””
  1. Truly amazing that a so-called person who delights in kidnapping asylum seekers can whine so hysterically over a pair of boots. Here’s some rare footage of the young Ron not getting what he wanted instantaneously:

    And did it not occur to young Ronnie that the fault lay at the feet (sorry) of his EMPLOYER, who perhaps should have provided safety shoes on his own dime? But why blame a possible campaign donor when you can scream about the “Gestapo.”

  2. I can think of a LOT of employees I’ve known in my career who thought “OSHA went overboard” and who thought having to wear safety shoes was dumb, even when the company paid for them. And it didn’t seem to matter what political party they supported. We can be dismissive and call these folks crybabies. I try to understand things from an employee perspective.
    According to a couple of different sources…”North America Industrial Safety Footwear Market size exceeded USD 3.5 billion in 2019. At 4.6% CAGR, Safety Footwear Market Size to Hit US$ 12.62 Billion by 2028.” Larger facilities will think nothing of budgeting $50k per year for safety shoes, but one has to scratch and claw to get $10k in capital to fix/improve something with the potential to kill someone.
    My point is not to debate the merits of safety shoes, which have undoubtedly saved some feet. In the overall realm of risk, some of the aforementioned facilities would likely be better off spending $50k/year on stuff other than safety shoes and rolling the dice that a foot injury does not take place. Would the aforementioned $3.5 billion get better ROI for other risks, ie ones with reasonable potential to cause fatalities. This sounds harsh, but it is reality in much of industry today. One must pick and choose what risks to chase. We preach to employees about hierarchy of control, but we sometimes spend more money on PPE than engineering controls. Employees are smart. They see the hypocrisy, and that is why I believe some have a negative attitude about safety shoes and other forms of PPE.

    1. The employer obligation is to provide a workplace free of recognized hazards not to make employees choose between death and a broken foot.

      1. Unfortunately, it’s reality today. There are many reasons why, for instance, manufacturing site leaders struggle with compliance….lack of funding, lack of staff, greedy shareholders, egomaniacal leadership…lots of barriers. If we want to say those are not viable excuses, then we should not accept those very same excuses used by some of our government agencies and leaders to explain their failures to meet their charters and obligations. In manufacturing, if it ain’t getting done, one better be willing to put in some more “free” hours for the company. God forbid we expect some of our government employees to do the same. I was part of the OSHA family over 30 years ago. Worked with some great folks, but as a whole, I’ve never worked with such a lazy, uninspired bunch. It was classic “government employee” attitude. They spent more time whining about barriers than getting work done.

        1. You seem to always have the same theme; Poor employers can’t run a business and keep their employees safe. Frankly, if worker safety isn’t built into your business plan, you have a lousy business plan.

          Re. OSHA staff: I worked for more than 10 years at OSHA, and over 30 with OSHA staff from the outside. Whether at headquarters or in the field, I’ve never worked with harder working, more dedicated people. And I doubt if you’ll find more hard working or dedicated people in any organization.

          1. I specifically mentioned the challenge of “manufacturing site leaders.” …leaders…as in individuals. I am sure you faced many challenging situations in your role at OSHA…challenges people, myself included, would have difficulty grasping without personally experiencing what you faced. I am sure you did the best job you could under the circumstances and were frustrated, at times, because you were torn between competing interests and priorities. I would not be surprised to learn there were times you wanted to speak up, but could not because you knew it would be career limiting to do so.

            I have worked with individual leaders in mining, construction, manufacturing, and the military, and very seldom have I ever met anyone who flat out did not care about the safety of the people around them. Many of these individuals had to, at times, compromise their principles due to forces outside their realm of control. My boss and I are dealing with that issue at this very moment since our company is struggling financially. Most people have a boss, even CEO’s. Every leader I knew who faced a fatality under their watch took it VERY personally. And some ridicule these individuals for sending thoughts and prayers, as if they did not care.

