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Gene C. Gerard Donating Member (21 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jan-21-07 01:41 PM
Original message
Paying for Protection
Edited on Sun Jan-21-07 01:42 PM by Gene C. Gerard
Two labor organizations have sued the Bush administration for failing to protect nearly 20 million workers from job injuries. In 1999 the U.S. Department of Labors Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed a rule requiring employers to pay for protective clothing, face shields, and other equipment used by workers. But before the proposal became a standard Mr. Bush was elected to office. Since then, the Department of Labor has neglected to enact the standard and has consistently failed to ensure the safety of Americas working men and women.

The personal protective equipment (PPE) rule would require employers to pay for safety items that protect workers from job hazards. Many workers in the nations most dangerous industries, including meatpacking, poultry, and construction, who have high rates of injury, are forced by their employers to pay for their own safety gear because of the failure of OSHA to implement the PPE rule. According to OSHAs own figures, 400,000 workers have been injured and 50 have died owing to the lack of the PPE rule.

Under the Clinton administration, OSHA maintained that employers are in a better position than workers to select and pay for the equipment best suited to protect them from injury. Poultry workers wear specialized wire mesh gloves to protect their hands and arms from cuts. Construction workers wear hard hats and shoes made of sturdy materials to protect them from falling objects. Consequently, in 1994, OSHA maintained that the PPE rule was intended to require employers to provide and pay for personal protective equipment that enabled workers to perform their job safely.

In fact, James W. Stanley, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, asserted in 1994 that failure of the employers to pay for PPE that is not personal and not used away from the job is a violation and shall be cited. But in April 2001, only four months into the Bush administration, OSHA discontinued listing a target date for formalizing the PPE rule into a standard. And it listed the rule on its regulatory agenda as simply undetermined. OSHA later announced that the rule would be implemented by March 2005, but that never happened.

Thats why the AFL-CIO and United Food and Commercial Workers sued the Department of Labor earlier this month. The lawsuit asks the federal courts to compel the Secretary of Labor to make the PPE rule an OSHA standard. Its a sad turn of events when a government agency created to protect the health and welfare of the nations workers must be forced to do so. But the Bush administration has done little to help Americas working men and women since taking office.

In its first term the Bush administration withdrew dozens of safety and health rules from OSHAs regulatory agenda. These rules dealt with indoor air quality, safety and health education programs, and dangerous industrial equipment. And in six years OSHA has only issued one major safety standard. In 2006, after being sued by a group of steelworkers, OSHA issued a standard regarding the potentially deadly chemical hexavalent chromium. But the standard was so weak that even OSHA admitted that it leaves workers at a significant risk of developing cancer.

Since 2001 OSHAs budget has been cut by $14.5 million. Job safety programs have repeatedly been slashed. President Bush has consistently cut annual funding for safety training and education programs, and his fiscal year 2007 budget completely eliminated this funding. Not surprisingly, workplace fatalities and injuries have been on the rise. In 2004, the last year for which figures are available, there were 5,703 workplace deaths due to injuries. This was the first increase in the national workplace fatality rate in a decade.

Given the previous position by OSHA to require employers to pay for personal protective equipment, theres no justifiable reason that the Bush administration should not have formalized this rule by now. OSHA was created by Congress to protect the health and safety of Americas working men and women. Its unfortunate that workers now have to rely on litigation to ensure their basic safety. The federal courts should move quickly to hear this lawsuit and force the government to protect the nations workforce.

Gene C. Gerard has taught history, religion, and ethics for 14 years at several colleges in the Southwest and is a contributing author to the book Home Front Heroes: Americans during Wartime, by Greenwood Press. He writes a political blog for the world news website OrbStandard at

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orleans Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-22-07 01:10 AM
Response to Original message
1. how discouraging, and infuriating. thanks for writing this informative piece
think i'll bookmark it for future reference.

my father, a life-long democrat, was in "upper management" at a company he worked for years ago. i remember him coming home and just bitching about osha one night. i was in my teens or early 20's and didn't really know what osha was.

but i remember after him crabbing about what osha was saying or what needed to be done or whatever it was--i said to him: "but isn't that so that people won't get hurt? won't it be better for them?"
long pause. then i asked my dad: "why is that a bad thing?"

i don't remember him bitching about osha after that. dinner conversation and every now and then i would hear "osha" mentioned but it was no longer in a negative way.

he was just so "mind-set" with his job & management -- apparently he needed his kid to remind him of what was really important. (at least i like to take credit for that). as i was growing up and trying to look at him objectively--in spite of all our differences, and my rebel years--he always tried hard to be a kind, good, fair thinking & open minded person. that's what surprised me when he first bad-mouthed osha. because once he explained to me what it was i thought it sounded like a great thing.

again, thanks for this well written piece.

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SeveneightyWhoa Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-22-07 01:34 AM
Response to Original message
2. Thanks Gene.. but its been posted already:
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McCamy Taylor Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-22-07 03:02 AM
Response to Original message
3. Poultry workers/ handlers are the ones who will get bird flu
How on earth can OSHA not be requiring their employers to provide state of the art worker protective equipment to the people employed in these fields? If the people working in these industries buy their own gear and take it home, who knows what kind of disease they will be spreading around the community if/when bird flu makes it to the U.S. And how will the government make sure that they and the community are protected by the gear that they choose for themselves?

We know what kinds of problems we had when workers took their asbestos covered clothes home to wash.
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intaglio Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-22-07 06:29 AM
Response to Original message
4. Let me get this right ....
I have learnt from reading DU that, in the USA -

Employers do not pay for PPE equipment,

Employers do not have to pay sickness benefits to workers,

Employers do not have to contribute to a workers Health insurance,

Employers can fire employees at will,

Ummmmmm do workers have any rights?

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raccoon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-22-07 10:37 AM
Response to Reply #4
5. Nope. nt
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nealmhughes Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-22-07 12:00 PM
Response to Reply #5
6. Serfdom anew. Instead of subsistence agriculture, subsistence labor.
It is reasonable to expect for one to buy one's own hardhat/safety boots, eye shields, etc. when one is in a trade and apt to move from contract to contract, but when one is a fulltime employee of a company and the safety equipment is not only expensive in terms of what the employee is expected to bear, but onerous, and how can "management" be sure that the equipment even meets standards?
I would think that this would be given to the workers as a basic. But they are mere serfs, and another ready to take his or her place in this new Victorian Eden of Free Trade America.
Why do we not just amend the Constitution with a signing statement and rollback the clock to pre-Enlightenment times?
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