Public Citizen to host discussion of CPR Member Scholar Rena Steinzor’s new book, “Why Not Jail? Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction.”
On Monday, July 20, 2015 Public Citizen, the Center for Progressive Reform and the Bauman Foundation will lead a discussion focused on CPR’s immediate past president and University of Maryland Law School professor Rena Steinzor’s book, “Why Not Jail? Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction.”
Last week, OSHA issued noteworthy citations against a poultry slaughtering facility in Delaware. The agency is using its General Duty Clause to hold Allen Harim Foods in Harbeson, Delaware responsible for ergonomic hazards that plague the entire industry—hazards involving the repetitive cutting and twisting motions that lead to musculoskeletal disorders like tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
This case follows another from October of last year, when, in response to a complaint by workers and their advocates from the Southern Poverty Law Center, OSHA cited Wayne Farms in Jack, Alabama for General Duty Clause violations, also related to ergonomic hazards. As it turns out, the Wayne Farms case was a shot across the bow for an industry that subjects its workers to punishingly repetitive work in a variety of situations. Today’s announcement may be evidence of a trend developing in OSHA enforcement.Full text
Last year, the Center for Progressive Reform published Winning Safer Workplaces: A Manual for State & Local Policy Reform. The manual is intended as a tool for state and local advocates. It highlights successful local campaigns to adopt workplace safety policies, and offers a series of innovative proposals to help state and local advocates make headway even in the face of intense opposition from big-moneyed, anti-regulatory interests. We focused on cross-cutting ideas that will empower workers, ensure crime doesn’t pay, and strengthen the institutions that are meant to protect workers.
Our day-of-release blog post with more information is here.
Since its release, we’ve received positive feedback from many advocates about the manual. Among the suggestions that we heard was that the manual ought to be translated into Spanish. Today, we’re excited to announce that a Spanish-language version of the manual is available on our website.
Credit for this massive endeavor goes to Celeste Monforton for coordinating the translation, along with Nico Udu-Gama, Jazmín Rumbaut, Lucy Acevedo, Tony Macias, and Ximena Camou-Guerrero for thoughtfully interpreting the manual. Their efforts were supported by the Public Welfare Foundation and the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law.
Please take a look and share this with your colleagues.Full text
Last week, workers’ advocates at the Southern Poverty Law Center and Nebraska Appleseed got the official word that OSHA will not develop new regulations to protect the men and women who do the dirty work of turning clucking chickens into boneless cutlets. It’s an industry where vulnerable workers—mostly women, immigrants, and folks geographically isolated from other job opportunities—face great hazards from the strains of repetitive motion. Some of the plants process tens of thousands of birds on every shift, and a recent NIOSH review of one facility uncovered evidence of chronic musculoskeletal injuries in more than 40 percent of the workers who took part in the evaluation. The industry has a problem.
Lobbyists from the Chicken Council will proudly proclaim that the industry’s injury and illness rates have been dropping for years. But those numbers simply cannot be trusted. The chronic pain that workers suffer doesn’t always meet the definition of a reportable injury because it can be treated with first aid and doesn’t necessarily require time away from work. So even if you’re the kind of company that’s inclined to report accurately, risking elevated workers’ comp premiums, workers’ experiences of pain and suffering don’t match up with the numbers.Full text
What’s old is new again. This week, competing bills to reform the 40-year old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) hit the Senate—one from Senators Vitter and Udall, the other from Senators Boxer and Markey. Both the environmental community and the chemical industry agree that TSCA is broken and must be fixed. This is a law that’s so poorly designed; EPA has been stymied in its efforts to ban asbestos. Yes, that asbestos. But where environmentalists and the chemical industry diverge is on the details of how to fix TSCA.
CPR Member Scholars and staff are still analyzing the bills, but one issue stands out as a fatal flaw in the Vitter-Udall proposal, and is addressed wisely in the Boxer-Markey proposal: the proposed safety standard. The “safety standard” is the focal point of the legislation: EPA’s central task under both proposals is to determine whether chemicals meet the standard. If a chemical meets the standard, then restrictions on manufacture, processing, and use will be limited. If it doesn’t, then EPA must consider tight controls, even banning the chemical. But the safety standard in this legislation is very problematic.
With colleagues from the environmental community, one dozen CPR Member Scholars sent this letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate EPW Committee to explain our concerns. Chief among them is that the Vitter-Udall legislation retains a key phrase, “unreasonable risk,” that has been the Achilles Heel of EPA’s TSCA program for decades. If Congress intends to fix TSCA, the statute must be rid of that phrase and amended to use a standard that ensures a ‘reasonable certainty of no harm’ from chemicals in commerce. Such a standard—found in the Boxer-Markey bill—is better for both people and the environment.Full text
This week, the Maryland General Assembly will review new legislation that could help ensure safer workplaces in the state’s construction industry. The proposal, which is a type of “responsible contracting” legislation similar to other policies being tested out in states and municipalities across the country, would require companies that put in bids for work on public works projects in Maryland to attest that they have workplace health and safety programs and that they would implement the programs in construction projects done on the public dime.