            If people reading this have never been a leader in private industry and run a for profit organization, or tried to run your own small business started without a penny in the bank and no parent as a safety net, don’t underestimate how difficult it can be to balance things including safety. That’s NOT to say there are not obligations to care for your employees and that one cannot run a relatively safe company and should not be held accountable. My point is, don’t judge individuals(key word) without having the facts, especially when you have never walked in another’s moccasins. If a business owner is standing at the trench telling the worker to “get in there or else,” that’s one thing. It’s another to assume someone a business leader/owner could have done more and imply egregious negligence without clearly understanding the circumstances. I worked with someone who ran over and killed his child in the driveway. He was clearly at fault. Should we crucify him online for being a bad parent and throw him in jail? It’s not that simple, is it? He clearly loved his child but made a horrible mistake in judgment. Why is it so difficult to believe that the same does not happen in the business world?

            Jordan, I am sure you would not appreciate people bashing you personally for OSHA’s shortcomings, some of which were not completely within the agency’s control. You would likely roll your eyes and say “If they only knew how much I cared and how difficult it was.” And I’m guessing you would likely feel defensiveness considering it is an agency which of which you seem proud. Well, there are many leaders and business owners out there that care just as much about their organizations and lose sleep at night over employees who were lost. It is this belief that people want to do the right thing that has enabled me to keep an open mind when employees make mistakes and rely on coaching and collaboration versus punishment. Call me naive, but I’ve had a lot more success getting people to work with me toward improving safety in the workplace demonstrating tolerance and empathy than the police mentality. I refuse to accept leaders who call their employees “stupid” for making bad decisions that caused them to get hurt. You may as well fire them, because one has given up on them by putting the in the”‘stupid box.” Likewise, we may as well throw our hands in the air and give up on Republicans and business leaders/owners who have experienced a tragedy when we put them in a box and label them as uncaring towards employees. If that is what we believe in our heart, it will subconsciously affect our interactions with them and hinder any collaboration. That’s Psychology 101. Maybe some people dislike OSHA because they have had interactions with people in its ranks with an us versus them mentality…just like some people feel alienated by the police today.

            1. No offense,
              If you’re company is struggling, why do you take the time out of your day, and put so much effort into a comment section. Complain about xyz rather than improve on the faults of your company. I’m sure you have great experience with your myriad list of working with different groups and backgrounds. If you focus your passion and energy into areas that actually impact you, it’ll be beneficial for you (job, physical, and mental health).

  3. Thanks, Jordan, for providing needed context. However, in my experience, complaints about OSHA overreach such as those made by the governor often contain massive factual … misstatements. Not too long ago, at a social gathering, the general manager of a box-making plant in Columbus OH found out that I had an OSHA background and launched into his favorite story — apparently/allegedly he had been visited by an OSH inspector who found zero violations but wrote the employer up anyway because ‘I gotta meet my quota, sorry.’ I replied that such conduct is totally unacceptable, and offered to follow up with the Columbus Area Office where (ding ding) I knew the Area Director. When I asked for details like the date and scope of the inspection, whether it was an accident investigation, how much the proposed penalty was, etc., suddenly the general manager can’t remember the details (despite his outrage). Hmmm. I checked the database for all safety inspections in the region, and called a former colleague in the AO. Nope, OSHA had never been there. For me the lesson is that these war stories are all to often made up, fueled by a passionate desire to play the victim. Wouldn’t surprise me if the DeS story is another example.

    1. Thanks for your interesting report. Wow, made up stories about OSHA inspections that never happened. Shame, shame.

      1. At every hearing that David or I testified at, a Republican would tell a story of how one of his or her constituents had been issued a massive OSHA fine for a stair railing that was a quarter inch too short or some such.
        We would assure them that that didn’t sound right and promised to follow up with their staff. And as above, no details would ever be provided.

  4. Remember though that those boots will last at least a year so amortizing the cost over 52 weeks comes to about $1- $1.62 a week or about 25 cents/day. Sounds like a good investment to me. Plus as work clothing he probably got a tax write-off for them. And the cost has to be compared with what he would have worn otherwise (I doubt he was going barefoot) to you have to consider only the additional cost of the boots, which was probably only about a third of the total. All in all, complete bullshit.

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