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Workplace safety enforcement plummets under Trump … but fatality investigations rise

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration did not have enough workplace safety inspectors before Donald Trump arrived on the scene, and as with just about everything else, it’s gotten worse in Trump’s two-plus years in office. The number of inspectors has fallen to a record low in the history of the agency, and a new analysis by the National Employment Law Project shows how bad things have gotten: The number of complicated and high-penalty investigations OSHA does has fallen—but at the same time, fatality investigations have risen.

The Trump administration’s story is that total investigations have risen. But that’s not helpful if what’s happening is that inspectors are being pushed to take on quick and easy cases rather than digging into the complicated or difficult ones. That’s just what’s happening, NELP’s Debbie Berkowitz, herself a former OSHA official, writes. “For example, when inspectors go onto a construction site, they can inspect multiple subcontractors all at once, but count each one as a separate inspection. They can get through these sites in a few hours, and count four to five inspections.” At the same time, inspections of concerns like musculoskeletal hazards, worker exposure to dangerous chemicals, explosion risks, and heat exposure have all dropped dramatically.

OSHA is failing to conduct inspections of workplaces that have reported amputations—imagine that you lose a body part on the job and the government doesn’t even come to check out if your boss is running a safe shop. In at least two cases, poultry plants haven’t been inspected even after reporting two amputations or injuries requiring hospitalization in the course of just a few months.

But the big red flag is this: In 2017 there were 837 workplaces inspected because of a work-related death or a catastrophe of more than three workers hospitalized. In 2018, the number rose to 929. The Trump administration is letting workplace safety inspector jobs go empty, it’s focusing on hasty inspections while the number of complicated investigations of serious risks drops, it’s failing to investigate amputations … but the serious thing that is rising is fatality investigations. That is very scary news for America’s workers.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on March 14, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.


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MSHA Safety Crackdown on Troubled Mines Continues

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Image: Mike HallIn the latest round of stepped-up inspections of mines with a history of safety and health violations and other issues, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)  in November  issued 250 citations and other actions at 22 mines.

The new special impact inspections began after the April coal mine explosion at the Massey Energy Co.’s Upper Big Branch (W.Va.) mine that killed 29 miners.

The mines set for tougher inspections include those with a poor history of complying with previous orders to correct unsafe conditions, or that have specific concerns, such as high numbers of violations or closure orders.

The inspections also focus on mines where there have been evasive tactics by mine management, such as advance notification of inspections that prevent inspectors from observing violations and mines with a high number of accidents, injuries, illnesses or fatalities. Says MSHA administrator Joe Main:

MSHA’s impact inspection program is helping to reduce the number of mines that consider egregious violation records a cost of doing business. We will continue using this important enforcement tool to protect the nation’s miners

MSHA conducted the November inspections at 12 coal mines, issuing 111 citations for safety violations and 11 orders for immediate correction. At 10 metal/non-metal mines, MSHA inspectors issued 113 citations and 11 orders for immediate action.

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO Now Blog.

About The Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.


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