It’s an important piece of legislation, given the dangers in the industry. As we noted in our Winning Safer Workplaces manual,
"Construction is one of the most hazardous industries for workers. Frequent injuries and deaths from falls, electrocutions, and striking objects impose unbearably high costs on individuals, families, and local economies. Public Citizen estimates that, between 2008 and 2010, fatal and nonfatal construction injuries cost the states of Maryland $713 million, Washington $762 million, and California $2.9 billion in medical services, lost productivity, administrative expenses, and lost quality of life. The firms responsible for many of these injuries and fatalities, and those with histories of citations for unsafe practices, continue to receive contracts from state and local governments."
Today, the House Economic Matters committee will hear testimony on a proposal to use the Maryland government’s vast purchasing power as a tool for promoting safer construction work practices. I submitted testimony in support of the bill because it is a smart way to ensure workers are being protected in a state where the AFL-CIO estimates it would take 108 years for occupational health and safety inspectors to visit every workplace.Full text
Our intrepid colleague Celeste Monforton, who writes at the Pump Handle blog, recently passed along a neat example of a tool that we wrote about in our Winning Safer Workplaces manual. Minnesota’s Office of the Legislative Auditor released a report on the state’s regulatory protections for meatpacking workers. As we noted in the Winning Safer Workplaces manual, state-level oversight of government regulation can be a valuable tool for advocates who are fighting for stronger workplace protections. The results of new audits can clarify what is working—and what is not working—about the regulatory system, giving advocates critical information that they might use in new campaigns. The audit process itself, by focusing outside attention on programs that may be insulated from regular or public oversight, can also have positive effects for the programs’ intended beneficiaries (here, workers).Full text
In Kansas and Maryland, two states separated by geography and politics, Republican state lawmakers are touting plans that could seriously alter the institutions that workers in those states rely upon to keep them safe on the job.
Two weeks ago, Maryland Delegate (now State Senator) Andrew Serafini introduced a bill that would make drastic changes to the way the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health agency (MOSH) does its job. So drastic, in fact, that the feds would likely have to step in and take over the state’s program. The biggest problem with the bill is a requirement that the agency send employers a letter, warning them that MOSH inspectors are on the way. Tipping off employers is bad policy for an enforcement agency trying to regulate conditions that can be easily be disguised or altered. In many cases, it’s also a criminal act.
The bill has a few other features that likely wouldn’t sit well with the federal OSHA auditors, who annually review state-plan agencies’ policies and practices to ensure that they continue to operate programs that are at least as effective as what Fed-OSHA is doing in other states (not all states run their own state-plan programs). For example, the bill would prevent MOSH from issuing fines in a number of circumstances that would lead to citations in other states. Given the evidence that shows inspections and citations lead to safer workplaces, this kid-glove approach to enforcement puts workers at risk and creates a policy that is not as effective as the Fed-OSHA approach.Full text
Tomorrow, the House is set to vote on the Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act (SBRFIA), a piece of legislation that CPR Senior Policy Analyst James Goodwin has explained would “further entrench big businesses’ control over rulemaking institutions and procedures that are ostensibly intended to help small businesses participate more effectively in the development of new regulations.”
As Members of the House prepare for Thursday’s vote, CPR has something to add to their files: a new Issue Alert with details about how the Regulatory Flexibility Act is failing small businesses. In The Small Business Charade: The Chemical Industry’s Stealth Campaign Against Public Health, CPR President Rena Steinzor, Senior Policy Analyst James Goodwin, and I explain how the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and other large trade associations manipulated the procedures outlined in the Regulatory Flexibility Act to protect their profits at the expense of the public interest—all while wasting taxpayers’ money and silencing legitimate small business input into the regulatory process. We take a close look at emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (h/t Center for Effective Government) and explore how ACC tried to manipulate OSHA’s ongoing efforts to better protect workers from respirable crystalline silica, a ubiquitous and under-regulated carcinogen.Full text
Last week on The Pump Handle, Kim Krisberg highlighted an interesting pilot program in Rockaway Township, New Jersey that puts an extra set of eyes on the lookout for workplace safety concerns that might otherwise have gone unnoticed by government inspectors. As she explains here, restaurant inspectors in Rockaway are pilot testing a simple modification to their inspection responsibilities—while they check refrigerator temperatures and cleanliness for food safety concerns, they’re now also looking for good practices that ensure workers are safe. Inspectors have a checklist of basic worker safety issues and they’re keeping tabs on which restaurants are making the grade.Full text