President Trump wants to chill, halt, and stop the use of a critical tool for protecting America's workers. Photo: Pixabay

President Trump Just Put America’s Workers at Risk

, executive director | February 2, 2017, 10:20 am EDT
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Every day, men and women across this country go to work with the expectation that they will come back to their homes and families at the end of the day—healthy and in one piece.

From fields to factories and mines, from hospitals and nursing homes to schools and stores, from office buildings and construction sites to fishing vessels and fire stations—workers are the real engines of our economy. (Not to mention the irreplaceable place they hold in our hearts as our partners, moms, dads, brothers, sisters, children, and friends.)

Earlier this week, President Trump decided that one way to make America great again was to order federal agencies to identify for elimination two regulations for every new one they might propose in fulfillment of their statutory responsibility to protect our health, safety, and environment.

Aside from questioning the legality of such a directive, let’s take a look at what this means for working men, women, and even children in this country.

Think you’ve had a hard day at work?

Yes, we’ve come a long way since the days of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. But workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths still take a grave toll on our nation’s workforce.

In 2015 (the last year for which data are available), 4,836 workers died after sustaining an injury at work. That’s 13 people every day. In America. Another 2.9 million non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses were reported by private industry employers and an estimated 752,600 injury and illness cases were reported among state and local government workers.

The economic burden is immense, over $250 billion annually in medical and productivity costs.  And cost estimates cannot begin to capture the pain, suffering, and loss experienced by these workers and their families.

Two for one: Who would you protect?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), along with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), have been given the authority and responsibility to help protect our nation’s workforce.

President Trump has now sent them a chilling directive. If you find a new hazard or new exposure that threatens the health and safety of workers, and want to require employers to control or eliminate them, then repeal two existing rules.

Which protections would you eliminate?

  • Rules requiring personal protective equipment  such as hard hats, respirators, and safety goggles to avoid head injuries, lung damage, burns, cuts, or blindness?
  • Ventilation to ensure air quality and prevent exposure to harmful dusts and chemicals?
  • Noise control or ear protection to avoid hearing loss?
  • OSHA’s new beryllium standard rule  that offers protection to many thousands of workers in construction, shipyards, and general industry (like electronics, telecommunications, and defense). (Beryllium causes lung cancer and chronic beryllium disease.)
  • Protection from needle stick injuries and the transmission of blood-borne disease?

This kind of across the board directive defies common sense. It essentially forces the agencies to pick which workers will be winners and losers when it comes to safety on the job. Or, as my friend Celeste Monforton so aptly said, “one step forward, two steps back is never a good thing.”

What message is President Trump sending?

Well, that’s pretty clear.  He wants to chill, halt, and stop the use of a critical tool in the public protection toolbox.

Here’s what he said:

“If you have a regulation you want, number one we’re not going to approve it because it’s already been approved probably in 17 different forms. But if we do, the only way you have a chance is we have to knock out two regulations for every new regulation. So if there’s a new regulation, they have to knock out two. But it goes way beyond that.” 

Yes, it sure does.  The same Executive Order set a budget of exactly $0 for the total incremental cost of any new regulations in 2017.

While nobody loves the abstract idea of government regulation, I think we can all agree on the need for rules that keep our nation’s working men and women safe and healthy. They, after all, are what has and will continue to make America great.

President Trump is sending a clear message. It’s time to send a message right back. Let him and your representatives in Congress know that this new policy puts our nation’s workers at risk and is not acceptable.

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  • Young

    Interesting article. Not sure the UCS understands that provisions of some regulations are ineffective and use valuable resources that could be directed toward preventing injury rather than compliance. Also interesting is the UCS does not take corporate or government donations. Do you take Union donations? Do you take donations from other groups? If so, who.

  • Cheryl Allen

    My opinion is that a lot of people in the government bureaucracy rely on new and redundant rules to justify their employment. There are myriad examples, one that comes to mind is the annual retraining requirement tacked onto numerous rules in CFR1910. You have to retrain an employee annually on the same subject throughout a potential 35 year career (per the social security administrations’ calculations for benefits), whereas the DOT and FRA require retraining at 3yr. intervals, HAZCOMM training is set at three year intervals as well. Seems like there is more at stake with the handling and transportation of hazardous materials then there is in ensuring that an employee knows that they have a right to access their medical surveillance records. Perhaps this isn’t the best example, but I’m hoping you get the point. The bureaucracy can be reigned in without jeopardizing worker safety. I fully expect extreme criticism for this post.

  • Timothy King

    For the MSHA rules, this can easily be done since most of the rules are old and outdated; for OSHA, you have many redundant rules. Think about it; per MSHA you are REQUIRED to wear a BODY BELT while someones tends a ROPE tied to it if you work where their is a danger of falling; for OSHA, you are required to wear fall protection if working at 6 feet, 7 feet, 8 feet, or 12 feet – all dependent on your trade. The best bet for both MSHA and OSHA is to merge into one agency.

  • waterguy

    This is a silly idea and Congress should say so. Regulations are written to implement a law. They require public comment (sometimes) and comment from those who will have to follow them (always). To do away with them you must eliminate the law.

  • Ms Myriad

    Oh, I’m good at this game! The trick is to suggest new rules that encompass multiple old rules, which you can then suggest for termination. A crafty administrator can actually end up with a better and more comprehensive list of regulations … but that is assuming one’s administrator is not an unreasonable moron, which might be a bit much to count on in this instance.
    Still: it’s time to bring in the folk who grew up with the OLD fairy tales; the ones that involves a lot of bargains, wordplay, and trickery. Who better to fight the troll squatting on Washington?

    • solodoctor

      Thanks, Myriad. Send in some suggestions!