The Republican Effort To Rollback Workplace Safety Regulations is Literally Killing Americans


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In a perfect world where human beings adhered to the mantra “do no harm,” there would likely be little need for rules and regulations, but the world is not perfect and humans do need rules, laws, and regulations. One of the overriding reasons humans need rules and regulations is to protect them from people who could not care less if their actions harmed others whether it is driving drunk, selling poisoned food, or forcing workers to labor in unsafe conditions. Republicans despise regulations on businesses they claim are trustworthy and full of altruistic regard for the environment, consumers, and their workers, and decry the cost of adhering to regulations kills businesses and jobs. However, not adhering to regulations kills workers that never seems to bother Republicans, or their business sector supporters which is why they vehemently oppose regulations; especially those enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

During the 2012 presidential campaign, a large percentage of business owners complained that regulations under the Obama Administration were too costly, killed jobs, and burdensome. That was the complaint of a Wisconsin businessman, Lance Johnson, who said President Obama’s workplace safety inspectors were encumbering him and killing jobs with too much red tape. According to Johnson in a 2012 Wall Street Journal campaign story, “I’ve never been audited by more government agencies in my life than I have under Obama.” It is probably because President Obama is not George W. Bush and tasked OSHA regulators with actually doing their job regardless the Republican cuts to the agency.

Johnson is the president of Johnson Brass & Machine Foundry Inc., and bemoaned what he called “aggressive” OSHA regulators who subjected him to duplicative audits he claimed were unnecessary and cost him “well in the six figures.” OSHA disputed Johnson’s “duplicative audits” claim, and according to their records had proposed penalties of $9,638 for exposing workers to “apparent hazards” in 2011 which is a far cry from “well in the six figures.”

OSHA is tasked with monitoring health and safety in the workplace, and investigators will discover if the hazards they cited Johnson’s company for were corrected because on Tuesday a “catastrophic failure” of machinery injured eight workers and sent four to the hospital; two had to be airlifted to a nearby burn unit. Fortunately none of the workers’ injuries were life-threatening and according to Johnson the eight workers were “only” sprayed with molten metal on their legs and backs. Johnson did not respond to questions asking if he still hated President Obama for imposing on him with aggressive OSHA regulators he asserted were “too burdensome.”

After the horrifying industrial accident, Johnson said in a statement that, “For more than one hundred years my family has taken great pride in our safety record and our close relationship with our employees. As the fourth president of this family-owned business, I can say we are all deeply saddened by the accident at our plant.” The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reported that the state fire marshal’s office assisted local police in “an ongoing investigation of the cause of the machinery failure;” the investigators were joined by federal officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Johnson was away at the time or he could have gave the overly aggressive federal OSHA regulators a piece of his mind about burdensome regulations, audits, and complained about the “lost jobs” the penalties for “apparent hazards” at the foundry cost his business.

It is not the first time a business, or industry, that complains bitterly about burdensome and costly safety regulations is the scene of industrial accidents that more often than not kill workers. The Deepwater Horizon (BP oil disaster) oil platform that exploded killing 12 workers and poured 4.9 million barrels (210 million gallons) of oil into the Gulf of Mexico was caused, in part, by the Republican-preferred  ”self-regulating” nature of the oil industry in 2010. Also in 2010, the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster killed 29 out of 31 miners at the site of the worst mine disaster since 1970. A state-funded independent investigation found Massey Energy directly responsible for the explosion and subsequent deaths due to “flagrant safety violations.” One of the former Massey superintendents at the mine confessed that he conspired to impede the safety enforcement efforts of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration at the directions of the mine’s owners.

Last year in Texas, the West Fertilizer plant explosion killed fifteen people, injured more than 160, and destroyed over 150 buildings because it did not have adequate, and mandatory, safeguards in place to store volatile anhydrous ammonia. The company had been investigated and cited for not even having a permit for two storage tanks in 2006, the same year the Environmental Protection Agency fined the company’s owners for failure to file a risk management plan. In 2012, the Department of Transportation further fined the company for violations regarding its storage of the chemicals that blew up, killed 15 people, and leveled the town. The common denominator in all the man-made disasters is, even with regulations in place to protect workers, the companies’ owners found them too burdensome, too costly, and they would claim “killed jobs” to bring the facilities into compliance with health and safety regulations.

Earlier this year, after a West Virginia chemical storage facility dumped toxic chemicals into the Dan River affecting drinking water for 300,000 people, Republican John Boehner insisted that the last thing the poor beleaguered “Freedom Industries” needed was more regulations. Boehner even had the temerity to blame President Obama for not enforcing regulations that Republicans refuse to enact under any conditions. In fact, Republicans think so little of workplace safety regulations they have dependably cut funding for OSHA because they just cannot have “aggressive regulators” wading in to a private business and inspecting, auditing, and penalizing businesses for apparent hazards to workers or surrounding communities.

It is understandable that business is not enamored with regulations, regulatory agencies, or in many cases their workers’ safety, especially when their sole regard is the bottom line. But their workforce is why they have a bottom line in the first place and one would expect that ensuring the health and safety of the people making them millions would be every bit as important as profits, but apparently that is not always the case. One hopes the workers who were sprayed with molten metal have a speedy recovery, and that the company owner is duly and severely punished if safety regulators, local police, and fire marshals find he held his workers in the same contempt as he does OSHA safety regulations. If history is any indication, he will likely shift the blame to lax regulatory oversight or the Black guy in the White House, or both.



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