the-fatal-four
The Fatal Four
August 27, 2018

Worker Safety Measures are Gutted under Trump

Fortunately, the Tort System has Your Back

When a construction worker is hurt on the job, the impact extends far beyond the immediate injury. Hospital bills, physical therapy, medical devices — that’s just the half of it. In many of these cases, a workplace injury also means a significant detour or roadblock to employment.

With more minor injuries, we may be talking about lost wages while the injured party undergoes rehabilitation. In more severe cases, it can mean lost livelihood — a 50-year-old man or woman suddenly scrambling to find a new career, because they are no longer physically capable of performing the basic functions of their job.

Imagine that. You’ve spent your whole adult life training and working in your chosen field, and all of a sudden, that skill set doesn’t matter. You have to start anew in order to keep afloat, let alone to build that nest egg for retirement.

We talked in our last post about the federal safety rules designed to keep workers safe.

Well, we’ve got bad news on that front.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), if you remember, is the government agency that tracks and enforces on-the-job safety — our first line of defense against catastrophic injuries that can permanently alter the lives of workers and their families.

Well, it appears that under the Trump administration, the agency and its enforcement efforts are under attack. We’ve seen reports of reductions across the board — in safety regulations, enforcement activity and in the number of enforcement officers being deployed to monitor and track violations.

This gutting occurs even while the number of workplace fatalities are on a steady rise.

In 2016, nearly 5,200 workers died on the job and another 2.9 million suffered serious workplace-related illness, injuries or disability, according to OSHA. That’s a 7 percent increase from the 4,836 deaths reported in 2015, and the third consecutive increase in annual workplace fatalities recorded by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The danger here cannot be disregarded. When workers’ protections are stripped, their lives are put at risk.

Consider these facts, as reported by the National Employment Law Project:

  • From January 2017 to January 2018, the number of OSHA inspectors fell from 814 to 764.
  • Enforcement activity (measured through weighted units) also fell precipitously — from 42,900 enforcements units in fiscal year 2016 to 41,829 enforcement units in fiscal year 2017.

Then there’s this, from the progressive reporting outlet Think Progress, on the gradual erosion of health and safety regulations for workers:

“Eight months into Trump’s presidency, several occupational health and safety rules — designed to protect workers, a large number of whom supported Trump — have been either delayed or rolled back, and almost always at the behest of industry.”

The Think Progess report focuses on the overlap between OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency, and their combined role in limiting workers’ exposure to harmful chemicals and radiation that can cause cancer and other debilitating illnesses such as black lung, asbestosis and silicosis.

These are the unseen dangers of manufacturing, construction and farm jobs — not often talked about, but always a real threat to workers. And usually preventable.

Now, it seems, workers are at an even greater exposure risk. It’s worth a read.

Meanwhile, the investigative journalism group ProPublica reports the Trump administration has dismantled or stalled several workplace safety panels in an effort to reduce regulations on business. Labor officials see these committees as essential to improving health, safety and whistleblower protections for workers.

For example, one committee that has been sidelined is the Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health, which was in the process of recommending ways to prevent workers from being killed by large trucks backing up. According to ProPublica, the panel was studying worksite traffic plans and new technologies, such as wearable beepers to alert workers of an approaching vehicle.

Also disbanded was the Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health committee. It developed federal training guidelines for OSHA and ensured that federal contractors worked with unions on developing safe environments for work such as refueling nuclear submarines.

Now, here’s one thing we want to emphasize: This is not, and should not be, about politics.

As ProPublica notes, many of these committees were established with Republican and Democratic support, when workplace death rates were more than double what they are now.

So why the wholesale effort now to strip workers of basic safety protections? There’s no good answer to that question. But one thing is clear:

Given the decimation of these protections, the tort system is more important than ever in holding companies accountable and protecting workers.

The threat of tort liability can be a powerful force in improving conditions for workers — detering companies from putting profits ahead of worker safety, by placing a price on negligence, equipment failures and other lapses.

At Keefe, Keefe & Unsell, we don’t see it as a matter of inconveniencing companies and manufacturers. It’s about saving lives.

Because everyone has a right to feel safe on the job.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a construction accident, contact us for a free consultation. We can help determine whether negligence played a role in your injury, and whether someone beyond your employer should be held financially responsible.

Contact Our Experienced Law Team

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