President Donald Trump has repealed an Obama-era health and safety regulation that will leave Alabama workers more at risk from health and safety violations. The little known Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) regulation, known as the “volks” rule, previously allowed OSHA to pursue companies for safety breaches for up to five years after an incident occurred.
The repeal means that OSHA is limited to a statute of limitation of six months. According to experts in OSHA regulation, the rollback of the rule could see employers hide injury data and recurring hazards from regulators. This would make it harder to identify problems at specific business and across wider industries.
This is particularly troubling at shipyards where the injury-accident rate is around 80 percent that of construction and general industry, according to recent Labour statistic records. Between 2005 and 2015, for example, there were 76 deaths at private shipyards around the country. Peg Seminario, Safety and Health director at AFL-CIO, said:
This means that in the worst cases OSHA won’t be able to take enforcement action, and the employers are going to be able to keep doing what they are doing because there are no consequences. It essentially takes away OSHA’s ability to enforce patterns of record keeping violations, and what that means is that worse employers that have a pattern of hiding injuries or falsifying records will escape punishment.
While the repeal means OSHA is unable to legally pursue accidents and incidents that occur at a company more than six months later, the agency is still able to view all data going back five years. That regulation has not changed. This means that OSHA can still identify industry-wide hazardous trends and make suggestions to individual companies on how to fix them. However, the agency can’t act against companies that have flouted rules more than six months ago. OSHA inspectors would need to identify an issue at a company within the six-month timeframe to be able to act on it. According to data collected by AFL-CIO, it would take Alabama’s 24 OSHA inspectors roughly 114 years to visit every business in the state. Ms. Seminario added:
That makes it difficult to catch issues within the six month time frame and enforcement nearly impossible.
Since coming into power, President Trump and Republicans have reversed more than 30 regulations using what’s known as the Congressional Review Act, a powerful legislative tool that enables Congress to quickly overrule newly established federal rules. The act also prevents the reissuing of regulations, meaning OSHA may never be able to reinstate the five-year statute of limitations in the future.
The repeal is clearly a loss for workers. In recent months, the dangers of shipyards have been on full display in Mobile. A detailed investigation into work practices at Austal uncovered dozens of injuries being sustained by employees using a cutting tool known as the “widowmaker.” Workers that have been injured by the tool are currently involved in a court case against Austal in which they claim the U.S. Navy contractor forced them to swap out the original blade in the tool for another blade with larger cutting teeth in order to hasten the manufacturing process. The blade swap went against the manufacturer’s instructions, which explicitly warned against changing of the blade. Some workers lost fingers while others suffered severe lacerations to their face, neck and upper body.
Many of the injuries go back years, meaning that under the now-current rules OSHA would not be able to act against Austal, although it could make suggestions on better practices. For years there has been confusion over the statute of limitations around OSHA’s enforcement of safety breaches. During the last days of the Obama administration, the regulation was clarified to mean that the agency could take action up to five years after a breach of health and safety occurred.
That rewriting of the regulation by the Trump Administration has upset a number of lawmakers who say that it’s the job of the legislative branch to write laws. Rep. Bradley Byrne, who represents Mobile County in Congress, said after the repeal that “the role of the executive branch is to enforce the laws – not rewrite them” and that “this OSHA power grab was completely unlawful.” “It would have done nothing to improve workplace safety while creating significant regulatory confusion for small businesses,” added Byrne. “Our efforts are to uphold the rule of law and advance responsible, proactive policies that keep America’s workers safe.”
Source: Christopher Harress of AL.com
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